2016-2017 Evaluation of the National Flagging System Program
Final Report

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Table of Contents

Executive Summary

The Program

The National Flagging System was established in 1995 to ensure that provincial/territorial Crown prosecutors were aware of the potential information held in other provinces/territories regarding an offender's high and continuing risk of future violent conduct. The National Flagging System is both a database and a network of provincial/territorial officials, referred to as National Flagging System Coordinators, who are responsible for identifying high-risk offenders for flagging purposes.

The National Flagging System operates through the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC), which is housed within the RCMP. CPIC facilitates the sharing of person records to support this Program. When a flagged offender re-offends anywhere in Canada, those NFS Coordinators that have access to CPIC messaging functionality are notified through CPIC. NFS coordinators must apply and be granted CPIC system access before sharing the aforementioned information.

The NFS is a $500,000/year grant program for the provinces with base funding of $25,000 per year per province and the remainder divided among the provinces on a population basis. Funding is used for salaries, equipment for electronic storage and file distribution, communication and travel for training and conferences that enhance expertise in the area of high-risk offenders. The territories, while part of the network, are not eligible for funding because the administration of justice is the responsibility of the Public Prosecution Service, a federal body that cannot be funded under the grant program.

Why it is important

High-risk offenders are a mobile population. Many spend time in the federal penitentiary system and may be moved around the country. After their incarceration, there is high incentive for them to relocate as they are often known in their community. There is a need for coordination among provinces and territories in the management of high-risk offenders. Inter-jurisdictional cooperation is essential in order to ensure that prosecutors have the information necessary to treat them appropriately if they re-offend anywhere in Canada.

What we examined

The evaluation assessed the relevance and performance of the NFS Program over the period 2012-13 to 2016-17. It examined: 1) continued need, 2) alignment with federal government priorities, 3) alignment with federal roles and responsibilities, 4) progress towards achievement of intended outcomes, and 5) efficiency and economy.

What we found

Relevance

There is a continued need for the NFS and inter-jurisdictional cooperation so that prosecutors have information to ensure flagged offenders are treated appropriately if they re-offend anywhere in Canada. Workload is increasing because of the requirement to maintain files on high-risk offenders who tend to have long criminal careers. Given the mobility of long-term offenders, inter-provincial co-operation and sharing of information are crucial. Without federal funding some provinces are likely to become inactive leading to less communication, information sharing and cooperation among provinces.

By identifying and tracking high-risk offenders and providing information on flagged offenders should they reoffend anywhere in Canada, the Program is aligned with the Government of Canada's and Public Safety's objective of a Safe and Secure Canada.

The administration of justice is an area of shared responsibility between the federal government and the provinces/territories. The Program is consistent with federal roles and responsibilities to provide national leadership to foster cooperation and coordination among the provinces/ territories in the management of high risk offenders. Cost sharing reflects the need for information sharing with respect to this population as their mobility is increased when transferred within the federal penitentiary system.

The NFS is a unique network with no equivalent counterparts. It has synergies with provincial flagging systems and with the new High Risk Child Sex Offender database for which NFS Coordinators have recently agreed to act as a conduit between the RCMP and organizations in the provinces/territories conducting public notifications.

Performance – Effectiveness

The evidence from interviews as well as document and literature reviews suggests that the Program is contributing to the outcomes identified in its logic model.

The Program has helped provinces maintain or increase their capacity to identify and track high- risk offenders by providing funding for resources, training and equipment and by encouraging the development of inter-and intra-provincial/territorial networks.

Although the data suggests that offenders who are higher risk than the general offender population are being identified, referred, flagged and tracked, it appears that cases may be missed and flagging criteria may be inconsistent across provinces. Work underway in certain provinces suggests that twice as many offenders should be flagged. A 2015 research study conducted in collaboration with PS points to inconsistency in flagging noting that some provinces are flagging disproportionally more offenders even though there were no differences in risk scores or recidivism rates between provinces.Footnote 1 The study also concluded that “the NFS appeared to function as an appropriate mechanism for tracking offenders at increased risk for violent or sexual recidivism” and identifies the right risk offenders.Footnote 2 Interviewees suggested that the program could be improved by reviewing flagging guidelines and practices.

There are no standards for the timeliness of the transfer of information between provinces/territories; however, most interviewees felt it had improved and that files were transferred to meet court deadlines.

Increased knowledge about the NFS and flagged offenders among Crown prosecutors and other justice partners is attributed to education and training, good communications between Coordinators and prosecutors and the knowledge and accessibility of Coordinators and staff to those with questions or seeking information.

NFS information is seen to affect outcomes because it is readily and nationally available, extensive, complete and of high quality. It would be difficult for a Crown prosecutor to identify and obtain information of this caliber in a timely manner through his/her own efforts. NFS information is used to make decisions on charges, prosecution strategy, bail submissions, plea negotiations and sentencing recommendations as well as to alert prosecutors to the need to consider making an application for Dangerous Offender or Long Term Offender designations and as input into the programming an inmate receives from the Correctional Service of Canada.

The NFS facilitates Dangerous Offender and Long Term Offender applications by providing complete criminal histories to support these applications, documenting intensive court processes and significantly reducing resource demands on Crown prosecutors that may in the past have limited the number of applications. A 2015 PS research study found that 14% of flagged offenders included in the study were subsequently designated compared to 1% of Canadian violent recidivists.Footnote 3

Having dedicated NFS staff, partly funded by federal grants, has facilitated the achievement of outcomes and the development of a network and strong relationships that are fostered through Coordinators' meetings.

Two factors have been identified by some of the interviewees to have hindered the achievement of the Program's outcomes: information sharing challenges with the Correctional Service of Canada and the backlog faced by the RCMP in entering the criminal records of offenders in the CPIC. However, the RCMP indicated that CPIC does not have a backlog of any information.

PS research studies published in 2005 and 2015 have provided confidence that the right people are being flagged and have helped Coordinators understand the impact of the Program. However, no additional research is currently planned.

A number of potential improvements related to the Program have been suggested including reviewing flagging guidelines and criteria to improve inter-provincial consistency, implementing automatic notification of flagging candidates from provincial databases to minimize missed cases, preparing case summaries to improve the usefulness of flagging files to Crown prosecutors, increasing the use of electronic files, developing a web-based national database to store flagged offender files, more timely and consistent access to the Correctional Service of Canada data, more training for prosecutors on the Dangerous Offender and Long Term Offender application process and more systematic communication within the network to share information on issues and challenges related to high-risk offenders.

Performance – Efficiency and Economy

As recommended by the previous evaluation, a Performance Measurement Strategy was completed in 2014 and implemented in 2015.

At 8%, the administration ratio for the program is in line with that of other grant programs and is indicative of an efficient administrative process. It is noted that the ratio has increased from 4.5% at the time of the last evaluation.

The evaluation has identified a number of opportunities for improvement. To that end, the following recommendations are being made for consideration.

Recommendations

Internal Audit and Evaluation Directorate recommends that the ADM of CSCCB:

  1. In collaboration with the provinces, to develop more structured flagging criteria and guidelines to improve consistency in the application of these criteria by NFS coordinators and across jurisdictions;
  2. To work with NFS coordinators and Correctional Service Canada (CSC) to improve consistency, timeliness and ease of access to CSC information by NFS coordinators and across jurisdictions.

Management Response and Action Plan

Management accepts all recommendations and will implement an action plan.

1. Introduction

This report presents the results of the Public Safety Canada (PS) 2016-17 Evaluation of the National Flagging System (NFS) Program.Footnote 4 The NFS was established in 1995 to ensure that provincial/territorial Crown prosecutors were aware of the information held in other provinces/ territories on high-risk, violent offenders. In 2007, PS implemented a grant program to support provinces in their efforts to create a national system. The grant component of the program currently is due to sunset on March 31, 2017.

The Evaluation is consistent with the 2009 Treasury Board Policy on Evaluation, which required all ongoing programs of grants and contributions be evaluated every five years to support policy and program improvement, expenditure management, Cabinet decision making, and public reporting. Section 42.1 of the Financial Administration Act also requires contribution programs to be evaluated every five years. The last evaluation was completed in 2011-12.

2. Profile

2.1 Background

The National Flagging System was established in 1995 to ensure that provincial/territorial Crown prosecutors were aware of the potential information held in other provinces/territories regarding an offender's high and continuing risk of future violent conduct. The National Flagging System is both a database and a network of provincial/territorial officials, referred to as National Flagging System Coordinators, who are responsible for identifying high-risk offenders for flagging purposes.

The National Flagging System operates through CPIC, which is housed within the RCMP. CPIC is a computerized system responsible for the storage, retrieval and communication of shared operational police information to all accredited criminal justice and other agencies involved with the detection, investigation and prevention of crime.

When a flagged offender re-offends anywhere in Canada, those NFS Coordinators that have access to CPIC messaging functionality are notified through CPIC. CPIC facilitates the sharing of records through the “Special Interest to Police – High Risk Offender” type. NFS coordinators must apply and be granted CPIC system access before sharing the aforementioned information. To date, New Brunswick and Alberta are the only provinces whose NFS coordinators have this sharing procedure.  

This notification allows for the transfer of information from the province/territory holding the offender file to the NFS Coordinator in the province where the new offence occurred, who in turn sends the offender file to the Crown prosecutor handling the new charges. Information in the offender file is used to make decisions on charges, prosecution strategy, bail submission, plea

negotiations and sentencing recommendations as well as to alert prosecutors to the need to consider making an application for DO or LTO designation.

The grant program is intended to enhance the capacity of the provinces to identify and track high-risk, violent offenders and facilitate prosecution and sentencing of these offenders if they re-offend. The provinces are provided with base funding of $25,000 per year with the remainder of the $500,000 annual budgetFootnote 5 divided between the provinces based on population.Footnote 6 In accordance with the Terms and Conditions of the grant program, funding is used for salaries/ wages for personnel to support the NFS, equipment to enable electronic storage and distribution of case files on flagged offenders, communication costs, and travel expenses to participate in training and/or conferences to enhance expertise in the area of high-risk offenders.

The Crime Prevention and Aboriginal Community Safety Policy Directorate within PS' Community Safety and Countering Crime Branch is responsible for administering NFS grants  and PS conducts research to support the Program. At the national level, the NFS is overseen by a working group comprised of all provincial/territorial NFS Coordinators, the NFS National Coordinator and representatives from PS, the Correctional Service of Canada and the Department of Justice. As stewards of the CPIC, the RCMP representatives are invited to participate in working group meetings. The working group meets every 18 months to discuss issues related to the Program.

The provinces submit an application in order to receive their funding allocation. The last applications were for 2015-2016 to 2016-2017. Applications must include a description of the activities to be carried out with the grant funding, anticipated results from the activities, as well as budgets by activity for each fiscal year, and a commitment to provide information to support the Program's Performance Measurement Strategy. Subsequent to a review of the applications, grant agreements are signed with each of the provinces which receive annual payments. The payment for year two is contingent upon receipt of an annual report containing a breakdown of spending, achievements during year one, contribution to expected Program outcomes, and an assessment of the capacity and commitment of each province to deliver the Program.

2.2 Program Objectives

The activities and outputs of the NFS Program are expected to lead to the following outcomes:

Immediate Outcomes:

Intermediate Outcome:

Final Outcomes:

Ultimate Outcome:

It should be noted that the NFS Program is not expected to prevent offenders from re-offending and thereby reduce crime. Rather it is intended to ensure that police and provincial/territorial Crown prosecutors have the information necessary to deal appropriately with offenders should they re-offend and to consider making an application for DO or LTO designation.

2.3 Logic Model

Logic Model

Description

The Logic Model works as a communication tool that summarizes the key elements of the program, explains the rationale behind program activities, and clarifies all intended outcomes.

The PS Enabling activities are:
1) Conduct studies, research, surveys and analysis; 2) Develop Terms and Conditions – Negotiate, administer and monitor grant funding and 3) Increased PT capacity to identify and track high risk offenders.

The Provincial/ Territorial Activities/ Outputs are:
Analysis: 1) Establish criteria and protocols for identification and referral of high risk offenders by local Crowns, police and/or correctional agencies and 2) P/T NFS coordinators accept referrals, review information and make decisions on whether to flag the offenders.

Liaison: P/T NFS coordinators communicate the decision to flag an offender and exchange information with the police, corrections, Crown prosecutors and other P/T NFS coordinators.
Maintenance: P/T NFS coordinators review the flagged offender files as required and keep them up to date.

The Provincial/ Territorial Activities/ Outputs lead to the following immediate outcome: At the national level, high risk offenders are consistently identified, referred, flagged and tracked.

The immediate outcome then leads to the following intermediate outcome: Flagged offender information is transferred between provinces in a timely manner.

The intermediate outcome leads to the following final outcome: Increased knowledge about flagged offenders among PT Crown Prosecutors that support prosecutions well informed decisions regarding applications for DO/LTO designators.

The final outcome leads to the strategic outcome: A safe and resilient Canada

3. About the Evaluation

3.1 Objective

The objective of the evaluation is to provide an evidence-based, neutral assessment of the relevance and performance (effectiveness, efficiency and economy) of the program.

3.2 Scope

The evaluation covered the five year period from 2012-2013 to 2016-2017 and addressed all aspects of the NFS Program, i.e. the grant program, PS activities to administer the program and PS research on the NFS. The performance of the NFS in the territories was not assessed as they do not receive grant funding.

The evaluation assessed the relevance and performance of the NFS Program and looked at all five core evaluation issues identified in the Directive on the Evaluation Function, i.e.: 1) continued need, 2) alignment with federal government priorities (including linkages between program objectives and (a) government priorities and (b) PS strategic outcomes), 3) alignment with federal roles and responsibilities, 4) progress towards achievement of intended outcomes, and 5) efficiency and economy.

3.3 Methodology

The risk associated with the NFS Program is considered to be low because the funding goes to the provinces and the program has a low dollar value ($500,000 per year). The program was evaluated in 2011-12 and was found to be achieving its intended outcomes and to be administered efficiently. The evaluation recommended that a Performance Measurement Strategy (PMS) be developed. A PMS was developed and put in place in October 2014. As a result of low program risk and in order to use evaluation resources effectively, the level of effort for the evaluation was reduced by limiting the research and data collection.

3.3.1 Evaluation Core Issues and Questions

In accordance with the Directive on the Evaluation Function, the evaluation examined the following issues and questions:

  1. Is the NFS Program still needed?
  2. How does the NFS Program relate to current government priorities and PS strategic outcomes?
  3. Is the NFS Program consistent with federal roles and responsibilities?
  4. Does the NFS Program duplicate or complement other PS and federal government initiatives?

 Performance—Effectiveness  

  1. To what extent has the NFS Program achieved its expected outcomes?
  2. What factors have hindered or facilitated the achievement of outcomes?
  3. How has research on the NFS contributed to the achievement of outcomes?
  4. Are there any unintended outcomes (either positive or negative)?

 Performance—Efficiency and Economy

  1. Have the recommendations of the previous evaluation been implemented?
  2. Have the resources used to deliver the NFS Program been minimized (economy)?
  3. Are there alternative approaches to achieving the intended outcomes that would cost less (efficiency)?
  4. Are there improvements that could be made to the NFS Program (efficiency)?

3.3.2 Lines of Evidence

The methodology for the evaluation included the following lines of evidence:

Literature Review

Research reports produced by PS on the NFS were reviewed to obtain information on the continued need for the program and its effectiveness in achieving intended outcomes.

The list of literature reviewed is provided in Annex A.

Document Review

Relevant documents such as the Speeches from the Throne and Reports on Plans and Priorities were reviewed to assess the alignment of the grant program with federal priorities and PS strategic outcomes. In addition, legislation and foundational program documents were reviewed to assess consistency with federal roles and responsibilities. A list of documents reviewed is provided in Annex A.

Key Informant Interviews

A total of 12 interviews were conducted to collect information on the continued need for the program and its success in achieving intended outcomes as well as its efficiency and economy. Interviewees included program staff, a sample of provincial and territorial NFS Coordinators, and a representative of the CSC. Interviews were conducted either face-to-face or by telephone using a standard interview guide for each interviewee group. Interview guides were sent to interviewees in advance.

Analysis of Program Information and Financial Data
Information gathered on performance indicators identified in the NFS Performance Measurement StrategyFootnote 7 was used to assess achievement of intended outcomes. In particular, the provinces were asked to compare the achievement of intended outcomes in 2013-14 and 2014-15. This information was supplemented by a review of provincial funding applications and annual reports submitted by the provinces. Financial information was obtained to address the issue of efficiency and economy.

3.4 Limitations

The evaluation team interviewed representatives from a sample of provincial/territorial NFS Coordinators in order to calibrate the level of effort for the evaluation to the level of program expenditure. The evaluation addressed this limitation by supplementing interview information with the results of a performance measurement assessment undertaken in 2015 and completed by all the provinces. In addition, the evaluation used data from two PS research reports addressing the extent to which the NFS was achieving its objectives.

Although no one from the RCMP was interviewed as part of this evaluation, this report was provided to the RCMP for fact validation. The RCMPs comments were, to the extent possible, incorporated into this report.

NFS activity data submitted by the provinces in annual reports were not consistent across provinces. These data were used largely for illustrative purposes and could not be used to make comparisons or undertake trend analysis.  

3.5 Protocols

This report was submitted to program managers and to the responsible Assistant Deputy Minister for review and acceptance. A Management Response and Action Plan was prepared in response to the evaluation recommendations. These documents were presented to the PS Departmental Performance Measurement and Evaluation Committee (PMEC) for consideration and for final approval by the Deputy Minister of Public Safety.

4. Findings

4.1 Relevance

4.1.1 Need for the Program

The National Flagging System was established to ensure that candidates for either Dangerous Offender or Long Term Offender applications, should they re-offend, are identified, tracked and the authorities are properly notified. When a flagged offender re-offends anywhere in Canada, the NFS Coordinators are notified. To assess the relevance of the program, the evaluation examined the extent to which there was a continued need for having such a system in place. In addition, given that the Federal Government provides $500,000 per year in grants to provinces to administer the program, the evaluation also assessed to what extent there is a continued need for the Federal Government's financial contribution to this program.     

The crime rate in Canada decreased 35.2% from 1998 to 2014. However, there has been a smaller decrease in violent crime (22.8%). Crime rates are higher in the West and highest in the North. The crime rate in Nunavut, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories is six times the national average.Footnote 8   

High-risk offenders are a mobile population. Many spend time in the federal penitentiary system and may be moved around the country. As a result of day parole and half-way house programs associated with the federal institutions where they are incarcerated, they may be re-integrated and released somewhere other than where they were convicted. This is particularly true in the North where federal prisoners are typically sent South. In addition, according to interviewees, sex offenders who are being watched or are known in the community have a particular incentive to move to another jurisdiction. Because of the mobility of high-risk offenders, inter-jurisdictional cooperation is essential in order to ensure that prosecutors have the information necessary to ensure they are treated appropriately if they re-offend anywhere in Canada. The NFS is a mechanism for ensuring that candidates for either DO or LTO applications, should they re-offend, are flagged and tracked in a national database and information on their criminal history is available to prosecutors.

Prior to the availability of federal funding, several provinces were not active participants in the NFS. According to provincial annual reports, NFS grant funding has been used to hire staff, purchase equipment (especially scanners) and to pay for travel and communication costs associated with the NFS. Many, but not all, provinces have been able to convert to digital files and the introduction of technology has helped to restrain NFS costs.

NFS workload is increasing as new offenders are referred for flagging. For example, the number of flagged offenders in Ontario increased by 18% between 2012-13 and 2014-15. Most provinces report backlogs in completing files for new flagged offenders. In addition to documenting new flagged offenders, files for existing flagged offenders must be maintained. Most flagged offenders have long criminal careers spanning decades. Each new offence must be documented along with information on their history while incarcerated.

Most of the provinces contribute significantly to the costs of the NFS in addition to NFS grant funding (e.g. British Columbia pays approximately 80% of the cost and Ontario spends on average $80,000 per year on purchasing court transcripts). Interviewees were of the opinion that without NFS grant funding the level of participation, cooperation and information sharing would drop; some of the participants would stop attending face to face meetings; and some provinces, particularly the smaller ones, may even stop participating in the program in its entirety. This could be particularly the case with those provinces that only decided to join the program after and as a result of the establishment of the grant program. In that case, the program would lose its cohesiveness and would no longer be considered a national program.

Based on the information collected, the evaluation concluded that there is a continued need for having a national flagging system and that the Federal NFS funding is important in helping the provinces maintain the capacity to achieve a shared public safety objective and to facilitate inter-jurisdictional cooperation.

4.1.2 Alignment with PS Strategic Outcomes

The 2012-13 Report on Plans and PrioritiesFootnote 9 describes the Department's responsibility to provide federal policy leadership and coordination and program support and to work in close collaboration with the provinces and territories and, in particular, to oversee the effective management of the NFS, a tool to assist in the accurate identification of high-risk, violent offenders. In addition, the departmentFootnote 10 maintains a strong research function in support of policy development in priority areas including, high-risk/violent offenders and sexual offenders pertinent to the NFS.

4.1.3 Consistency with Federal Roles and Responsibilities

The administration of justice is an area of shared responsibility between the federal government and the provinces. The provinces administer justice in their jurisdictions including organizing and maintaining the civil and criminal provincial courts and establishing civil procedure in those courts. The federal government has exclusive authority over procedure in courts that try criminal cases.

Provincial governments carry out most Criminal Code prosecutions, charges laid under provincial legislation, and offences against municipal by-laws. Prosecutions under federal laws, other than the Criminal Code, are conducted by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC). In the territories, the PPSC conducts all criminal prosecutions, including those under the Criminal Code.

The NFS supports provincial responsibility for prosecution of Criminal Code offences by providing information for prosecutors to use in making bail and sentencing recommendations. It ensures that high-risk, repeat offenders are treated appropriately in light of complete information on their criminal history. The high-risk offender is a mobile population within the federal penitentiary system; therefore, the federal government bears some responsibility for supporting the sharing of information and associated costs needed to manage this population and keep Canadians safe.

In addition to supporting the provincial responsibility for prosecution, the NFS contributes to the federal responsibility for public safety by improving management of the most dangerous offenders. Just as the federal government provides leadership in health care and other areas of provincial responsibility, there is a need for national leadership to foster cooperation and coordination among the provinces and territories in the management of high-risk offenders.

4.1.4 Duplication or Complementarity

Interviewees noted that the NFS is a unique network. Even amongst policing services across the country, there is no mechanism in place such as the NFS. As a result, the NFS is frequently used when a point of contact in another jurisdiction is needed with respect to high-risk offenders in general (not just flagged offenders) and a variety of other issues.  

There are synergies between the NFS and other functions. For example, in several provinces the NFS is co-located with those responsible for Sect. 810 orders.Footnote 11 There are also synergies between the NFS and flagging systems in some provinces. For example, British Columbia (BC) has had a flagging system since 1980. Typically, offenders are flagged in the provincial system first, then in the NFS as criminality increases. Saskatchewan established a Serious Violent Offender Response (SVOR) system in 2012 which operates out of the same office as the NFS and targets youth and young adults (“flagged offenders in waiting”) for special attention. The Yukon government has a Prolific Offender Management Program (POM) where the top 25 offenders receive special attention from Corrections, the Crown and RCMP. NFS information is shared with this program.

In addition to synergies with provincial tracking systems, at the November 2015 meeting of NFS Coordinators, the RCMP asked the Coordinators to play a role in the establishment of a new public database of high-risk child sex offenders.Footnote 12 The Coordinators agreed to act as a conduit between the various bodies in the provinces and territories who conduct public notifications and the RCMP's Behavioral Sciences Branch in Ottawa, which will be maintaining the database. 

4.2 Performance—Effectiveness

In assessing outcomes, the evaluation relied on several lines of evidence: interviews (particularly with provincial/territorial Coordinators), program performance information submitted by the provinces and two Public Safety research reports assessing the success of the NFS in achieving its objectives.

4.2.1 Achievement of Expected Outcomes

Increased Provincial Capacity to Identify and Track High-risk Offenders

The program has helped the provinces maintain or increase their ability to identify and track high-risk offenders. Most interviewees felt capacity had increased. Provincial/territorial Coordinators identified the availability of resources, training, equipment, access to the CSC's Offender Management System and the development of networks within and between provinces as contributing to improved capacity. Alberta described the files on more recently flagged offenders as being more robust. Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador suggested that without federal funding, participation in the NFS would be difficult. Quebec described the grant funding as allowing the provinces to develop a team dedicated to tracking and following offenders with a high risk of recidivism.

Consistent Identification, Referral, Flagging and Tracking of High-risk Offenders

The data suggests that high-risk offenders are being identified, referred, flagged and tracked. While each province reports their data differently, all provincial annual reports on the NFS provided information on identification, referral, flagging and tracking activities. Manitoba reported 198 referrals for flagging over four fiscal years, ranging from 35 referrals in 2012-13 to 42 in 2015-16. Eight provinces provided data on the number of cases flagged. Ontario, reporting over 1,000 individuals in a 4-year period, had the highest number of cases, while PEI reported zero. New Brunswick reported flagging 58 cases in 2013-14 and 125 in 2014-15. Eight provinces also reported data on the number of high-risk offenders being tracked. In 2013-14, British Columbia tracked 886 high-risk offenders, Saskatchewan 381, Quebec 316 and Ontario 4,864.

A study undertaken in 2004-05Footnote 13 found the NFS was indeed identifying the right people, i.e. those who scored higher on risk indices than the general offender population. A recent follow-up studyFootnote 14 noted that overall the NFS appeared to function as an appropriate mechanism for tracking offenders at increased risk for violent or sexual recidivism. This report also drew the following conclusions related to offenders:

While PS research studies show that the NFS is identifying the right people, there is no assurance that all of those who should be flagged are being identified. A couple of provinces noted that they are currently reviewing the information in their databases to determine how offenders who should have been flagged may have been missed.

Interviewees indicated that awareness-building and training among police and Crown prosecutors, undertaken by NFS Coordinators, have been important factors in improving referral and tracking of high-risk offenders, but noted an ongoing need for education. The Coordinators from four provinces stated they had implemented, or were implementing automatic notification with respect to candidates for flagging from provincial databases. This is expected to reduce the number of missed cases since the NFS would no longer rely solely on Crown prosecutors and corrections officials for referrals.

Interviewees noted that flagging criteria and other processes such as the content of NFS files are not standardized across provinces. Similarly, a 2015 research study conducted by PS noted that some provinces (e.g. Ontario) are flagging disproportionally more offenders even though there were no differences in risk scores or recidivism rates between provinces and that there was no consensus on the information that should be contained in NFS files.Footnote 15 The study also concluded that the NFS functions as an appropriate mechanism for tracking high risk offenders and is flagging the right risk offenders.Footnote 16

Timely Transfer of Information between Provinces

Although there are no standards related to timeliness, most Coordinators interviewed felt that it had improved. Those who were unsure said they responded to requests as quickly as possible and were able to meet court deadlines on information requested by their colleagues in other provinces. Provinces with highly digitalized information indicated that this was a major factor in improving timeliness. However, even in cases where flagged offender files have not been compiled due to backlogs (and most provinces do have backlogs), interviewees indicated the information can generally be pulled together within a couple of days. Having complete files, frequent contact among the provinces/territories, electronic file storage and transfer and access to the Offender Management System were perceived to contribute to increased timeliness. A couple of provinces specifically noted that both speed and value of exchanged information has increased every year as a result of federal funding.

Ontario reported that in 2014-15 the response time to provide information on flagged offenders was 4.5 days and the time required to provide information on other offenders was 12.2 days, a slight increase over the response times reported for 2013-14.

Increased Knowledge about Flagged Offenders among Provincial Crown Prosecutors to Support Prosecution

There is increased knowledge about the NFS and flagged offenders among provincial Crown prosecutors and other justice partners such as the police and the Parole Board. One interviewee said that people are more aware that NFS has a role in prevention. NFS Coordinators and staff provide training and presentations, attend meetings and conferences and are accessible to those with questions or seeking information. Another interviewee described the grant as enabling prosecutors to have access to a knowledgeable resource.

Good communications between NFS staff and prosecutors were identified as contributing to knowledge improvements. For example, one interviewee noted that more Crown prosecutors are aware of the program and contact the NFS when they feel an offender should be flagged. Another described the NFS team as having an advisory role among prosecutors who benefit from the expertise the team has developed.

NFS information is used to make decisions on charges, prosecution strategy, bail submissions, plea negotiations and sentencing recommendations as well as to alert prosecutors to the need to consider making an application for DO or LTO designation and as input into the programming an inmate receives from CSC. Interviewees were of the opinion that NFS information does affect outcomes. NFS information is extensive and can, for example, help a judge determine risk and select an appropriate sentence. If an offender has not been flagged, the onus to locate records, comb through them and gather information pertinent to the prosecution and sentencing falls on individual Crown prosecutors who might not be able to do this in a sufficiently timely manner to meet court deadlines.

Well-informed Decisions Regarding Applications for DO/LTO Designations

Interviewees indicated that federal funding has helped NFS units to collect and build more complete files and provide better information for DO/LTO applications. One interviewee described the DO/LTO applications as more information and document intensive than any other sentencing processes. The 2005 research study prepared by PS noted that a relatively small number of individuals are declared DOsFootnote 17 and speculated that this may be due in part to the high resource demands on Crown prosecutors to prepare DO applications. One NFS unit indicated that in 2014-15 the average time required to prepare a flagged offender file was 69 days. NFS files facilitate the preparation of DO/LTO applications by reducing the effort required on the part of Crown prosecutors to compile the necessary information.

A follow-up study by PS research published in 2015 showed that the NFS did appear to facilitate the application of preventative detention (DO/LTO designations)Footnote 18. The study found that 14% of flagged offenders included in the study were subsequently designated. By comparison, the average Canadian violent (including sexual) recidivist has a 1% chance of being subject to a DO or LTO designation. With respect to how the NFS facilitates the process, the authors of the study speculated that it is possible that the NFS creates a bias whereby prosecuting attorneys only consider making an application after discovering that the offender has been flagged. 

Some provinces credit positive outcomes on applications to the availability of NFS information. Ontario stated that the number of DO/LTO designations assented has gone from 19 (in 1999) to 40 (in 2015); about half of DO/LTO applications are for flagged offenders. Data provided by British Colombia and Alberta showed that the percentage of designations in which the offender was flagged increased between 2013-14 and 2014-15, from 40% to 50% in the case of BC and 14% to 62% in the case of Alberta.

Factors that have Hindered or Facilitated the Achievement of Outcomes

Interviewees observed that having people dedicated to the NFS, funded at least in part by NFS grants, has facilitated the achievement of outcomes. Trying to do the job “off the side of the desk” is not effective. Interviewees also noted that the relationships that have developed through the NFS network and Coordinators meetings have been invaluable in generating improved cooperation between jurisdictions with respect to flagged offenders but also more broadly.

Access to CSC information was the most cited hindrance. Interviewees noted that P/T access rules keep changing and are inconsistent between provinces and between regions within provinces. In one province, it can take up to three months to receive CSC electronic files. In other regions where they provide only paper files, it can take up to a year. Obtaining the Warrant Expiry DateFootnote 19 release packages is also problematic in many provinces. There have been examples where the NFS Coordinator only became aware that a flagged offender was released in the province after apprehension by police.

Four interviewees also identified limitations in the Canadian Police Information Centre as a hindrance. However, according to the information provided by the RCMP, CPIC does not have a backlog of any information. Accordingly, files that are sitting in the queue waiting to be updated are in relation to the National Repository of Criminal Records that fall within the responsibility of the Canadian Criminal Real Time Identification Services of the RCMP. While the Repository is accessed through the CPIC system, the information within it is not maintained by CPIC administrators.

Contribution of Research to the Achievement of Outcomes

In 2005, PS research released a report on a study of the effectiveness of the NFS in identifying and responding to potentially dangerous offendersFootnote 20. The study found that flagged offenders showed less serious and persistent criminality characteristics than known high-risk offenders and both groups were comprised of relatively high risk cases relative to the general offender population. The study concluded that the NFS appeared successful in appropriately identifying offenders who pose a risk to the community.

A follow up study was published in 2015 to evaluate whether the NFS still identified high-risk violent or sexual offenders and whether the NFS enhances the appropriate application of preventative detentionFootnote 21. The study concluded that flagged offenders were high risk and were significantly more likely to reoffend violently compared with LTOs and other federal recidivists. In addition, the study found that the NFS was successful in aiding in the application of preventative detention.

The results of these studies were presented to meetings of the NFS Coordinators. Interviewees noted that there was keen interest in the research on the part of the Coordinators. The research provided confidence that the right people were being flagged and helped Coordinators understand the impact of the program.

Research used to be a regular item on the agendas of Coordinators' meetings but is no longer. No research on the NFS has been conducted since 2015 and PS Research is not planning any additional research in the foreseeable future. Interviewees identified a number of topics for future research including: 1) research on the prediction of risk, especially with respect to Indigenous offenders, in order to validate tools and criteria; 2) research on the outcomes of DO applications and a comparison of DO rates across jurisdictions; and 3) an assessment of the effectiveness of Sect. 810 orders, which is a responsibility of the Department of Justice.

Unintended Outcomes

The NFS has created a network that can be leveraged for advice on issues not limited to flagged offenders and to share lessons learned. NFS Coordinators exchange emails regularly on issues.

The NFS is frequently used when a point of contact in another jurisdiction is needed. For example, the Sect. 810 officer in BC often relies on the NFS Coordinator to make contact in another jurisdiction. Interviewees indicated that there is no similar network among police services which consequently rely on NFS Coordinators to make contacts in other jurisdictions.

The NFS is also used by a variety of other justice partners. For example, CSC has contacted the Coordinator in Manitoba about parole plans, and the Ontario Coordinator has had calls from other justice partners such as parole officers and police forces.

Suggestions for improvement of the NFS

The interviewees suggested a number of improvements to the NFS. Although grant funding is intended to facilitate improved communications, it was suggested that flagging guidelines should be reviewed and best practices identified for lawyers and paralegals supporting the program. This suggestion is supported by findings of the 2015 research study, which noted that some flagged offenders were in fact low risk based on risk scalesFootnote 22 and suggested that this could indicate a need for NFS Coordinators to consider more structured guidelines in making flagging decisions. The NFS is intended to flag offenders who are candidates for DO or LTO applications should they re-offend; however, as the study observed, the legislative criteria for these designations is vague. An expert risk assessment is required by the courts in considering DO/LTO applications but not for flagging. The study noted that some provinces (e.g. Ontario) are flagging disproportionally more offenders even though there were no differences in risk scores or recidivism rates between provinces.

Because there is so much information on some flagged offenders, some provinces have been preparing case summaries to make the information more useful to Crown Prosecutors. While this is a time-consuming process, interviewees felt it would improve the usefulness of flagging information.

Interviewees suggested that systems for automatic referrals for flagging such as the ones currently being implemented in some provinces would improve the consistency of flagging and help minimize the number of missed cases.

Interviewees suggested increased use of electronic files. While several provinces have converted to electronic files, not all have completed the transition. It was also suggested that there should be a web-based national database for flagged offender files to facilitate the transfer of information and reduce duplicate data entry. Interviewees noted that the current web site is too slow for uploading and downloading documents.

The most frequently cited improvement was better and timely access to CSC information. Interviewees noted that access rules change frequently and are inconsistent between provinces and even between regions within provinces.

Finally, it was suggested that it would be useful to have more training available for mid-level and senior prosecutors on the DO/LTO applications process. It was suggested that a better understanding of the process and requirements would improve consistency in making applications.

4.3 Performance—Efficiency and Economy

4.3.1 Recommendations of the Previous Evaluation

The previous evaluation recommended that a Performance Measurement Strategy (PMS) be developed focusing on ongoing monitoring of provincial capacity resulting from NFS funding and the use of research by provinces and in PS policy development. Follow-up documentation on implementation indicated the PMS was completed in 2014 and implemented in 2015. The Management Response Action Plan also committed to completing an evaluation of the NFS and providing a final outcome report to the corrections programs and policy divisions, conducting a provincial/territorial capacity assessment on a bi-annual basis, and undertaking yearly project monitoring. The evaluation report on the NFS, “an Examination of a National Initiative in Tracking and Managing High Risk Offenders: A Canadian Perspective” was presented to NFS Coordinators meeting in April 2014. At the same meeting the first capacity assessment was also undertaken and yearly project monitoring was first reported in 2014.  

4.3.2 Program Administration Ratio

The program administration ratio has increased from 4.5% at the time of the last evaluation to 8%. Nevertheless, the NFS administration ratio remains in line with that of other PS grant programs indicating an efficient administrative process. The calculation of the administration ratio is provided in Appendix C. Note that the program administration ratio calculation does not include the costs of research on the NFS conducted by PS.

5. Conclusions

5.1 Relevance

Continued Need

Owing to of the mobility of high-risk offenders, there is a continued need for the NFS and inter-jurisdictional cooperation so that prosecutors have the information necessary to ensure flagged offenders are treated appropriately if they re-offend anywhere in Canada.

NFS workload is increasing as new offenders are referred for flagging. In additional to documenting new flagged offenders, files for existing flagged offenders must be maintained over their long criminal careers.

Prior to the availability of federal funding, several provinces were not active participants in the NFS. There is a continued need for federal funding to maintain a national system. Without federal funding some provinces are likely to become inactive and there would be less communication, information sharing and cooperation among the provinces.

Alignment with PS Strategic Objectives

The NFS is aligned with the Department's outcomes by identifying and tracking high-risk offenders and transferring information between provinces to ensure flagged offenders are treated appropriately should they reoffend anywhere in Canada.

Consistency with Federal Roles and Responsibilities

The administration of justice is an area of shared responsibility between the federal government and the provinces. The NFS supports provincial responsibility for prosecution of Criminal Code offences by providing information to prosecutors for bail and sentencing recommendations. It ensures that high-risk, repeat offenders are treated appropriately in light of complete information on their criminal history. The federal government bears some responsibility to create the need for information sharing by increasing the mobility of the high-risk offender population by moving them within the federal penitentiary system and should therefore participate in the NFS and contribute to its costs.

In addition to supporting the provincial responsibility for prosecution, the NFS contributes to the federal responsibility for public safety by improving management of the most dangerous offenders.

Duplication or Complementarity

The NFS is a unique network. Even amongst policing services across the country, there is no mechanism in place such as the NFS There are synergies between the NFS and a number of other functions including provincial flagging systems. NFS Coordinators have recently agreed to act as a conduit between the various bodies in the provinces and territories which conduct public notifications and the RCMP's Behavioural Sciences Branch which will be maintaining the new High Risk Child Sex Offender Database.

5.2 Performance—Effectiveness

There is evidence that the program is achieving its outcomes as identified in the program logic model. Interviews and document review suggest the program has helped provinces maintain or increase their capacity to identify and track high risk offenders by providing funding for resources, training and equipment and by encouraging the development of inter and intra provincial/territorial networks.

Although the data suggests that offenders who are higher risk than the general offender population are being identified, referred, flagged and tracked, it appears that cases may be missed and flagging criteria may be inconsistent across provinces. In some provinces, there may be twice as many offenders that should have been flagged. The implementation of systems for automatic referral of flagging candidates being implemented in some provinces is expected to reduce the number of missed cases. The 2015 research study conducted by PS noted that some provinces are flagging disproportionally more offenders even though there were no differences in risk scores or recidivism rates between provinces. Interviewees suggested that the program could be improved by reviewing flagging guidelines.

There are no standards for the timeliness of the transfer of information between provinces/territories; however, most interviewees felt timeliness had improved and that files were transferred in time to meet court deadlines. Having complete file information, frequent contact among the provinces/territories, electronic file storage and transfer and access to CSC's Offender Management System were identified factors contributing to improved timeliness.

Evidence suggests that there is increased knowledge about the NFS and flagged offenders among provincial Crown prosecutors and other justice partners as a result of education and training provided by NFS Coordinators and staff, good communications between the NSF and prosecutors and the accessibility of NFS Coordinators and staff to those with questions or seeking information.

NFS information is used to make decisions on charges, prosecution strategy, bail submissions, plea negotiations and sentencing recommendations as well as to alert prosecutors to the need to consider making an application for DO or LTO designation and as input into the programming an inmate receives from CSC. Interviewees were of the opinion that NFS information does affect outcomes.

The NFS appears to facilitate the application of preventative detention (DO/LTO applications). The 2015 research study found that 14% of flagged offenders were subsequently designated compared to 1% of Canadian violent recidivists. The NFS provides complete criminal histories to support DO/LTO applications. This facilitates court processes and significantly reduces resource demands on Crown prosecutors that may, in the past, have limited the number of DO/LTO applications.

Contribution of Research to the Achievement of Outcomes

PS research studies on the NFS published in 2005 and 2015 have provided confidence that the right people are being flagged and helped Coordinators understand the impact of the program. There has been no research conducted on the NFS since 2015 and no new studies are currently planned. A number of potential topics for additional research have been identified including: 1) research on the prediction of risk, especially with respect to Indigenous offenders, in order to validate tools and criteria; 2) research on the outcomes of DO applications and a comparison of DO rates across jurisdictions; and 3) an assessment of the effectiveness of Sect. 810 orders, which is the responsibility of the Department of Justice.

Suggested improvements to the NFS

The interviewees suggested a number of improvements to the program including reviewing flagging guidelines, which is a provincial responsibility, and criteria to improve inter-provincial consistency, implementing automatic notification of flagging candidates from provincial databases to minimize missed cases, preparing case summaries to improve the usefulness of flagging files to Crown prosecutors, increasing the use of electronic files, developing a web-based national database to store flagged offender files, more timely and consistent access to the CSC data, more training for prosecutors on the Dangerous Offender and Long Term Offender application process and more systematic communication within the network to share information on issues and challenges related to high-risk offenders.

5.3 Performance—Efficiency and Economy

A Performance Measurement Strategy was completed in 2014 and implemented in 2015. As part of the Management Action Plan, a report on the NFS which examined tracking and management of high risk offenders was presented to the NFS Coordinators meeting in April 2014. At the same time a provincial/ territorial capacity assessment was undertaken and yearly monitoring was initiated.

Although the program administration ratio increased from 4.5% at the time of the last evaluation to 8%, it remains in line with that of other PS grant programs indicating an efficient administrative process.

The evaluation has identified a number of opportunities for improvement. To that end, the following recommendations are being made for consideration.

6. Recommendations

Internal Audit and Evaluation Directorate recommends that the ADM of CSCCB:

  1. In collaboration with the provinces, to develop more structured flagging criteria and guidelines to improve consistency in the application of these criteria by NFS coordinators and across jurisdictions;
  2. To work with NFS coordinators and Correctional Service Canada to improve consistency, timeliness and ease of access to CSC information by NFS coordinators and across jurisdictions.

7. Management Response and Action Plan

The Crime Prevention, Corrections and Criminal Justice Directorate reviewed the evaluation and accept the recommendations. Given that the implementation of the National Flagging System is a provincial and territorial (PT) jurisdiction, planned actions and deliverables will be undertaken in collaboration with the PTs and shared with the FPT Working Group on High Risk Offenders.

Management Response and Action Plan
Recommendation Management Response Action Planned Planned Completion
Date
The ADM of CSCCB:
In collaboration with the provinces, to develop more structured flagging criteria and guidelines to improve consistency in the application of these criteria by NFS coordinators and across jurisdictions;
Accept
  • Teleconference meetings with NFS Coordinators to:
    • assess the scope of work required to review existing flagging criteria and guidelines;
    • review existing criteria and guidelines to identify common approaches, best practices and gaps;
    •  identify a proposed course of action to develop more structured criteria and guidelines;
    • propose mutually agreed upon criteria and guidelines; and
    • create procedures to support uniform data collection, monitoring and reporting.
June 2018
To work with NFS coordinators and Correctional Service Canada (CSC) to improve consistency, timeliness and ease of access to CSC information by NFS coordinators and across jurisdictions. Accept
  • Teleconference meetings with NFS Coordinators and CSC to review current approaches for information sharing, identify challenges and develop options to address them.
  • Facilitate discussions with the PTs and CSC to develop protocols with regard to uniform data sharing.
December 2017    
 
March 2019

Annex A: Literature and Documents Reviewed

Literature

Documents

Annex B: Program Administration Ratio

The program administration ratio refers to the total program administration cost as a percentage of the grants paid. Note that the program administration ratio calculation does not include the costs of PS research conducted on the NFS.

Program Administration Ratio
PROGRAM ADMINISTRATION COSTS 2010-11 to 2015-16
Program Staff - up to the level of Director
Salaries $19,019
Operations and Maintenance $ 0
Subtotal $19,019
Director General's office  
Salaries $2,113
Operations and Maintenance $0
Subtotal $2,113
TOTAL PROGRAM COST $21,132
Internal Services  
Salaries $8,453
Operations and Maintenance $0 
Subtotal $8,453
Employee Benefits Plan (20% of Salary Expenditures) $5,917
PWGSC Accommodation Allowance (13% of Salary Expenditures) $3,846
TOTAL PROGRAM ADMINISTRATION COST $39,348
TRANSFER PAYMENTS (Vote 5)  
Budget 500,000
Grants paid 500,000
PROGRAM ADMINISTRATION RATIO  
Annual 8%
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