Correctional investigator finds toxic culture among staff in Edmonton prison

Feb 18 2020, 1:05 pm

Canada’s Correctional Investigator tabled a report in Parliament today outlining issues with the culture and environment of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) and highlighting the impacts in one Edmonton prison.

According to the report from the Office of the Correctional Investigator, Dr. Ivan Zinger says toxic work culture has led to and perpetuated violence and poor conditions for inmates at a number of Canadian prisons.

Zinger says the Correctional Service of Canada needs to work harder to meet their obligations and “to ensure working and living conditions of staff and inmates are free of practices that undermine human dignity.”

The report features three case studies focusing on the staff cultures at certain institutions in Canada, one of which is the Edmonton Institution — a maximum security federal prison located in northeastern Edmonton.

“The Edmonton Institution (EI) case summary reports on an Office investigation into a series of degrading and humiliating inmate-on-inmate assaults that occurred between August and October 2018,” said a release from the Office of the Correctional Investigator.

“When misconduct between or among staff is allowed to fester, when non-compliance with law or policy becomes normalized in the workplace, as I found in the Edmonton and Atlantic Institution investigations, there is bound to be negative effects for the inmate population,” said Dr. Zinger.

“In those instances, I have both a duty and responsibility to report and act upon them.”

Zinger’s report also found that staff and management “looked the other way” when planned attacks, harassment, and bullying occurred by some inmates against other protected populations.

“The Office of the Correctional Investigator and subsequent CSC reporting establish that the repetitive nature of these incidents can be traced backed to a staff culture at Edmonton Institution that one independent human resource assessment found ran on fear, suspicion, mistrust, intimidation, harassment, bullying and abuse of power – among staff members,” said the release.

“Disturbingly, the constant barrage of assaults on protected status inmates, which included throwing food, bodily fluids, garbage and other degrading and humiliating acts, went largely unreported by staff.”

The report states that the culture of staff “perpetuated and condoned group violence,” and disciplinary measures were not taken.

The incidents were brought forward to EI management by the Office of the Correctional Investigator in August 2018, but senior levels of management took action only after the Correctional Investigator brought forth “indisputable video evidence” later that year.

“That these incidents took place at an institution where the workplace culture is known to be especially problematic should have added to the sense of urgency and duty to act. No human being, regardless of status or crime, deserves to be treated in such a cruel, callous and degrading manner,” said Zinger.

Some local and national initiatives that have been implemented include an independent organizational assessment, follow-up evaluation reports, dismissal or suspension of several staff members, a confidential tip line for employees to report misconduct or mistreatment among staff, a national respectful workplace campaign, and appointment of a new senior management team at EI.

Zinger affirmed that these incidents must be looked at within the broader culture of CSC and noted a few areas that need to be addressed, including food quality, strip searching, use of force, and policy toward drug possession.

“I am encouraged that CSC is taking steps to ensure a positive work environment,” said Zinger.

“Harassment, intimidation and bullying are not acceptable, in any workplace. The working conditions of staff are the living conditions of inmates, and modelling appropriate behaviour is key to ensuring our prisons are safe, rehabilitative and humane environments.”