The Prisoners’ Redress Tool Kit, Part 2 – The Gist

The Corrections and conditional Release Act (CCRA) and Regulations contain provisions that oblige the Correctional Service of Canada [CSC] to supply a “gist” of information to offenders, instead of a full disclosure of information. This occurs when CSC has to observe procedural fairness by informing offenders of the information against them prior to CSC making decisions that will adversely affect them. [See my post on administrative fairness below]

Being able to evaluate a gist is an important skill for prisoners. Knowing how to react to a gist may determine if you get the information you need to be able to successfully contest a decision that affects your rights.

Commissioner’s Directive 701 ( CSC policy) provides a good description of gists, [http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/text/plcy/cdshtm/701-cde-eng.shtml#aC]. The essential points of the policy are:

  • A gist should only be used in exceptional circumstances, such as when the provision a of complete version of information might create a risk of disclosing information to “the wrong people”
  • If neither a full version nor a gist can reasonably be shared then the information should not used considered in making the decision
  • A gist has to contain the essence of the full package – i.e. (per CD 701) “.. sufficient detail to allow the offender to know what the information is about..”
  • Only information whose disclosure could affect safety or security can be taken out of a gist.

So, when provided a gist by staff, prisoners should ask themselves, and staff, questions such as these:

  • Why just a gist? This is supposed to be an exceptional tool to be used only when the full version couldn’t be provided. What kind of information could not have been shared under the full version? Couldn’t this information have been vetted [blacked out] ? Note: the fact that information is created by security does not automatically mean that a gist is required or appropriate.
  • What does he gist provide that will permit the prisoner to understand and identify the events that are described? Are there dates and locations? Are the sources of the information described, as well as when and how this information became known to staff? Is all evidence used by staff described? Are reports such as Officer’s Statements, Threat and Risk Assessments and  Observation Reports identified and, wherever possible, attached to the gist?Note: While names and other ways of identifying informants can be removed, there should be enough information left in the gist to permit an informed response by the prisoner affected. In fact, the CCRA says that it must be “strictly necessary” to remove information for safety/security purposes.

How to respond to a gist

After asking the above questions – in essence, after determining whether more information should have been provided –  write down your comments. Ask to be provided a reasonable period to go over the gist before making any representations about the situation. At least 24 hours will help.

Points made should include:

  • whether you believe this gist provides you with enough information to defend yourself – and, if not, what is missing
  • why you believe that the full documentation, even if portions were blacked out, should have been provided
  • any details that appear missing or unclear about times and places of incidents
  • what reports, writings, notes, memos etc the gist was based upon
  • why you weren’t given copies of these
  • what concerns led to the removal of any information from the gist or from any supporting documents

If you do not get more or better information in response to your remarks and questions, grieve or seek legal counsel.

The failure to provide acceptable gists, or to provide the full version, can ultimately be grounds for judicial review of the decision, including even claims under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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