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This week we publish two quite different views on the 30th anniversary of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA), the law that governs prisons and parole in Canada. The first is by a former public servant who has been a long-time observer and critic of policy in this field, the second (to appear in a couple of days) is by a prisoner.
On the 30th Anniversary of the CCRA
By Mary E. Campbell
The proclamation into force of the CCRA was the culmination of a decade of research, policy development and consultation, that had been instigated by two documents in 1982: the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and a Justice Canada policy framework entitled The Criminal Law in Canadian Society. Notwithstanding a change in government in 1984, both documents continued to provide the foundation for the CCRA.
The Charter had another important effect, in that it gave rise to a surge in litigation by persons in custody and on parole, who had never seen their rights articulated in law before. While not every case was won, the victories nullified much of the existing Penitentiary Act and Parole Act and pointed to what needed to be in a new Act.
In fact, very little of substance was actually in the former Penitentiary Act and Parole Act – most of the rules were in ad hoc policy documents written over decades by various bureaucrats and accountable to no legislative body or court of law.
Creation of the CCRA
From 1982 to 1990, a dedicated team of experts criss-crossed the country and around the world. The Correctional Law Review, as it was known, left no issue unexamined. It was aided by an exceptional coterie of other experts from all parts of the system. Research and evidence-based policy were central to their work. And there was synergy from other government bodies such as The Canadian Sentencing Commission and the Parliamentary bi-partisan Committee known popularly as “The Daubney Committee” after its Chair.
The international component of the CCRA work was also very important. While the United States was closest geographically (and provided exceptional criminal law research), the two countries were polar opposites in their policy fundamentals. Canada was very much aligned with the Scandinavian countries in particular. The late Nils Christie of Norway was a constant colleague in Canada’s work. Denmark’s Ole Ingstrup was the CSC Commissioner from 1988 to 1992 (and 1996 to 2000), with one of his lasting impacts being the building of Canada’s new women’s penitentiaries on the Scandinavian town-house model rather than stone walls and cells.
The 1992 CCRA didn’t satisfy everyone, but it was truly a modern and forward-looking beacon of good policy and practice. Other countries routinely sent delegations to Canada to consult on what to do and how to do it, and Canada sent its experts to every continent. Indeed when South Africa wrote a new corrections act in the mid-1990s, it drew almost word for word on the CCRA, starting with the opening section referencing “a just, peaceful and safe society”.
While significant political partisanship began to permeate corrections in the early 2000s, the Act stood largely unamended for 13 years with any cracks largely in its implementation and not in its solid foundation.
Much has changed since 1992, as new research, societal events, court rulings, and threats have emerged. In May 2019, the Correctional Investigator published a draft revised Act that undid some of the counter-productive changes that had been made to it and updated many portions to modernize it (oth-aut20190514-eng.pdf (oci-bec.gc.ca) Even since then, unprecedented events such as the pandemic, fundamental changes to solitary confinement, and lack of resolution of issues affecting Indigenous persons mean that further revisions should be considered.
At the same time it is always important to note, as did the Parliamentary Committee that reviewed the Act in 2000, that while some issues relate to the legislation itself, there are a number of issues that reflect problems in implementation that can and must be addressed outside the legislative process.
Mary E. Campbell is a a retired Director General with Public Safety Canada. She is a frequent public commentator on criminal justice issues.