Federal inmates who keep complaining about one thing or another are on their way to being shut up for a year.
James told The Huffington Post Canada there are about 20 to 25 prisoners who together log more than 4,000 complaints a year about the conditions in federal penitentiaries. Some of the top complainants file more than 500 grievances a year.
"Some of these complaints are as ridiculous as their ice cream is too cold," James said.
"I’ve heard also my light bulb is too bright and my omelette is too small," she added.
"Someone even complained that there was no white history month. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
James said there are about 29,000 grievances filed on average each year, that but 0.1 per cent of offenders submit 15 per cent of all complaints. Inmates who complain can appeal the responses they receive all the way up to the Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, a process that is time consuming, expensive and annoying, James said.
"It’s a real hardship on our front-line corrections officers ... [and] it delays other legitimate complaints from being heard," she said.
James’ bill would allow the Commissioner to designate an offender as a “vexatious complainant” which would prevent him or her from complaining for a renewable 12-month period. “If the complaint is related to the safety of the person or the life and liberty of that person, the complaint would be heard,” she added.
The NDP is not expected to support the bill. NDP MP Sylvain Chicoine told the House of Commons earlier this year that many of the grievances filed by serial complainers were actually done on behalf of other inmates who didn't have the ability, aptitude or education to complain themselves.
In addition, Chicoine said James' bill would give the Commissioner of Correctional Service Canada "disproportionate discretion" to designate inmates as vexatious complainants. James' bill was also amended at committee to give cabinet the power to make new rules governing how vexatious complaints would be treated and how they might be allowed to rid themselves of the label.
James, who was elected in 2011, told HuffPost she wasn’t sure what issue to champion for her private member’s bill, but was told by colleagues that putting an end to frivolous prisoner complaints would be a popular move. She said she’d spoken to correctional officers who were pleased with the proposal but that she had not discussed her bill with any inmates.
"They should be focusing on their rehabilitation instead of playing games and filing complaints," she said.
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