An inmate appealed a denial of family visits on the basis that he had refused to participate in a sex offender program. The Court concluded that the Commissioner’s interpretation of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, R.S.C. 1992, c.20 (the “Act”) did not appear reasonable. The Act provided that Mr. Edwards had a right to family visits subject only to reasonable limits. The court concluded the Commissioner erred when she decided that it was a “reasonable limit” to require that Mr. Edwards successfully complete the sex offender assessment and consequently the inmate’s application was granted. The matter was sent back to the Commissioner for reconsideration.

24. February 2004 0

Administrative law – Prisons – Visiting rights – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Prison Commissioner – Judicial review – Compliance with legislation – Standard of review – Correctness

Edwards v. Canada (Attorney General), [2003] F.C.J. No. 1887, Federal Court, December 10, 2003, Von Finckenstein

Mr. Edwards was a federal inmate at Joyceville Institution. He was serving a 10-year sentence for attempted murder, assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and uttering threats against his former girlfriend. Mr. Edward had not been convicted of any sexual offences. In considering rehabilitation a prison case management team considered police reports which summarized allegations from several victims, including a former girlfriend who alleged that Mr. Edwards had committed sexual offences. The team concluded that Mr. Edwards should undergo a Specialized Sex Offender Assessment. Mr. Edwards refused to partake in the assessment and as a result was denied access to prison family visits.

The inmate appealed to the Federal Court raising two issues: (1) Is the requirement that a prisoner undergo an assessment ultra vires the Corrections and Conditional Release Act; and (2) Is it a proper exercise of the Commissioner’s discretion to require that an inmate who has not been convicted of a sex offence undergo a Sex Offender Program before being granted family visits.

The court concluded that the standard of review for the interpretation of a statutory provision is correctness. After reviewing the legislation in question, the court held that the purpose of the Act was the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society. The court noted that Mr. Edwards had successfully completed the “High Intensity Family Violence Prevention Program” and that the Act provides that Mr. Edwards has a right to family visits subject only to “reasonable limits”. The court held that in spite of allegations of sexual offences the inmate had not been convicted of a sexual offence. As this was the case, the court held that the Commissioner erred in concluding that the inmate’s refusal to participate in the Specialized Sex Offender Assessment was a reasonable ground on which to disallow Mr. Edwards’ right to personal family visits. The matter was referred back to the Commissioner for reconsideration.

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