Eddy Elmer is an extraordinary volunteer with a passion for informing Canadians about corrections. His innovative use of webinars to engage the public earned him the 2022 James A. Murphy Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) Award.
Let’s Talk Express spoke with Eddy about volunteering with Metro Vancouver West Community Corrections, where he is Vice-chair of the CAC, and his role as CAC Regional Chair for the Pacific Region.
What is your background, your non-volunteer job?
I am a gerontology researcher and consultant in aging and mental health. I’m also a PhD candidate in sociology and social gerontology, completing my degree at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. My research focuses on social isolation, loneliness, and mental health in marginalized groups, including sexual minority seniors and aging offenders.
Why did you get involved in your local CAC?
When I joined the CAC in 2018, I had just completed my work with the City of Vancouver Seniors’ Advisory Committee. I was looking for a new opportunity related to my interests in aging, isolation, loneliness, and the impact of stigma and marginalization.
I felt that my gerontology background would put me in a good position to advise Correctional Service Canada (CSC) on aging offenders. The proportion of aging offenders both in prison and in the community is growing rapidly. We need to be prepared to provide effective services for these offenders, whose needs are quite different from those of the general population.
I was very interested in learning more about how social isolation and loneliness impact offenders. We know that these problems can substantially affect health, social interactions, and longevity. So, I wanted to learn more about the unique ways that they affect people in prison and on parole.
I see several parallels between the plight of 2SLGBTQ+ people and offenders. Both groups experience stigma and discrimination. We know this can cause and/or worsen mental and physical health problems and accelerate the aging process. We also know that isolation and loneliness can negatively impact how we think about ourselves and other people. This can affect our ability to form trusting and satisfying relationships. This has obvious implications for offenders, especially those in the community, as the absence of a supportive social network is one of the biggest risk factors for recidivism.
I’ve also been interested in public safety because I’ve been a victim of crime in my city. Given my research background and personal experiences, I think I’m able to see things from the perspective of both offenders and victims.
How have you been involved in your CAC?
Since joining, I have tried to raise the profile of our local CAC, as well as CACs in general, and tried to foster public understanding of corrections through interactive webinars, lectures, and media contributions. Corrections can be mystifying to the public. If we can dispel some of the myths and explain what we do in corrections—like why we grant parole—this can reduce stigma and help offenders reintegrate into society. It might also encourage others to volunteer their time to help offenders readjust to life in the community.
What inspired your idea to use webinars to discuss corrections?
During our local CAC meetings, we were sharing a lot of insights about important topics like the challenges of reintegrating specific groups of offenders. I wanted our discussions to go beyond our committee—to other CACs, CSC staff, academics, service providers, and the public. I figured webinars would be a great way to do this, especially since many of us were stuck at home during the pandemic and had few opportunities for stimulating, interactive conversations.
Our webinars gave people around the world a chance to hear from knowledgeable speakers and participate from the comfort of their home or office. The webinars appealed to people interested in sensitive topics like victim services but who might feel uncomfortable attending an in-person forum. The webinars allowed them to listen, without being seen on video, while also giving them a chance to ask questions and connect with others through the chat window.
The response exceeded our expectations. Between 300 and 500 people registered for each webinar, tuning in from as far away as Australia. By uploading the videos to YouTube, we’ve also been able to preserve and share important knowledge with more people than would be possible for an in-person event.
What other impact have your webinars had?
The webinars have given us the opportunity to learn about correctional services in other countries, allowing us to make more informed recommendations to CSC. They also helped showcase the innovative work of CSC’s community partners and provided invaluable networking opportunities for professionals in corrections. Our third webinar had speakers from three continents and four time zones, including England and New Zealand.
Webinars are also a way of enhancing the profile of CACs to let people around the world know about our valuable role in the criminal justice system. CACs are unique to Canada. So, our webinars could inspire other countries to follow suit.
James A. Murphy Citizen Advisory Committee Award
For most of the 38 years that James Murphy worked for Correctional Service Canada (CSC), he focussed on community corrections. Many of the partner relationships that are maintained by CSC today were established and nurtured under his watch.
Jim worked closely with the Citizen Advisory Committees (CAC), which are in every federal institution and district parole office across Canada. CAC members are volunteers from the community who monitor and evaluate correctional policies and procedures. They are a valuable and integral part of our federal correctional system.
When he retired in 2013, Jim was presented with the first James A. Murphy Citizen Advisory Committee Award. The award was established to recognize his commitment to community partnership. Since then, it is given annually to a CAC member who embodies a passion for engaging Canadians in the correctional process.
If you would like more information about or are interested in volunteering with a Citizen Advisory Committee in your area, please contact one of the project officers in your area.
What are your plans as Regional CAC Chair for Pacific Region?
Our CAC members have a lot of very interesting insights and ideas, but they need to be put on paper and pursued. We must remember that our role is to observe CSC operations, liaise with the community, and produce actionable advice. I would like to see our CACs increase formal advice given to CSC.
What does the James A. Murphy Award mean to you?
It means so much to volunteers to be recognized for their time and effort. Hosting events like webinars may seem simple, but they can involve a lot of work, especially if sensitive or controversial topics are involved. Although we’re all intrinsically motivated by our work, receiving formal recognition provides extra encouragement. For me personally, the James A. Murphy Award has given me and our CAC more opportunities to discuss our webinars and other public outreach activities. It has also given me opportunities like this one—to be interviewed and hopefully inspire other people to join a local CAC.
Watch the webinars that Eddy and Metro Vancouver West Community Corrections CAC have created so far
- Victims of Canadian Federal Offenders: Meeting Needs and Improving Supports (video)
- Public Safety Through Support and Accountability: Community Reintegration Programs for Specific Groups of Offenders and Their Families (video)
Also see the two presentations that Eddy gave at the 5th World Congress on Probation and Parole, held in Ottawa in the fall of 2022: