Ottawa wants to know how much sexual violence is happening in federal prisons, two years after inflammatory report

“We believe this is an important issue, and one that (the Correctional Service of Canada) has not addressed and has in fact avoided addressing”

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OTTAWA — The federal government has no idea how many inmates are victims of sexual violence in prison and now wants to hire researchers to find out, two years after its own prison watchdog concluded it was a pervasive problem.

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“The current prevalence of sexual coercion and violence in federal correctional facilities is unknown,” Public Safety Canada frankly admits in a new request for proposals (RFP) launched on Tuesday.

Its mission is to find an entrepreneur who can explore the prevalence of sex crimes among federal inmates, grasp the “nature and extent” of the problem for racialized and at-risk offenders — namely Indigenous people, women and the LGBTQ+ community — then propose solutions to better prevent and intervene.

“In Canada, there has been only one nationally representative survey examining sexual coercion and violence against inmates in prisons…in 1995 and including only male inmates,” notes Public Safety Canada in tender documents.

“This study is now out of date and did not cover the prevalence of different types of sexual victimization by other inmates and/or staff and did not look at different groups who were found to experience higher rates of coercion and violence. while incarcerated (e.g. women, LGBTQ2).”

The documents explain that the research follows an inflammatory 2020 report by Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger, whose office acts as the federal prisons ombudsman. The report recommended that Ottawa act quickly to address significant gaps in leadership, knowledge and action to prevent sexual violence in federal prisons.

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“We believe this is a significant issue, and that (the Correctional Service of Canada) has not addressed and in fact avoided addressing” the issue, Zinger said in an interview this week. .

In its 2020 report, Zinger’s office found that “sexual violence is a pervasive yet underreported problem in federal prisons.” Victims rarely report incidents for fear of retaliation, and criminal charges are laid in only a fraction of assaults reported to police.

The prison watchdog also criticized CSC for a “lack of leadership” on the case. “As one inmate representative put it, ‘The culture of silence is deafening here,'” his report read.

At the time, the Trudeau government promised that a study would be conducted quickly and that an interim report would be completed by the spring of 2021.

One year after this deadline, the government wants researchers to document the prevalence of three specific types of sexual victimization: sexual coercion (sexual assault using tactics such as intimidation or psychological pressure), sexual violence (assault with force physically or on an incapable person) and sexual harassment.

“Questions should distinguish between type of aggressor (inmate vs. staff), tactic used (e.g. physical force vs. verbal pressure/coercion) and sexual act (e.g. intentional sexual touching versus vaginal or anal penetration) . It is also important that the status of the incident of sexual victimization in the facility has been assessed (e.g., unreported/alleged/investigated),” the RFP states.

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Correctional Investigator of Canada Dr. Ivan Zinger in February 2020. He says the federal government's slow response to his report that year on sexual violence in prisons is
Correctional Investigator of Canada Dr. Ivan Zinger in February 2020. He says the federal government’s slow response to his report that year on sexual violence in prisons is “a bit disappointing.” Photo by Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/File

The study will focus not only on incarcerated individuals, but also on those on community supervision orders, such as day parole, full parole or statutory release. In October 2021, the department estimates that this represents just over 8,800 people, the vast majority of them men.

The Correctional Service of Canada referred all questions to Public Safety Canada, which did not respond to repeated emails in a timely manner.

But Public Safety’s new request for proposals says the contract is expected to end by March 2024, meaning the work could take up to three years.

“I find this is certainly not timely and not proportionate to the very troubling findings that my report highlighted in June 2020,” Zinger said.

“It’s about basic human rights for me, and if you can stop people getting hurt, that should be your priority. So a little disappointing there, of course, but I’m glad they’re moving “, he added.

Another disappointment for the Correctional Investigator is that his office was not consulted by CSC or Public Safety Canada before developing the research methodology and launching their public tender.

This, despite its 2020 report being the first in decades to highlight the seriousness of the problem. In fact, Zinger said he only found out about the project when the National Post contacted him for comment.

“What we did was very innovative. They should have consulted with us even on the solicitation document because we have acquired expertise and obviously they rely on our findings, conclusions, observations and recommendations,” Zinger said.

“It’s unfortunate that they always seem to not consult properly when moving these things forward.”

• Email: cnardi@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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