English Federal Correctional Services in Quebec

About the Research

In late 2020, the Access to Justice in English project selected the issue of federal correctional services in Quebec for in-depth research and intervention after a preliminary investigation indicated disparities in the availability of services for English-speaking offenders.

To gain a better understanding of the issue from all sides, our research focused on four key areas:

1. The framework of applicable laws and policies
2. The structure of Correctional Services Canada (CSC) and the criminal justice system in general
3. How offenders navigate through this structure
4. The lived experience of people who have interacted with the system: this involved interviewing former federal inmates and service providers to better understand the reality on the ground
In 2021, the project launched an intervention strategy that aimed to validate our research and create opportunities for collaboration and exchanges with different stakeholders. We met with many community organizations, halfway houses, and members of different citizen advisory committees to the CSC.

 

What obstacles exist to accessing CSC services in English?

Intake Assessment

An inmate’s journey through the federal correctional system begins after having been sentenced but before being placed in a correctional facility. At this initial stage, Correctional Services Canada (CSC) conducts an assessment to determine where an inmate will be placed and which correctional programs they will have to follow to be granted conditional release. It is at this stage that an inmate must choose the official language they prefer to use (English or French).

At the time our research was conducted, the intake assessment was found to have several obstacles to accessing federal correctional services in English:

Potential inmate uncertainty as to the consequences of their choice of official language (for example, the possibility of placement in a francophone institution, or the unavailability of programs in their chosen language).
Potential misunderstandings or confusion in some instances when the intake assessment of an English-speaking offender is done by a francophone (a few stakeholders, particularly in community organizations, corroborated this issue.
Institutional Placement
Once the inmate is placed, there are more potential barriers to accessing correctional services in English:
The “inmate handbook” given to the inmate on placement at an institution. No policy mandating that it contains information regarding official languages, including recourses and other relevant information.
Daily communications within the institution being conducted primarily in French. When important information must be translated, there are significant delays for English speaking inmates.
Lack of mandatory correctional programs available in English. Inmates requesting the programs in English must often wait longer for the program to become available or be transferred to institutions outside of Quebec. Alternatively, they may be forced to follow the program in French. The Parole Board of Canada rarely takes this element into consideration when deciding on parole or temporary release.
Disciplinary offences may be the result of miscomprehension of an order given only in French. Similarly, disciplinary hearings may be conducted in French, with the adjudicator or the lawyer representing the inmate providing translation services. This may give rise to an appearance of conflict of interest.

Delays to Conditional ReleaseAll these elements contribute to delays in conditional release of English-speaking inmates, in comparison with their French-speaking counterparts. This may be an infringement on their right to life, liberty, and security of the person (s. 7 Canadian Charter) as well as their right not to be detained or imprisoned arbitrarily (s. 9 Canadian Charter).

 

A plan for strategic intervention

A high-level summary of our information strategy and strategic intervention plan on this issue can be downloaded below.