Our Policy Positions
Strip searches are traumatizing and humiliating to individuals, particularly those who have experienced sexual violence and abuse. Yet, individuals inside provincial correctional institutions are routinely subject to this form of invasive search.
- The Issue
Strip searches have harmful effects, particularly for people with mental health disabilities, women, Indigenous, Black and transgender people. The Supreme Court of Canada has highlighted the impacts of strip searches, calling them “inherently humiliating and degrading” and experienced as “equivalent to a sexual assault”. Strip searches involve removal of clothing, spreading the buttocks, moving breasts and genitalia and coughing while squatting in the presence of other people.
In Ontario, incarcerated individuals are subject to strip searches whenever deemed necessary by prison authorities. It has been suggested that Ontario law on strip searches is broad compared with other jurisdictions that have greater limits on when a strip search can be conducted.
- Our Position
In accordance with international standards, strip searches should only be undertaken if absolutely necessary and if there are reasonable grounds to believe the individual has hidden contraband on their body. Other technologies like body scanners should be utilized and provided as an option for incarcerated people in lieu of a strip search.
Where absolutely necessary and unavoidable, strip searches should be conducted in a manner that mitigates harms to the incarcerated individual. The search should be done in private with a staff member of the same gender as the incarcerated individual. The search should also be done in stages to avoid full nudity and limit humiliation.
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Ontario’s correctional institutions are made up of individuals with sentences of less than 2 years and individuals on remand, meaning those who were denied bail and awaiting trial. Individuals on remand are legally innocent yet represent the vast majority of those inside provincial correctional institutions.
- The Issue
There is a presumption of release at the bail stage, meaning an individual should be released unless the Crown can establish why this should not be the case. Despite the presumption of release and historically low crime rates, an increasing number of cases start in bail court and the remand population represents more and more of the population in provincial corrections. Based on 2022 data, individuals on remand account for 79% of the population in Ontario’s provincial correctional institutions.
The impacts of even short stays in remand are immense, and effect individuals, their families and communities as a whole. Black and Indigenous populations, as well as individuals experiencing homelessness, poverty, and mental health and substance use issues are overrepresented in the provincial remand population. Even a few days or weeks in detention can impact an individual’s employment, housing, and mental health. Individuals on remand lack access to programming, healthcare and social supports. The experience of incarceration destabilizes individuals and can contribute to, rather than prevent, a cycle of criminal justice involvement.
There is also a significant cost associated with incarcerating people as opposed to providing alternatives in the community. It costs upwards of $300 per day to house an individual in a correctional institution. This amounts to millions of dollars spent each yet to incarcerate individuals that are legally innocent and awaiting trial.
- Our position
Overincarceration contributes to, rather than prevents future justice system involvement. Instead, we should focus on measures to increase access to reasonable and timely bail, especially for overrepresented populations including Black and Indigenous Peoples. Community-based options, like bail verification and supervision programs, provide a low cost, evidence-based alternative to remand. Community-based programs provide community supervision while also addressing needs and risk factors of individuals to promote stabilization and prevent future charges.
Minimum Mandatory Penalties
Mandatory Minimum Penalties (MMPs) are predetermined sentences imposed on individuals convicted of certain offences as outlined in the Criminal Code. When an offense is punishable by an MPP, the judge has to impose a specific type and minimum length/severity of punishment even if there are compelling arguments or reasons in favour of a different sentence. MMPs may include imprisonment, prohibitions or fines.
- The Issue
Currently, Canadian law has a mandatory minimum life sentence for murder and there are other MMPs for specific crimes including impaired driving, firearm offences and sexual offences. MMPs may also be used for individuals with repeated offences.
Arguments in favour of MMPs cite their use in limiting judicial discretion, deterrence of crime and promoting consistency of sentencing. Critics of MMPs express concerns over the limit to judicial discretion, their ineffectiveness at deterring crime and the disproportionate use on Black and Indigenous peoples. There are also concerns that MMPs affect the principle of proportionality in sentencing which says that the sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the convicted person.
MMPs have disproportionately impacted Black and Indigenous populations. Black, Indigenous and racialized individuals are more likely to be admitted to federal corrections for an offence punishable by an MMP.
The use of MMPs is not new in Canada but since 2006 there were increases in the number of offences that are punishable by an MMP. A Bill in 2022, repealed a number of MMPs, particularly related to drug offences and some firearm offences in recognition of the failure of MMPs to deter crime and the disproportionate effect they have had on Black, Indigenous and marginalized communities.
- Our Position
Mandatory minimum penalties reduce judicial discretion and can result in unfair and disproportionate sentences. MMPs are not effective deterrents against crime and may actually increase the likelihood of further justice system involvement. The imposition of MMPs also contributes to the disproportionate incarceration of Black, Indigenous and marginalized people.
Sentences should be based on the circumstances of each case instead of limiting sentencing decisions to pre-determined minimum penalties that result in ineffective, and often excessive, punishment. A one-size-fits all approach to sentencing is not just, or effective. Instead, we should move away from mandatory minimum penalties in favour of sentencing policies that are evidence-based, and promote proportionality, transparency and the goal of rehabilitation.
Correctional Health Care
People incarcerated in Ontario corrections have higher rates of physical and mental illness, poorer health outcomes and experience conditions that exacerbate and cause health concerns. The majority of individuals in provincial corrections spend short times in correctional institutions and then return to communities, making prison health a matter of vested interest for all Ontarians.
- The Issue
Incarcerated populations have higher rates of acute and chronic health concerns than the general population. Correctional populations are 2-3 times more likely to have a mental health or substance use issue. HIV rates are twenty times higher and Hepatitis C rates are nearly one hundred times higher among incarcerated people when compared to the general population. Individuals aged 25-34 are 7 times more likely to die than the same group in the general population. Correctional populations are twice as likely not to have a primary care doctor prior to their incarceration and use emergency services at forty-seven times the rate of the general population.
The experience of incarceration can often create or exacerbate existing health issues. Overcrowding, lack of fresh air and inadequate means of maintaining personal hygiene contribute to the spread of communicable illnesses and worsen mental health. Segregation conditions and lockdowns also result in mental health concerns.
The healthcare system in corrections is not the same system that is available to other Ontarians. Health care in corrections is managed by the Ministry of Solicitor General, not the Ministry of Health. Understaffing, security concerns, and lack of resources have historically made the provision of adequate health care exceptionally difficult in correctional settings. Differing standards of care and the interruptions in health services and treatment as individuals move between correctional settings and the community often result in poorer health outcomes.
- Our Position
Incarcerated populations have higher rates of acute and chronic health issues than the general population. Periods of incarceration present an opportunity to connect individuals with health services and treatment to improve health outcomes. Ontario should ensure standards of care and access to treatment in provincial corrections aligns with the rest of healthcare system. To improve continuity of care between corrections and the community, the healthcare system in corrections should be integrated with the broader community health system.
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Police Records and Employment
Millions of Canadians have a police record that results in significant barriers to employment. Stigma and misconceptions about past criminal justice system involvement often results in the exclusion of job candidates that have a police record. Yet, for many individuals with a police record, stable employment is a critical part of rebuilding their lives and preventing further justice system involvement.
- The Issue
Police record checks are commonly used as part of the screening process for employment. Due to stigma and misconceptions about people with past justice system involvement, many employers are unwilling to hire people with police records.
Employers often cite risk and liability as reasons not to hire someone with a police record. Yet, the social science evidence on police records indicates that police records have little predictive value in determining risk. What the research does show is that stable employment, and the income, housing and social supports that employment can foster, are significant protective factors against criminal justice involvement. It is often perceived risk and the stigma associated with criminal justice involvement that results in exclusionary record check policies and practices.
Exclusionary police record check policies have large impacts. 1 in 9 Canadians have a criminal record of conviction. Black people and members of other racialized communities, Indigenous persons, those experiencing homelessness, mental health challenges, and substance use issues, along with others who are marginalized, are disproportionately policed and criminalized, and therefore, overrepresented among those with police records. With limited options for employment, people with police records often experience a lifetime of poverty and marginalization.
- Our Position
Every individual deserves a fair chance at employment and past involvement with the justice system should not result in exclusion or discrimination. Breaking down the stigma of police records and creating pathways to employment for people with past justice system involvement benefits individuals, uplifts communities and supports employers.