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Correctional Services: update on the MCSCS Human Rights Project Charter

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In August 2011, after lengthy litigation, a settlement was reached on a human rights complaint filed by Michael McKinnon against the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS). The settlement included creating a three-year Human Rights Project Charter agreement among MCSCS, the Ministry of Government Services (MGS) and the OHRC. Its purpose is to support MCSCS’s human rights organizational change initiatives, and to make sure the change process addresses public interest concerns.

The project partners will work to identify and eliminate any discrimination in all MCSCS employment and service activities, with a special focus on the needs and concerns of Aboriginal people. The work includes:

  • Creating an organizational culture that holds all staff accountable for upholding human rights-related obligations, as well as setting specific accountability for human rights change initiatives
  • Supporting ongoing efforts to recruit, select, promote and retain qualified people who reflect Ontario’s diversity
  • Providing human rights, equity and diversity training and professional development to create a working environment that fully complies with the Code
  • Setting up effective workplace discrimination and harassment prevention standards and procedures, including completing investigations in a timely way, and creating a comprehensive complaint tracking database.

Putting the leaders and staff in place

Project sponsors are the three Deputy Ministers of MCSCS and MGS, along with the OHRC Chief Commissioner. Despite facing challenges in the first months with the appointment of new Deputy Ministers at both MGS and MCSCS, plus a major staffing change, the project now is making excellent progress. Project members have created an overall work plan and a plan to evaluate project outcomes and effectiveness. It will be important to maintain staff continuity as much as possible for the project and its implementation.

Each of the three partner organizations has offered extensive training on their operations, so that key executives and senior staff understand:

  • Human Rights Code obligations and principles
  • Applicable human resources policies in the Ontario Public Service
  • MCSCS’ business operations and its human rights challenges, opportunities and initiatives.

This training has helped build trust among the partners, and a deeper understanding of the project’s goals and context.

Building on existing initiatives

MCSCS and MGS also have given the OHRC documents on initiatives already underway that meet some of the Project Charter’s change objectives. In addition, MCSCS provided data from:

  • Exit surveys
  • Employee Engagement survey
  • Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy
  • Inmate/client human rights-related complaints.

Focusing on key areas

Subcommittees of both management and staff will do much of the essential work of the project. Members will work on:

  • Accountability for human rights improvement
  • Recruitment, selection, promotion and retention
  • Aboriginal issues
  • Training
  • Managing human rights-related complaints
  • Evaluation.

Recruitment for these committees is underway, and training is planned for all members. An Executive Committee has been meeting for several months, reporting to the Project Sponsors. The Project Sponsors will also receive advice from an External Advisory Group, with expertise in Aboriginal issues, human rights issues and organizational change. A way is being proposed to include the inmates’ perspective.

Looking ahead

In fall 2012, the subcommittees will look at the strengths and weaknesses in human rights performance in employment and client service, and will develop and prioritize strategies and initiatives for improvement.

An Advisory Committee, which includes a representative from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, will review the recommendations and forward them to the Executive Committee, with their advice, for approval. MCSCS will implement the initiatives in the project’s second and third years, and the outcomes will be evaluated. Practical, measurable impact and sustainability of initiatives will be important considerations.

The OHRC will take part regularly in all committees to provide human rights expertise and to monitor the project’s continued progress in achieving the public interest goals, including:

  • Achieving significant medium-term improvements in the human rights climate and performance in MCSCS
  • Making sure that all management and staff continue to be accountable, and have the systems and capacity to sustain an organizational culture where human rights obligations are built in to all parts of their work and are consistently met.

The Project Charter does not preclude the OHRC from becoming involved in litigation in appropriate cases to address systemic issues.

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