Prison ombudsman suspects Harper government looking to replace him

Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
Canada’s prison ombudsman learned just hours before his appointment was to expire Tuesday that the Harper government was re-appointing him as the watchdog of federal prisons.

But Howard Sapers doesn’t expect to be the country’s Correctional Investigator for long.

“I believe it is for up to one year pending the identification of a replacement. That’s what I believe, but I haven’t seen it. That’s my conclusion based on the discussions I have had over the last month,” said Sapers.

Sapers has been the prison ombudsman for 11 years and during that time has released report after report that has been critical of the federal prison system from mental health programs to the massive increases of Aboriginal offenders incarcerated.

Correctional Investigator

 

 “It’s not an adversarial job. It’s about making sure the system is accountable.” Howard Sapers, Correctional Investigator

 

 

His office also deals with thousands of complaints every year from inmates.

“It’s not an adversarial job. It’s about making sure the system is accountable,” said Sapers.

Sapers is still waiting for the final paper work from the Governor in Council and not taking it personally that he hasn’t found out yet.

Appointments can be for up to five years.

On the page that describes the role of the Correctional Investigator it shows Sapers’ job as vacant.

Vacancy

 

“We need him. We want him to stay.” Wayne Easter, Liberal MP

 

 

 

 

 

“I’ve never had to go through this but clearly the position isn’t vacant,” he said.

Liberal public safety critic MP Wayne Easter had nothing but good things to say about the work Sapers’ office has done.

“Howard has done an excellent job and sad reality is that is probably why he hasn’t been re-appointed for a longer term,” said Easter. “This is a government that likes to spin, likes to avoid the facts and Howard has been very factual of what’s happening in the prison system.”

Easter said if Sapers is replaced it would be concerning to those in the prison system that respect his work.

“We need him. We want him to stay,” said Easter.

Sapers’ reports have been used in criminal courts for lawyers said Mohawk lawyer Stephen Ford.

“As an Indigenous lawyer practicing criminal law I appreciate his work and his reports have been a valuable tool in educating the courts when sentencing Aboriginal offenders,” said Ford.

In 2013, his office reported the number of Aboriginal peoples finding themselves in prisons increased by nearly 50 per cent in the last 10 years, yet during the same period, the amount of Caucasian inmates dropped.

Sapers w mask

When Sapers started the job, 17 per cent of federal inmates identified as First Nations, Metis or Inuit. Today that number is a “staggering” 23 per cent despite making up just 4.3 per cent of the total Canadian population.

APTN has asked Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney’s office for comment multiple times but as of this posting has received no response.

It was expected his office was going to issue a release to Sapers’ appointment but as of 3:30 p.m. none was issued.

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Producer Nation to Nation - Ottawa

Kenneth is a journalist with nearly two decades of reporting experience who focuses on crime and social issues, including child welfare and wrongful convictions. He has worked out of APTN’s Ottawa bureau since October 2012.