The royal treatment: CSC’s connection to the Queen

This year, Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Platinum Jubilee, marking her historical 70-year reign. The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has a number of connections with the Queen that are worthy of commemoration.


Queen Elizabeth’s portrait hangs in every institution. Her royal influence is also visible throughout the organization on our uniforms, letterhead, and internal website. That is because the Queen approved the design of the CSC badge in April 1979. 


“We have the original signed document here in the museum collection,” said Dave St. Onge, curator of Canada's Penitentiary Museum in Kingston. “I believe about 150 very high-quality copies were printed and circulated at the time for display at CSC offices. The original is framed under glass in a display case. It is a bit confusing because it bears the December 15, 1978, date, which is when our then Commissioner, Don Yeomans, approved it prior to forwarding it to Her Majesty for her approval.”

Queen Elizabeth II's signed approval of CSC's badge (1979)

Twenty-five years earlier, on April 9, 1953, the Queen performed a royal tradition before her coronation that affected Canadian prisoners. She granted them clemency. This meant that all Canadian prisoners had 30 days subtracted from their sentence for each year they had served if they had been “exemplary in their conduct and industry.” Based on the evaluation of each prisoner’s conduct by correctional staff, this was put into effect in the federal prisons on May 29, 1953.


Royal clemency, or amnesty, dates back centuries to when the Crown, in the person of the ruling king or queen, was the ultimate arbiter of law and justice. For instance, Queen Elizabeth I granted amnesties to prisoners in the late 16th century.


Federal inmates were again granted amnesty during Queen Elizabeth’s first royal visit to Canada as Head of State in 1959. The 1958–1959 Annual Report of the Commissioner of Penitentiaries noted that the amnesty “applied to every person who on June 23, 1959, or before, had been convicted of an offence under any act of the Parliament of Canada.” Just like in 1953, these inmates had 30 days taken off for each year of their sentence. The following year’s annual report referred to the “diligent work” of the educational, vocational, and classification officers at each institution who had to complete study plans, inmate training, vocational courses, and release plans in collaboration with the John Howard Society and the Salvation Army for the larger than usual numbers of prisoners being amnestied.


“The then Commissioner, Maj. Gen. Ralph B. Gibson, noted that the total number of prisoners released in June 1959 was 569, as compared to 252 in May 1959, and 225 in June 1958,” said Cameron Willis, museum assistant at Canada’s Penitentiary Museum. “You can see how the various officers would be so busy at the institutions prepping inmates for earlier than anticipated release.”


Cameron added that the Commissioner’s report noted that, as with the coronation royal clemency, the 1959 amnesty applied only to prisoners with good records inside the institution, and generally affected short term prisoners, serving two or three year sentences, rather than individuals serving long terms or life.


Since 1959, as the operation of the National Parole Board became effective, amnesty was no longer considered on the occasion of the Queen’s visits to Canada. Decisions regarding the early release of inmates are made according to established criteria and based on the review of each individual case.


Now, the Queen’s association with CSC is mainly through her recognition of employees’ excellence. Dave St-Onge noted that four people affiliated with CSC were awarded the Order of Canada by the Governor General, the Queen’s representative, for their ‘extraordinary contributions to the nation.’ Rowan Paterson was invested as an Officer to the Order of Canada on March 25, 1970; Isabel Macneill on October 25, 1972; Dr. E. Harry Botterel on October 18, 1978; and Edna Hellen McIvor on October 21, 1981.


The Corrections Exemplary Service Medal


In June 1984, the Corrections Exemplary Service Medal was created as an award by the Crown to recognize employees of the Canadian correctional systems or services (national, provincial, and territorial). The medal recognizes those “who have served in an exemplary manner, characterized by good conduct, industry, and efficiency for 20 years.” The Governor General’s website further explains that this must include “10 years as a peace officer in an institution, parole officer or probation officer, or in a capacity which has brought the recipient into contact with offenders in the regular performance of duties.”


On October 1, 1984, Governor General Jeanne Sauvé presented the first Corrections Exemplary Service Medals to 42 recipients from correctional institutions across Canada at an investiture ceremony at Rideau Hall.  Thirty-two of them were from CSC. Since then, hundreds of dedicated CSC employees have received the medal for exemplary service.


The first Corrections Exemplary Service Medals (CESM) at Rideau Hall in 1984.


In addition, other special medals have been awarded to exceptional staff over the years to commemorate the Queen’s special anniversaries, such as the Coronation Medal, awarded in 1953; Centennial Medal, awarded in 1967; Silver Jubilee, awarded in 1977; Golden Jubilee awarded in 2002; and the Diamond Jubilee in 2012. More recently, employees have been awarded the Queen’s Meritorious Service Decorations for their remarkable contributions to work with offenders.


Queen Elizabeth no longer has influence over operations at CSC. However, the honours bestowed on those involved with corrections and her approval of the CSC badge is royal recognition of CSC’s valuable contributions to Canadian society.

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