Bad law gets ditched……


“A law that prompted a rare rebellion among judges has been declared cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore unconstitutional, by the Supreme Court of Canada.”

So began a Globe and Mail article under Sean Fine’s byline on Saturday, December 15 of last year. It followed a much earlier Globe editorial from April 22, “Time to ditch this bad law”, published when the Court was about to take up the question.

In 2013, the Conservative government under Stephen Harper made a previously discretionary “victim surcharge” mandatory. Introduced in the 1980s, judges could waive the automatic penalty imposed on offenders, but the Conservative tough-on-crime agenda did not permit exceptions.

The money was to go to victim services and the Harper government held that the $100 surcharge for each minor offence and $200 for each serious breach was aimed at making offenders more accountable.

According to Sean Fine, a decision released by the Supreme Count on December 14 said, “There was no accountability in trying to squeeze money from the very poor, the homeless and the addicted.” Phrases such as “grossly disproportionate,” “outrage to decency,” “abhorrent,” were sprinkled throughout the Court’s ruling.

The Liberals in opposition criticized the 2013 legislation, and later announced their intention to make changes when they formed a government. But action stalled and judges across the country began ignoring the law, or ordering surcharges as low as 30 cents, or giving offenders up to 99 years to pay.

A group of inmates challenged the law and the case wound its way eventually to the Supreme Court. This is only one of a series of setbacks against the Conservative agenda. As Sean Fine wrote on December 15, “Taken together, the Court’s crime rulings constitute clear boundaries for future governments tempted to push punishment at the expense of other sentencing goals.”

This common sense perspective impacts legislators and the courts, but scrutinizing our prison operations with the same set of eyes is long overdue.


What, no ‘carding’ comment?




Commissioned by the previous Ontario Liberal government, it’s now up to the current Progressive Conservative administration at Queen’s Park to do something with it. Tulloch’s extensive report is one of four critical perspectives into policing released during the last few weeks. After an initial flurry of attention, these voluminous, expensive, but usually worthwhile exercises frequently end up tucked away on a dusty shelf and forgotten.

Tulloch, an Ontario Court of Appeal justice, and his team consulted widely and accepted numerous written submissions, including representations from 34 police services in the province. Culling a bottom line from all those pages, random street checks….carding….have no investigative value, although done right and for the right reasons, targeted street checks are worthwhile. In spite of painstaking efforts in the report to flesh out the difference, considerable subjectivity remains. That’s the pitfall.

Sylvia Jones, the provincial minister responsible for policing today, said “new police legislation will reflect a simple principle: racism and discrimination have no place in policing. Justice Tulloch’s report will inform our work as we fix Ontario’s policing legislation.” We’ll see.

No matter what this government does with the information now in its hands, no matter what any government does, one overriding principle is paramount:-

We must have some understanding of the law and our rights within it. We must stand up for those rights, speak up for those rights, act up for those rights. We must outlaw infringements on those rights. Otherwise, we get the boot.

Just as a reminder…..”Carding is code for police state”

Now, let’s get back to Canada’s prison industry.….next time we dump a bad law.

Underground economy……

…..big business in the big house.

The notice reprinted in part here appeared last week on Correctional Service of Canada’s web site:-

On December 29, 2018, at about 12:15 p.m., as a result of the vigilance of staff members, a package containing contraband was seized in the medium security unit at Collins Bay Institution.

The contraband and unauthorized items seized included 2520 grams of tobacco, 244 grams of marijuana, 55.6 grams of crack-cocaine, mini cell phone and charger as well as drug and tobacco paraphernalia. The total estimated institutional value of this seizure is $85,000.

The medium security unit of Collins Bay Institution was placed on lockdown to allow staff to conduct a general search. The search was ordered to ensure the safety and security of the institution, its staff and inmates.

Visits to the medium security unit have been suspended until the search is completed.

The police have been notified and the institution is investigating.

Similar notices show up regularly.


For as long as men and women have been confined against their will, there have been other men and women moved by profit or loyalty to cater their needs. This commerce was tolerated for centuries in most cultures, and even encouraged as a benefit to keepers and their masters.

Today, in Europe, North America, and a few countries elsewhere, ‘contraband’ is condemned, judged contrary to good order, the law, and equitable opportunity for all in prison. But over the years, as practice and technology developed to stem illicit trade, and improvements and advancements countered the ingenuity of smugglers, one constant has remained. Getting goods past the barriers outweigh the risks.

The Collins Bay seizure in December was a major ‘bust’ but suggests too that traffickers must be successful some of the time if they’re willing to give up what was lost last month. That over five pounds of tobacco topped the list of what was confiscated points down a path where Correctional Service of Canada is at least partially responsible for the demand that drives the contest to supply an ‘underground economy’.

The community consents to limitations and restrictions on access to drugs and weapons, and damns criminal behaviour. Inmates in our prisons are understandably subject to the same prohibitions, and CSC’s interdictions should be expected. But, there are several examples that exacerbate prison living conditions where the agency could divert some attention away from contraband.

Two have previously been posted. “Please sir, I want some more.” on December 2, and “Now, how ‘bout money!” from December 15 infer that a satisfactory diet with sufficient food and a proper pay scale permitting offenders to meet their obligations won’t eliminate the black market but it’ll relieve some stress. So would a flood of relevant programming, additional yard and gym periods, and increased extra-cell time, as a start.

The tobacco ban now in place for ten years never made sense. A package of cigarettes selling for $10 in a corner store is worth $500 in prison, and that demand calls for an examination of the present policy. Taking tobacco away from a smoker does not make a non-smoker; it leaves a smoker without tobacco. We may accept a bar on smoking in enclosed spaces as a reasonable restriction, but there are open-area alternatives, and a range of cessation supports to boot. Without the same options in our prisons, the ban is counter-productive.

Perhaps Correctional Service of Canada simply enjoys the extra work. The underground economy will never go away, but it doesn’t have to be the battle it is.


“Offenders are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment.”
Dr. Ivan Zinger, Correctional Investigator of Canada
2017-2018 Annual Report, page 4.

Millhaven doesn’t respond……

……it just trips along in a deep ditch.

Without adding observations, this is CSC’s November 29 letter:


Mr. Klassen

The Visitor Review Board met on Wednesday November 14, 2018 to discuss your Private Family Visits (PFV’s), as well as your Visiting Status, at Millhaven Institution with your stepson offender Brennan Guigue.

As you will recall, on November 9, 2018 you attended our institution for your first Private Family Visit together

During processing, there was a positive indication on one our Drug Screening Tools.

The Correctional Manager completed a Threat Risk Assessment (TRA), as per policy.
The Deputy Warden reviewed this Assessment, and the decision was made to deny this PFV.

Your stepson requested the opportunity to attend the next Visitor Review Board. He was given that opportunity on November 14, 2018.

The letter you submitted, in regards to this denied PFV, was presented, and read, at the Board on November 28, 2018. This letter has now been placed on offender Guigue’s visiting file.
The Visitor Review Board then reviewed any relevant information, including past or present history.

At this time, the Board has recommended Suspension your Private Family Visits.

As per policy, your stepson cannot re-apply for Private Family Visits until after May 14, 2018.
As well, your visits have been placed on a ‘Closed seating status for 60 (sixty) days’.

While on any form of a sanctioned seating status, you are not eligible for participation in any Family Gatherings, or Private Family Visits.

This sanction will stay in effect regardless of your stepson’s transfer out of Millhaven Institution.
This visiting status will be reviewed at the Visitor Review Board following January 14, 2018 (sic).

Any further questions can be directed to the Visitor Review Board at Millhaven Institution.
Offender Guigue has been advised of is right to grieve these decisions pursuant to CD 081 – Offender Complaints and Grievances.

Thank You

D. Payette
Correctional Manager
Visits & Correspondence
Millhaven Insitution
(613) 351-8168

The response contesting this VRB decision is prepared but its release is delayed pending a procedural matter. Originally scheduled for publication at the end of December, it’s now tentatively set to be mailed and published near the end of January.

Now, how ’bout money!

“Please sir, I want some more” from December 2 focused on food as the first of two examples where CSC keeps inmates “desperate and reckless”. Money is the second example referenced and very much interconnected with food.

We’ve talked about money before and we’ve talked about money more than once. Inmate pay in the federal prison system rates a SNL skit if reality wasn’t beyond credibility, and otherwise so painful for so many.

“Repetition is the mother of perfection,” according to Thomas Keller, Ryan Straten, and others, and we’ll go with that premise in hopes constant harping might bring about change. Sounds far-fetched, doesn’t it?

So, here we go again.

Briefly, a parliamentary committee established a pay-scale for offenders in federal institutions in 1980. It was based on the minimum wage at the time, reduced by allowances for room and board and other relevant expenses. That pay-scale has stayed in place for almost four decades…..with no increases, not even adjustments for inflation.

But, the costs of what inmates are expected to do with that money keep rising year by year, including the price of food to supplement the meagre diet in institutions. In 1980, milk was less than $2/gallon, bread 50 cents/loaf, bacon $1.75/pound, flour $1.00/5 pounds, ground beef $1.00/pound, peanut butter $1.50/jar, potatoes $1.00/5 pounds, pork and beans 40 cents/can, is just a sampling.

To throw salt on the wound, Stephen Harper (it figures) supported a 30% reduction in pay in 2013 and eliminated at least one category on the scale. The cut was to support room and board expenses….and to help cover the cost of the telephone service.

An inmate legal action against the cuts failed because the Court was not prepared to rule on “the wisdom of the policy decisions made by the government.” The court chose not to comment on the veracity of that wisdom.

Well, not only did a government committee previously decide inmates already paid for their telephone services, but Correctional Service of Canada gets a kickback from Bell Canada, a percentage of the telephone revenue collected from inmates.

To boot, the scale established in 1980 not only accounted for room and board, but if the government had done for inmates all along what it does for government employees by granting pay increases, it wouldn’t be necessary to take another chunk of inmate pay.

December 14, 2018

The Honourable Ralph Goodale,
Minister of Public Safety,
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Re: Federal prison inmate wages and allowances

Dear Minister Goodale:

When Prime Minister Trudeau issued his mandate letter to Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould calling for a review of “the changes in our criminal justice system and sentencing reforms over the past decade,” it was expected and hoped Correctional Service of Canada policies would come under scrutiny.

After all this time, there hasn’t been a lot of movement. Oh yes, CSC is working to reconfigure its solitary confinement practices but that’s a result of civil actions against the Service, and not ministerial orders.

Of the areas in the federal prison system needing a closer look, financial allowances and wages for inmates is a priority. You know the present pay-scale was set in 1980. Not only have there been no increases in the last near forty years, but the Harper government supported a 30% cut and eliminated extra pay for work with CORCAN. Today, federal prisoners are expected to use 1980 dollars, reduced by 30%, to meet their needs at 2018 prices.

When would you think “slave labour” is a warranted designation?

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

cc: The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice

We’ll continue with other examples of government “wisdom” at the beginning of the New Year. Until then, the next two postings will update “A slap in the face; a pat on the back.”

Taking the field……..

……another pause in the prison series for an update.

…since the last posting on September 23/18

This writer enjoyed an opportunity to catch up with two former business associates at a recent social event. Both had retired at senior positions in their respective fields, and our mutual respect and admiration form a bond of friendship that transcends our less than frequent contacts.

Brennan Guigue’s action against Correctional Service of Canada intrigues them but each of these two men comes at it from a different perspective. For one, this is a matter of an inmate standing up to a corrupted system that too often abuses its power over men and women who face perceived credibility challenges on the one hand, and don’t have the resources to hold their captors to account on the other. The second of the two is baffled by a conundrum that has public servants acting against their oaths, their employer’s policy and rules, and even the law while apparently sheltered under an umbrella of impunity.

As concerning as this situation may be to them, they’re not motivated to do anything more than take a peek under that rock, comment with a shake of the head, and move on. That underscores the importance of Brennan Guigue’s action, a variance on “speaking truth to power.” Here is one person who is telling the government that it can’t do what it wants just because it can.

As a ‘by the way’, another access to information request this fall again asked CSC for the employment status of the guards involved in the July, 2014 assault. The guard who videotaped the event has left the Service, but the others are still working for the prison system. How many other inmates have they targeted in the last four years?

The March 12 inscription date in 2019 looks like a go, and Brennan and his lawyer are meeting with government lawyers early next year. The services of an expert witness are beginning to gel, and the pace is ramping up….slow and steady…. as the road ahead is focused on the resolution in the distance.

Moving forward. Always moving forward.

“Please sir, I want some more.”

Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist is found in the street as an infant and put in a workhouse by the age of nine where he and other boys unravel old rope. In the workhouse Oliver is the victim of slow starvation, the diet consisting of three small bowlfuls of oatmeal gruel per day, an onion twice a week and a roll on Sunday. Under this regimen which reduces the boys to living skeletons, Oliver and his companions become voraciously hungry.
At last they hold a council and choose by lot one among them to ask the overseer for more gruel. The victim of the lottery is Oliver Twist. The time arrives, and ‘desperate with hunger and reckless with misery’, Oliver gets up from the table and walks slowly to the master, basin and spoon in hand…….
“Please, sir, I want some more.”
Oliver got nothing but trouble.


Pivot to the 21st century and our federal prisons today in this country, and to two examples of how Correctional Service of Canada keeps offenders “desperate with hunger and reckless with misery.” We’ll look at just one of those examples here.

FOOD: The previous federal government under Stephen Harper ordered ministerial across-the-board cost-cutting measures. Correctional Service of Canada followed suit, finding economies that would primarily impact inmates, whose concerns CSC need not consider or address.

Food was one target, and the Service initiated a “Cook Chill” process, bulk preparation, cooled and distributed to institutions for reconstitution and heating. Were there complaints about food quality and serving sizes? Absolutely. There still are. And worse, economies decreased spending to $5.41 per day per inmate, a 2600 daily caloric intake which is recommended for a low activity male, aged 31 – 50! Not as severe as Oliver’s three daily bowls of gruel but leaving inmates hungry all the same. And, not exactly the conditions conducive for offenders to be “well-prepared to lead safe, productive, law-abiding lives” upon release.

“If you don’t have something going on the side, you’ll starve!”, said one source.

But wait. Prison inmates can purchase additional food from a canteen, although why they should have to do that just to supplement a poor diet is grounds for argument.

Hold it! Buying food from the canteen takes money. We’ll get to that next time.