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SECTOR 4:
CHAPTER 3
THE ARBOUR REPORT -- THE INDICTMENT OF A SYSTEM

In April 1994, a series of events began to unfold at the Prison for Women (P4W) in Kingston that exposed to public view and scrutiny, in a manner unprecedented in Canadian history, the relationship between the Rule of Law and operational realty. The videotaped strip searching of women prisoners by a male emergency response team shocked and horrified many Canadians, including correctional staff, when it was shown a year later on national television. The strip search and the subsequent long-term segregation of the prisoners became the subject of both a special report by the Correctional Investigator and a report by the Commission of Inquiry conducted by Madam Justice Louise Arbour. Both reports condemned the correctional practices that occurred in the Prison for Women, but Madam Justice Arbourís report contained the clearest indictment of the Correctional Service of Canada.

Following the submission of her report, Madam Justice Arbour was appointed Chief Prosecutor for the International War Crimes Tribunal, established to bring to trial those accused of crimes against humanity committed during the hostilities in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. It would be unfair to compare the murder and torture of men, women, and children under the guise of ethnic cleansing with what happened to a small group of prisoners at the Prison for Women; it is not unfair, however, to conclude from Madam Justice Arbourís findings that, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, Canadian correctional practices associated with the use of segregation continue to dehumanize and degrade prisoners and are inconsistent with fundamental principles enshrined in international human rights covenants, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms , and correctional law.

The Arbour Report ( Commission of Inquiry into Certain Events at the Prison for Women in Kingston [Ottawa:Public Works and Government Services Canada, 1996] [Commissioner: Louise Arbour]) is a critical document in the history of Canadian corrections, opening a window into correctional practices and attitudes beyond the narrow and little publicized view provided by individual judicial challenges by prisoners. In many respects, it provides for the 1990s what the report of the House of Commons Sub-committee on the Penitentiary System in Canada did for the 1970s; indeed, the findings of the Arbour Report serve as an important measure of how far the correctional system has progressed in bringing its operations into compliance with two of the fundamental principles pronounced by that Sub-committee: that "The Rule of Law must prevail inside Canadian penitentiaries" and that "Justice for inmates is a personal right and also an essential condition of their socialization and personal reformation" ( Report to Parliament at 86-87)

The Arbour Report also provides a window onto the world of Canadian women in prison and their experiences of justice. There is an important and growing literature on women's experience of imprisonment and the struggle to develop a women-centered model reflecting empowerment, choice, and healing. Readers are referred to Kelly Hannah-Moffatt, Punishment in Disguise: Penal Governance and Federal Imprisonment of Women in Canada [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001], and the resource links in the online version of this book.

My observations and inquiries in this book are focussed on correctional practices at Matsqui and Kent Institutions, prisons for men. The Arbour Inquiry focussed on practices at the Prison for Women, more than two thousand miles from the Fraser Valley. To the extent that Madam Justice Arbourís findings regarding disrespect for the law and continuing abuse of discretionary power parallel my own, they provide compelling evidence that these are systemic issues. To the extent that the Arbour recommendations for reform parallel those I have made, they suggest that these pathways to reform are not the idealistic musings of a civil rights lawyer but rather a principled and practical agenda for entrenching the Rule of Law in the Canadian prison system.

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Justice Louise Arbour