Tuesday, May 19, 2015


by Justin Piché, Assistant Professor, Criminology, University of Ottawa

Central to the Conservative Government of Canada's punishment agenda are (dis)integration measures that make it more difficult for the criminalized to fully rejoin society after the completion of their sentences.  The two articles in this edition of TPCP-Canada focus on the challenges arising from cuts to Circles of Support and Accountability and changes to the pardon system. 

With the 2015 federal election soon upon us, the next editions of TPCP-Canada will include articles that make visible the consequences of the Conservative punishment agenda.  We will also track the introduction of new 'law-and-order' legislation tabled by the federal government and opposition party responses, which will form the basis for their campaign platforms this fall.


by Adina Ilea, PhD Candidate, Criminology, University of Ottawa

by Samantha McAleese, PhD Student, Sociology, Carleton University

CoSA struggles in the face of CSC cuts

by Adina Ilea, PhD Candidate, Criminology, University of Ottawa

After ten years of contributing funding to Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) sites across Canada, five weeks ago the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) stopped funding this program proven to reduce sexual harm, which has been replicated across the world. Since 31 March 2015 CoSA sites have suffered tremendously.

Sites that are still operating have had to dedicate valuable hours – hours that would have otherwise been spent supporting core members, as well as recruiting and training volunteers – towards seeking other funding sources, be it through fundraising or writing grant applications. In Ottawa, the CoSA program coordinator, volunteers and board members organized a Fundraising Gala featuring Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers as the keynote speaker. Through tickets sales, auction items and other donations, CoSA-Ottawa was able to raise $10,000. While this kind of fundraising proved to be fruitful, with tickets selling out almost immediately due to an extensive network of supportive agencies and individuals, it’s extremely time-consuming and doesn't lead to long-term sustainability.  CoSA-Ottawa recently received the news that its application to the United Way for 50% of the funds needed to operate has been approved.  For now, its doors remain open.

Although CoSA-Ottawa has been lucky to be able to survive in the face of drastic cuts, other sites across Canada have had to close down or operate at a reduced capacity. Both the Moncton and the Halifax sites have closed after not only losing CSC funding, but also their community chaplaincy contract, which operated CoSA at those locations. The Kingston site has also closed. While the Salvation Army, under which CoSA operated in that city is still supporting ex-prisoners, without a designated CoSA coordinator whose job was terminated as a result of the cuts, the continuation of circles is tenuous. The Montreal (English) site has had its funding reduced to such an extent that the coordinator is working on an extremely reduced income – which could be better thought of as volunteer work. While his efforts and dedication are commendable, such an arrangement isn't sustainable. In other cities such as Edmonton, the coordinator’s position is only secured to the end of June. Without a dedicated coordinator, new volunteers and core members will most likely not be accepted and the existing circles will have to operate without oversight or support. The Regina site is only able to have part-time staff for two days a week. That amount of time is barely enough to provide support to the current circles, let alone start new ones or seek alternate sources of funding.

Despite the support of numerous other organizations and individuals, along with positivenews coverage, the future of CoSA sites in Canada is dire. Municipal, provincial and federal governments need to step up to help keep this effective program from shutting down.

Connecting with communities

Samantha McAleese, PhD Student, Sociology, Carleton University
with input from staff at the John Howard Society of Nova Scotia

Last month, I travelled out east to do some work with the John Howard Society of Nova Scotia. The purpose of this trip was to participate in a public learning event on pardons and record suspensions, similar to a forum that I helped organized with CPEP back in 2013. Despite the fact that winter was still looming over the Maritimes, everyone I met had a spring in their step and people were eager to understand how to better support individuals with criminal records in their communities.

The John Howard Society [JHS] has provided supports to criminalized individuals and their families for many years. Across Canada new resources have emerged in response to changes in penal policies, including services to help people who want to receive pardons or record suspensions. The John Howard Society of Nova Scotia [JHSNS] recognized a need in this area after the policy changes in 2010 and 2012, and now offer a Record Suspension Application Service to people in the area they serve.

Another major support that is offered by most JHS offices is employment preparedness. These programs often involve resume writing workshops, interview preparation, and help with job searching. Both frontline workers and managers at JHSNS have noticed an increasing struggle amongst criminalized persons when it comes to finding and securing a job in the community, despite being properly trained, well prepared, and eager to work.  Some of the challenges those they work with face and what they achieved during the public learning event are described below.

Through these [employment] initiatives we have observed many of our clients struggling to find gainful employment because they have a criminal record… As a result, we see many men and women trapped in income assistance programs or in low-wage, insecure and irregular employment because their criminal record effectively renders them ineligible for jobs that they would otherwise be qualified for.

For some, getting a record suspension would be a solution to their problem. However, even those who meet the eligibility criteria, and pose very strong candidates, are often unable to afford the expenses attached to applying for a record suspension. On a regular basis we encounter the following situation: Without gainful employment, individuals can’t afford a record suspension. At the same time, without getting a record suspension individuals cannot obtain gainful employment.

This problem, paired with the complicated process of preparing a record suspension application, inspired JHSNS to host a public learning event on record suspension policies and application procedures. Through the event, we wanted to improve understanding of the issue and the application process among community agencies, employers, and the public. Further, we wanted to start a local conversation about it. Given the turnout at the event, and the great discussion during the Q&A period, we feel that we accomplished both of those goals – although our work certainly isn’t over yet!

To echo the comments provided by staff at JHSNS, the public learning event held at the shiny new Halifax Central Library was very successful. Not only was I able to educate community members and frontline workers on the intricacies of the record suspension application process, but they educated me on the obstacles faced by their clients. One woman reminded me to think of victims, and specifically victims who are owed restitution. If criminalized persons are unable to find employment, then restitution will go unpaid and reparation for harm caused will never be achieved. Another attendee spoke to individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, and their struggles to communicate with the Parole Board about their record suspension applications. Finally, I got to hear stories from people who have been successful in obtaining their record suspensions, and who can now move forward with their employment and education goals.

As I continue my work around issues of re-entry I hope to engage in more public learning events like the one in Halifax and look forward to building relationships with individuals and community organizations that are focused on justice that stems from compassion, understanding, and forgiveness, rather than fear, anger, and exclusion.