Scarborough MP Roxanne James stands alongside Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu in Ottawa after her bill was passed again on Sept. 26.

‘Frivolous’ prison inmate complaints tackled by Scarborough MP

Conservative Scarborough Centre MP Roxanne James is one step closer to having her private member’s bill become law. Bill C-293, An Act to Amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complaints), was proposed in an effort to filter “ludicrous” complaints made by prisoners across Canada. It was recently passed at third reading and sent to the Senate on Sept. 26.

How bills become law

The bill is introduced to the House of Commons by an MP, usually a cabinet minister. Backbench MPs can introduce private members’ bills.

The bill is voted on and either it moves on to second reading, where the bill is voted on again, or it becomes “dead” meaning the bill does not proceed.

After second reading, the bill may be sent on to committees of the House where amendments can be made.

The bill is then subjected to a third reading.

If the bill gets through third reading, it then goes to the Senate.

When the bill has been debated and passed by the Senate it goes on to the Governor General for Royal Assent. The bill becomes law only after it has received Royal Assent.

The bill, if it is approved by the Senate and receives Royal Assent, would prevent prisoners from making multiple and frivolous complaints.  Another goal of the bill, according to James, is to allow Correctional Services of Canada (CSC) to be able to handle serious inmate complaints more effectively.

CSC communications officer Sara Parkes said Bill C-293 would provide them greater flexibility in dealing with “frivolous and vexatious grievers.”

Jason Irani, James’ executive assistant, views the bill as a step in the right direction.

“I think it’s a great bill personally myself. Something to the tune of 15 per cent of the complaints (which are in the thousands) are being made by a small handful of people and they are actually clogging up the correctional system for people who are incarcerated at this point and time to make complaints,” Irani said. “You’re hearing (complaints) like my light bulb is too bright or my potato is too hot.”

According to a press release posted on James’ website, one of the complaints considered vexatious was made by an inmate who said ice cream was being served too cold. Another complaint was filed because a white history month was not celebrated.

In a report based on the reading of the bill, Christine Moore, Quebec Abitibi-Témiscamingue MP for the NDP, expressed that she is against Bill C-293.

“Every offender shall have complete access to the offender grievance procedure without negative consequences,” Moore said.

Moore referred to the access of the grievance procedure, which states that the complaints and grievances procedure in prisons was instituted by a parliamentary subcommittee in the 1970s to prevent revolts and violent incidents that were tainting the prisons making the environment dangerous for both employees and inmates alike.

“The section is not there by accident,” Moore said. “The complaints and grievance procedure was a way to let inmates use something other than violence to express their concerns and resolve their problems.”