In June 2013, the Ombudsman released The Code, his report on how the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services deals with allegations of excessive use of force by correctional officers. The report called on the Ministry to eliminate the dysfunctional culture and pervasive “code of silence” that allowed some correctional staff to cover up aggressive, violent acts against inmates.

The report was the result of more than 180 interviews with inmates, Ministry officials at all levels, stakeholder groups and whistleblowers. Investigators also reviewed thousands of pages of documentation.

The Ministry agreed to all 45 of the Ombudsman’s recommendations, including several specifically addressing the code of silence and the need to create clearer procedures for reporting and investigating incidents of excessive use of force. It also committed to reporting to the Ombudsman on its progress every six months.

The Ministry began providing the Ombudsman with informal updates within weeks of the report’s release. In its first official report, in December 2013, it outlined several significant measures it has taken, including:
   Issuing a memorandum to all correctional staff from the Deputy Minister of Correctional Services, declaring that upholding the code of silence would be grounds for discipline, including termination (this marked the first time the code of silence was specifically acknowledged by the Ministry);
   Ensuring all code of silence allegations are dealt with at the Ministry’s highest levels, involving its internal investigations unit and police where necessary;
   Requiring immediate reporting of incidents where the code of silence is a factor, and notification of the Deputy Minister of all incidents and investigation outcomes;
   Updating internal employee policies to include statements expressly prohibiting activities that support the code of silence;
   Drafting a new code of conduct and ethics for correctional staff;
   Implementing new penalties for workers who uphold the code of silence, and assistance for those who have been victimized by it;
   Addressing the code of silence and the appropriate use of force during new recruit training;
   Restructuring to create the Correctional Services Oversight and Investigations Branch, headed by a Chief of Oversight and Investigations, who reports directly to the Deputy Minster; and
   Introducing Risk Management Teams in every institution, to assess whether force is used according to policy and recommend discipline when appropriate.

To date, the Ministry has addressed 34 of the Ombudsman’s 45 recommendations and is working on the rest, including plans to upgrade closed-circuit camera surveillance systems in correctional facilities.

Ombudsman staff continue to monitor complaints received about the use of excessive force against inmates. These increased slightly in the past year, from 67 in 2012-2013 to 71 in 2013-2014. In each case, Ombudsman staff review the facility’s response to ensure that the Ministry’s new policies are being followed. The Ministry will continue to report to the Ombudsman every six months on its progress.

Subject: The Code of Silence
  As malicious peer pressure undermines a healthy and safe work environment, these actions and behaviours are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
  Individuals who engage in Code of Silence and reprisal-related conduct will be held accountable for their actions and will be subject to appropriate discipline, up to and including termination from employment.”
Excerpt from memorandum to all correctional services staff, from Stephen Rhodes, Deputy Minister of Correctional Services, August 16, 2013