The Legacy of Dr. Emerson Douyon

The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) is increasingly aware of the needs of ethnocultural offenders, thanks in large part to the pioneering work of Dr. Emerson Douyon and a CSC staff member, the late Marcel Kabundi.

Dr. Douyon was involved in setting up CSC’s Regional Ethnocultural Advisory Committee (REAC) in 1999 and presided over it for more than 10 years. This committee subsequently expanded into each of the organization’s five regions, and the National Ethnocultural Advisory Committee (NEAC) was established. The two committees provide CSC with advice on services and interventions for the successful reintegration of ethnocultural offenders into the community.

Dr. Douyon’s reflections, studies, advice and recommendations have helped to enhance the status of multiculturalism within the organization and improve services offered to ethnocultural offenders. The advisory committee is behind the Diversity and Cultural Competency Training, now mandatory for CSC staff.

Following his retirement from the School of Criminology at the Université de Montréal in 2011, the internationally renowned psychologist and professor agreed to record his reflections on his time working with CSC. The book he produced, entitled Ethnocultural Minorities and the Canadian Correctional System, was published posthumously by CSC in 2017, shortly after Dr. Douyon’s death in 2016.

In the introduction, Dr. Douyon wrote that the work “is presented as a modest contribution to CSC’s institutional memory.” But for Commissioner Don Head, who signed the preface, it is also “a personal and meaningful contribution to the concept of Ethnoculturalism … and (its) development at CSC.”

Marianne Harvey, who shared her life with Dr. Douyon for more than 40 years, recounted with much admiration that her late husband “always held human beings in the highest regard. He considered offenders as people first before identifying them as members of a minority. Emerson was interested in everything, but he was always driven by the desire to help minorities in difficulty.”

This was emphasized by Dr. Douyon in the introduction to his book: “Behind each type of crime condemned by the law is a human being with traditions, values, a migratory journey, and the story of his confrontation with the culture of others.”

It is in this context that he collaborated for several years with many individuals and organizations involved with vulnerable clients, particularly young offenders from cultural minorities.

Growing up and working as a young psychologist in Haiti left him with a deep understanding of the deplorable detention conditions of children incarcerated with adults. Later on, he became involved with helping ethnocultural minorities in Quebec.

“He knew how leaving his country and adapting elsewhere could be a great challenge and how that journey could be riddled with obstacles for a young person who was ‘different’,” added Marianne Harvey.

Dr. Douyon’s work covers not only the specific needs of ethnocultural offenders, but also the issue of racial profiling and the matter of reasonable accommodation. He also tracked the emergence of the ethnocultural notion in CSC.

As an expert certified by the Ordre des psychologues du Québec, Emerson Douyon was tasked at the time “to explore the possibility of contacting psychologists at Correctional Service of Canada to conduct a routine professional inspection.”

Another interesting fact is that a number of CSC employees had Dr. Douyon as a professor in university, including Donat-Tshibasu Bilomba, a senior project officer who worked with Dr. Douyon from 2002 to 2016. Bilomba said the professor “was a well-respected person. A wise man who listened a lot and gave good advice based on his experience.”

He was dedicated to the end, and wrote the book by hand. When his physician advised him to stop writing, he dictated the rest!

Bilomba said that Dr. Douyon had influenced him with several of his teachings.

“He did not agree with people who claimed that nothing could be done about certain potentially problematic rules or laws. He would often say that the laws had been written by human beings, and that it would therefore take human beings to improve them,” recalled Bilomba.

In 2010, Dr. Douyon became the first recipient of the CSC Multiculturalism Award, which, two years later, was renamed the Emerson Douyon Multiculturalism Award in his honour. Each year in June, this award recognizes the contributions and efforts of a person working or dealing with CSC to improve cross-cultural understanding and race relations within CSC. 

One thing is certain, Dr. Douyon gave everything he had in defending ethnocultural minorities and recognizing the importance of listening to their needs, particularly in the prison system.

Although it’s an ever-changing issue, he seemed to have felt a sense of accomplishment, writing that, “under the enlightened leadership of Don Head, the Correctional Service has become a model of equality with respect to staff, training, balanced panels and the type of relationship between Ethnocultural offenders and staff.”

Dr. Emerson Douyon’s book is available on the CSC website in both official languages.

English version:

Ethnocultural Minorities and the Canadian Correctional System

Original French version: 

Les minorités ethnoculturelles et le système correctionnel canadien

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