The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) benefits from nearly 4000 volunteers, which includes 300 dedicated members of CSC's Citizen Advisory Committees (CAC). CSC is required by legislation to have a CAC at every institution and parole office across the country, who are the “eyes and ears” of their communities. This partnership provides CSC an opportunity to raise community awareness of our mandate as well as build trust and accountability with the public we serve.
CAC not only contribute to the community and the institutional correctional process, they also are involved in all areas of the correctional system. They are the “public presence” in federal corrections and their mandate to observe, liaise and advise is anchored in legislation.
In order to meet their mandate during the COVID-19 pandemic, CAC members have had to adapt when infection prevention and control measures resulted in the intermittent suspension of in-person visits. Telephone and video conferencing technology ultimately became the norm for committee interactions with inmates and management. Michel Marcil, Chair of the CAC at the Regional Reception Centre in the Quebec Region commented that the virtual meetings have allowed for better interaction between the CAC, management and inmates. “Everything is dealt with now in a more immediate way. When we ask a question, we have a result the following week”, said Michel.
In 2020, the Metro Vancouver West Community Corrections CAC spearheaded a new initiative to provide virtual learning opportunities for their CAC members. They also invited CSC staff and community partners to join, garnering international interest as well. So far, they have presented two virtual webinars in 2020 and 2021, on the topics of aging offenders and victims of federal offenders respectively.
“We feel it is important to raise public awareness on more topics surrounding corrections”, says Eddy Elmer, vice-chair of Metro Vancouver West Community Corrections CAC. Their latest webinar on victims of federal offenders gathered participants from corrections, policing and victim serving organizations as well as citizens from across Canada and beyond. The session provided context on the other side of corrections, reminding participants that “it is not just about the offender”, Eddy says, “We wanted to elevate their [victims’] voice and provide them an opportunity to share their experiences”.
Four speakers from across Canada discussed their personal experiences with the justice system during this webinar, including the services available to victims, how victims can register to receive information, as well as the gaps and barriers to accessing victim services. The speakers included: Tara George, Regional Manager, Victim Services for CSC in the Pacific Region, Pat Henman and Donna Eaton, victim advocates, and Heidi Illingworth, the former Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, and current Director of Ottawa Victim Services.
The virtual nature of the webinar allowed for over 400 people to learn and participate. “The webinar gave us a wide variety of reach”, says Tara. “To partner with the CAC and to understand their role, and then to use their wider base, who already have an interest in corrections, was really powerful”, she says. We have 45 victim services staff out of the 18,000 employees at CSC and many people do not even know we have victim services. This gave us the ability to engage with CSC staff and community partners to communicate key messages.”
Hosting a webinar virtually has many benefits. “We brought together participants that might not have been able to meet in person”, says Eddy who has been a driving force for the CAC. “The reach and the access has been exceptional.” The Metro Vancouver West Community Corrections CAC wants to continue providing these opportunities to CAC, CSC staff, and community partners who have an interest in corrections. “We want to build on our successes, and bring forward topics of value and importance”, says Eddy. More webinars are anticipated for the future. You can view the Metro Vancouver West Community Corrections CAC webinar recordings on YouTube:
Meeting the needs of aging offenders in the community (English only)
Victims of federal offenders in Canada: Exploring needs and improving supports (English only)
A special thank you to the victims who shared their personal and very powerful experiences. We are grateful for the opportunity to learn from their lived experiences. CSC values and appreciates the dedication and commitment of all our CAC members who continue to keep their mandate going during the COVID-19 pandemic. The committees are important to CSC and the public, particularly during a time of crisis. Think about joining a CAC! It is one way you can volunteer with CSC and help keep our communities safe. Apply now to become a member of Citizen Advisory Committees. To learn more about Citizen Advisory Committees and their role at CSC, visit: