Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Corrections swamped by vexatious inmate complaints

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What would you say to an inmate at a federal prison facility who filed a formal complaint that his eggs were too small, his ice cream was too cold or his potato was not the right size?

Yes, well, we can imagine. But if you're with the Correctional Service of Canada, the response would -- and must -- be quite a bit different.

Don Head, commissioner of the correctional service, told a recent parliamentary committee meeting that a handful of federal inmates lodge more than 100 grievances a year -- about 18 per cent of all complaints filed.

What's the procedure in the event of an egg complaint?

"What we would do is go back and look at the menu for the day, the quantity of eggs produced, realizing that chicken eggs come in varying sizes that you and I buy. There's a chance maybe his egg was a little smaller.

"At the end of the day, that may have been the luck of the draw. There's not much we can do about that. But the offender, because of the way the law is written right now, he can be unhappy with that answer and immediately file a second-level grievance."

Seriously, folks, this is your tax dollars at work -- paying some poor schmuck to look into a complaint about an egg being too small.

Kudos to Conservative MP Roxanne James, who has introduced a private member's bill that would put an end to endless beefs by a select few offenders by allowing some to be designated "vexatious complainants."

If that sounds familiar, it's because there already exists in civil law a term called "vexatious litigant," which is defined as somebody who initiates legal action maliciously and without cause for the purpose of annoying or embarrassing an opponent.

James says frivolous complaints have got to stop.

Some prisoners get so adept at abusing the system that they not only make life miserable for corrections officials who are compelled to respond to complaints, but for other inmates whose beefs might not get the attention they deserve due to fatigue on the part of investigators. Not to mention the fact that taxpayers expect more bang for their buck than full-on investigations regarding the size of an egg yolk or specifics of a spud.

Canada's corrections watchdog Howard Sapers told Postmedia News Service one must be careful in limiting the options for prisoners, some of whom may suffer mental health issues. He added a complaint that appears frivolous might have merit at the end of the day.

Nobody is suggesting inmates should not be allowed to complain, but those who have a track record of wasting valuable time and resources on boneheaded beefs must be stopped.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2012 A15

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