Bill Blair orders prison data to be turned over, but does the data even exist?

Good question in the header (follow-up article to Paul Wells’ Another farce on Bill Blair’s watch:

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says he has ordered Correctional Service Canada to hand over data to an independent panel reviewing its practises, nearly a year after the panel first requested the information. But new documents from the corrections agency reveal it may be failing to accurately collect the data altogether.

In an interview with Maclean’s, Blair vows that “we are working very hard to make sure that we are able to provide that information and access to what the panel needs before they would consider continuing their job.”

Anthony Doob, the former head of the panel, says he still hasn’t heard from Correctional Services and has not been convinced to continue his work. “I need to know that we can actually do our work,” he told Maclean’s.

Last month, the panel tapped by the Trudeau government to review the implementation of its Structured Intervention Units (SIUs) was disbanded. Its scathing final report pointed to a lack of cooperation from Blair and Correctional Services, which rendered the panel “powerless to accomplish the job that it was set up to do.”

The new SIUs were supposed to replace an existing solitary confinement regime, which courts in Ontario and British Columbia called unconstitutional and, possibly, torture. Yet when Doob and his panel tried to analyze whether the new units were complying with the court orders and a new legal regime, they were stonewalled.

Doob says the information is crucial to the implementation of these units and that “the bulk, or all of the data, that we’re asking for is stuff they should want for their own purposes.”

But Correctional Services was unable to turn over the necessary data before the panel’s appointment ended in August. It has yet to offer a timeline on when it might supply the statistics.

On Wednesday, Correctional Services posted a request for information to the Canadian government’s procurement platform, seeking companies capable of updating its offender management system. The system, which tracks every inmate in custody, was implemented in the early 1990s and last updated in 2002.

The system governs just about every part of Canadian prisons, and is responsible for tracking the accommodations and mental health status of inmates. It is also the system that monitors inmates placed in the Structured Intervention Units.

Correctional Services first identified the need to update the system in 2015. Today, the database is strained, the document reveals. The systems to input and check crucial information on inmates, including their risk of suicide, “are manual, cumbersome, redundant and open to potential human error in data entry.” Other indicators, such as social history, are “not well integrated into the overall process.”

Correctional Services also notes that, on several fronts including inmate discipline, the process is “cumbersome and relies on paper and humans to ensure that information is gathered.”

Doob says that while their computer systems may be “not ideal,” that technology is no excuse. “They do lots of research themselves using their old system to get data. And, as I’ve said many times, if they truly cannot get the data for the panel, that means that they don’t know what is happening, in a systematic way, in their institutions.”

Often, the only recourse for inmates to contest the conditions of their confinement is to file a grievance. As Correctional Services notes in the procurement documents, the “offender grievance process is approximately 90 per cent paper based. This process has resulted in delays in processing offender grievances from the 60-80 day policy prescribed timeframes to up to three years.”

The service did provide a batch of files to the panel in May but, Doob says, the tables were unusable, inaccurate and essentially worthless for his study. For example, he says, the data noted when an inmate had a mental health issue—but not whether it was noted before, during or after their stay in the Structured Intervention Unit. The service employee responsible for data analysis admitted the information was essentially worthless, Doob says.

Maclean’s asked Correctional Services about deficiencies in their inmate tracking system, but has yet to receive a response.

Blair acknowledges that “Correction Services Canada struggled to collect and then make available the information in a timely way.” The panel first alerted Blair to its issues obtaining data in mid-March, then filed an interim report, noting “this panel has not been allowed to do its work” on July 23, and filed its final report on Aug. 11.

It wasn’t until the details of the report were released by Vice on Aug. 26 that Blair’s office responded. The day after, Blair called Doob to discuss next steps.

Asked why he didn’t intervene sooner, Blair didn’t answer. “When it was brought to my attention, I immediately gave direction that the information was to be collected and made available to the panel,” he says.

Doob says that, even if Correctional Services produces the data, he’s not sure he’ll rejoin the panel. He wants assurances that he’ll be able to properly review the service’s practises, including on-the-ground access to the new cells. “I’ve heard zero from CSC,” he reports.

Zilla Jones, a Winnipeg-based lawyer and a fellow member of the panel, has clients who have been placed in the Structured Intervention Units at the Stony Mountain penitentiary in Manitoba. She says the upgrades to some of the cells have been limited to “cosmetic” changes, such as a new coat of paint and some posters.

In a series of court rulings declaring the old system unconstitutional, the courts of appeal in Ontario and British Columbia ruled that inmates must be given more than two hours outside their cell per day. As part of the new Structured Intervention Units, the Trudeau government vowed that 20 hours per day would be the maximum amount of time per day that inmates would be locked up.

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, Correctional Service Canada has locked some inmates—especially those who are awaiting tests for the virus, or who exhibit symptoms—in the Structured Intervention Units for upwards of 23 hours a day.

Blair disagrees that doing so has run afoul of the courts’ rulings. “That was not for the purposes of either administrative or disciplinary segregation,” he says. “It was medical isolation for those who were ill.”

Given that Correctional Services has not been collecting data on those put in these units, Doob and the panel have questioned if Ottawa even knows whether the new law is being followed.

Nevertheless, Blair is confident. “The law is explicit, in that it eliminates the administrative and disciplinary segregation in those institutions,” Blair says. “We have eliminated [solitary confinement].”

Source: Bill Blair orders prison data to be turned over, but does the data even exist?

Fewer than 10 asylum seekers sent back to U.S. since Canadian border shutdown: Blair

As expected. Full April stats, when available in about a month, will show a dramatic decline in overall numbers:

The federal public safety minister says fewer than 10 asylum seekers have been turned back to the U.S. since the historic shutdown of the border.

Bill Blair provided the figure to the House of Commons today, noting it has been almost a month since the Canada-U.S. border closed to all but non-essential travel to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

The deal struck by the two countries included a provision that those crossing between formal border points in order to seek asylum would also be turned back.

Figures published today by the Immigration Department suggest, however, that the flow of people prior to that remained relatively steady.

The RCMP intercepted 930 people crossing irregularly in Canada in March, down from 1,002 the same month last year.

So far this year, 3,035 people have been intercepted crossing between formal border points, up from 2,698 in the first three months of 2019.

Source:  Less than 10 asylum seekers sent back to U.S. since Canadian border shutdown: Blair – National

Refugees must spend 14 days in self-isolation away from usual shelters: Blair

Will be interesting to see how this works in practice and the overall effects on the numbers:

Refugees arriving to Canada amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic must now spend 14 days in self-isolation away from the usual shelters, Canada’s public safety minister announced on Tuesday.

The new refugees must also be screened for “evidence of (COVID-19) symptoms and questioned” about their travel history, Bill Blair said during the federal government’s most recent update on the measures being employed to stall the spread of the virus.

When someone enters Canada and claims protection through Canada’s refugee system (whether it be as a United Nations- or privately-sponsored refugee, or as asylum claimant), they are first screened by Canada’s border agency. Anyone determined by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to have had a criminal history or who may pose a threat to Canada are not allowed in the country. Blair said this screening typically takes 24 hours.

After passing an initial screening, Blair said refugees will be moved to “appropriate shelter” for their two-week isolation, separate from usual temporary housings in places like Montreal, which has become a popular settlement location partly owing to its proximity to Roxham Road, an unauthorized border crossing in southern Quebec.

“We are doing this because we believe it is necessary and in the best interest of keeping all Canadians healthy and safe,” Blair said.

The government reports there were 64,045 asylum claims made in Canada in 2019.According to Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) statistics,there were 42,491 refugee protection claims made in Canada last year. By the end of 2019, the government was still faced with 87,270 pending claims.

Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and the IRB have had to make suspensions to their services amidst the COVID-19 pandemic as well. IRCC is suspending all in-person appointments until at least April 13, while IRB is postponing its in-person hearings and mediations until at least April 5.

These new rules for incoming refugees come as the federal government takes steps to restrict access to Canada, much like other countries around the globe have done, in an attempt to thwart the spread of COVID-19.

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that most non-residents would be banned from entering Canada. Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families, as well as American citizens, diplomats and aircrews, as well as those entering the country for the purpose of trade or commerce, are exempted from the ban.

The CBSA is asking all travellers who are still able to return to Canada to isolate themselves for 14 days once they enter the country. If within that time someone suffers from symptoms of COVID-19 (such as a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing), they’re asked to reach out to health authorities to advise them of their travels.

Canada’s deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said on Monday that with the data available at that time that almost nine-in-10 cases (87 per cent), had been related to travel outside of the country.

According to Canada’s chief public health officer Theresa Tam, there have now been 180,000 cases of COVID-19 identified across 160 countries worldwide. As of midday on Tuesday, 37,ooo people in Canada had been tested for the coronavirus, with more than 440 cases being reported as positive. Five Canadians had died from COVID-19 by Tuesday, with Ontario reporting its first death the morning after British Columbia declared three patients of the illness inside its borders had succumbed to the disease.

Source: Refugees must spend 14 days in self-isolation away from usual shelters: Blair

Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair takes charge of Canada’s borders

Reasonable political and operational management approach to address the influx. Having a more dedicated junior minister, with law enforcement experience, won’t change the fundamentals of the impact of US policies but may help both internal government discussions and public debates:

Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair has been given the task of managing the migrant crisis at the border as part of his new cabinet appointment – a move that will require him to work directly with Ontario Premier and long-time adversary Doug Ford.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose Mr. Blair, an experienced senior public servant, to lead the new ministry of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction as a part of a federal cabinet shuffle Wednesday. Mr. Blair will oversee the surge in asylum seekers at the Canada-U.S. border, gun violence and the cannabis file. Mr. Trudeau said he trusts Mr. Blair to counter the “politics of fear” that he says the Conservatives have been using, especially when it comes to asylum seekers.

“I am reminded of the very first conversation I had with Bill Blair years ago when I was asking him to think about running for the Liberal Party,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday.

“One of the things he said stuck with me and certainly echoes in my mind today as we give him these new responsibilities − he said the No. 1 enemy of public security is fear.”

Mr. Blair’s new role puts him on a potential collision course with Mr. Ford, with whom he has a fraught history. Mr. Blair infuriated Mr. Ford in 2013 when the then-Toronto police chief said he was disappointed by a video of Mr. Ford’s brother and then-Toronto mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine. Doug Ford, a city councillor at the time, unleashed on Mr. Blair and called on him to step down as police chief.

Nearly five years later, now in new political jobs, the pair will face off once again. As a part of his irregular migration portfolio, Mr. Blair will have to navigate a tense relationship between the Trudeau and Ford governments over the resettlement of asylum seekers who cross the border illegally. Earlier this month, Mr. Ford withdrew the province’s support for the resettlement, saying that the federal government created the problem and should pick up the tab to fix it.

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday, Mr. Blair said he looks forward to working with all three levels of government, which “have a responsibility for the safety of their communities and to uphold the rule of law.”

In a statement, Mr. Ford’s office maintained the the federal Liberals are to blame for the influx in border-crossers.

“Premier Ford is hopeful that Minister Blair will be interested in standing up for respect of the law, and encourages his Liberal colleagues to take responsibility for the mess they’ve created,” spokeswoman Laryssa Waler-Hetmanczuk said.

The Prime Minister’s Office said Mr. Blair will head up the government’s work on the migrant issue, while working closely with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who is responsible for the border agency, and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, who will still oversee the refugee determination process.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the appointment of a new cabinet minister to the migrant file is yet another sign that the Liberal government is “normalizing” the situation at the border. More than 31,000 asylum seekers have entered Canada between authorized points of entry since January, 2017. She invited Mr. Blair to testify to the House of Commons immigration committee this summer when it holds a series of emergency meetings on asylum seekers.

Refugee advocates expressed concern about the government’s decision to put the migrant issue under the ministerial umbrella of border security and organized-crime reduction.

“Now they are going to have an enforcement approach, to be stronger at the border,” said Francisco Rico-Martinez, co-director of the FCJ Refugee Centre in Toronto.

“Don’t forget that people in the middle are human beings, refugee claimants … . Don’t blame them.”

via Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair takes charge of Canada’s borders – The Globe and Mail