Sick in prison. Death in prison.

Port Cartier Institution is a maximum-security prison with a small inmate population located outside the town of Port Cartier in far eastern Quebec on the north shore of the St. Lawrence.  Opened in 1988, it was built to boost employment opportunities in an area represented in parliament at the time by Brian Mulroney.  He was the member for the electoral district of Manicouagan and the Prime Minister.

The prison is a remote 600 kilometres from Quebec City and roughly a 14-hour drive from Montreal.  This increases operating costs.  Staffers travelling to Montreal or Ottawa must drive 60 kilometres further east to Sept-Iles and fly from there.  And, to meet Correctional Service of Canada’s mandate to encourage inmate contact with the community, visitors can be reimbursed for some travel costs.  It’s a long way from home.

Several years ago, a contact in the institution was placed in segregation for a time.  An elderly inmate was in the next cell, old and feeble and out of his mind.  He muttered through the day, had nothing but bedding and a few clothes, and spent at least some of his time painting the walls with his own feces.  Once a day, two guards would take him to the shower while his cell was hosed down.  This man lived in segregation with only himself for company, and he wasn’t there serving an institutional sentence.  He was intentionally hidden away, and by now has more than likely died, his only relief.  Why was he still in prison?

This is an evident example of cruel and unusual punishment, and it didn’t have to be.  Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger has pointed out that “prisons were never meant to house sick, palliative or terminally ill patients.”  Just so, the legislation and policies which direct Correctional Service of Canada and the National Parole Board allows for compassionate release of sick inmates to hospices, nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

The release authorization process is slow and cumbersome to the point that sick inmates often die before their request is considered.  CSC recently developed its own MAID policy to accommodate inmates who don’t want to suffer through an often futile wait for a decision, but even that is a process.  There’s no question a sick inmate does not want to die in a prison environment, but notices are posted on the CSC website almost weekly announcing deaths from “natural causes.”

In this age of COVID, we frequently hear of sick patients dying in hospital alone, with only nurses and doctors for comfort.  A tragic death we’re told, and so it is.  Death in a prison infirmary is singularly solitary. No one cares.

Should we?  A moral tale may illustrate the conundrum.

A man has a dog, a faithful friend, a part of the family for years, a friend who walks with him every day in the ravine down the road.  There comes a time when the walk in the woods turns deadly.  His dog runs on ahead, an old habit, and encounters a predator….a coyote.  The man runs towards the sound of howls, growls, and barks, picking up a broken tree limb as he goes.  He reaches the fighting animals as the coyote tears at his dog’s throat.  He beats viciously on it  until it rolls away, bleeding, whining, gasping on the ground.  His dog is dead.  The man picks up his old friend to carry him away and pauses to look down at the coyote.  The animal is laying on its side, quivering, breathing heavily, mortally injured.  What does the man do?

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The state of health care in the prison industry is dismal despite the tens of millions of dollars spent by provincial and federal carceral agencies.  The need for services by the imprisoned is substantially higher than in the general population and explains in part the disparity between what is done and what is left undone.  The challenge in finding health-care staff who give a damn about outcomes is another piece to the answer.

From a lawyer in Quebec who specializes in post-conviction law we learn that “almost all federal prisoners are dealing with at least one serious medical problem and a quarter of the population are(sic) aggravated by health services which range from slow to spotty to forget-about-it.”  Over 40% of men and women sitting in provincial jails awaiting trial have mental/emotional health issues.  Our jails and prisons have become our largest provider of mental health services, and warehouses for the mentally ill.  And yet, most are left untreated in any meaningful way in spite of what CSC wants to tell us about the role of psychologists in the federal system.

Whether a decayed tooth, a broken bone, a diseased body or mind, the call for care tests the capacity to respond.  Imagine for instance the anxiety of a provincial prisoner who is transferred to the federal system where their prescribed medication is cut off until the federal health-care unit does a reassessment and may change or not renew an established regimen.  Imagine having to wait weeks with a toothache.  Imagine knowing you must live with bi-polar disorder because the treatment you need is not forthcoming.  Imagine men and women punished rather than treated because illness causes them to act out.

Institutional healthcare has been and will continue to be dissected here and elsewhere.  Changes?  Improvements?  Incrementally, yes, maybe.

There’s a long way yet to go.  For now, we move on.

Soleiman Faqiri….restless in the grave…

….WAITING FOR JUSTICE.

 Soleiman’s family and his supporters’ anger only grows as court documents suggest jail guards violated policies and ignored guidelines when they killed him on December 15 in 2016.  The province fired two managers as scapegoats, but its culpability is detailed by its refusal to hold jail staff members involved in this crime accountable, allowing a questionable OPP investigation to prevail.

Ottawa lawyer Michael Spratt’s essay, “The dangers of turning a blind eye to abuse in jails,” was published on the editorial page of the Wednesday, January 20 Toronto Star.  Referring to Soleiman Faqiri’s death, Mr. Spratt writes “…despite the compelling evidence suggesting the killing was a criminal offence, the OPP declined to charge any of the guards because they could not say for sure who delivered the fatal blow.  The OPP’s absurd justification for the lack of charges is a legal fiction that smells of a coverup.”

Mr. Spratt believes police should be charging the guards involved in the killing as well as investigating politicians who often intentionally ignore the violence in the jails they supervise.  He tells us that we should not be surprised by the atrocities that occur in jails when politicians go so far as to dismiss “judicial condemnation” for the conditions they allow to persist.

The closing argument demands that “Those who commit murder, even if they are jail guards, should be held to account.  And so should the politicians who enable them.”

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We thanked him for his perspective, adding in our letter that “Those guards wanted Faqiri in that cell where he died.  Once inside, all they had to do was close the door.  Why didn’t they just do that and leave him alone?  It’s the kind of scene that plays out in provincial and federal institutions across Canada daily.  The inmate had given guards a hard time and they wanted to teach him a lesson.  They may not have intended to kill him, but they sure as hell didn’t care if he died.”

The minister needed to be reminded of the obvious:-

January 25, 2021

The Honourable Sylvia Jones, Solicitor General,
George Drew Building,
Toronto

Re:     Soleiman Faqiri

Minister Jones:

A group of men is brawling one afternoon in the courtyard of the YMCA across Grosvenor Street from your office.  It’s noisy.  The storm of flailing arms and legs, shouts, screams, and shuffling feet is incessant, and it appears focused on just one person, a victim of the melee.

The police arrive, the dust settles.  A man lies dead on the concrete plaza.  Notes and photos are taken, men are interviewed.  No one is arrested.  An investigation follows.  No charges are laid.  Why?  The police cannot determine which of that group of men may be responsible for the homicide.

Fiction?

Yes, unless those men were employed by Ontario’s correctional services, in uniform and working in our jails.  Like the men who murdered Soleiman Faqiri in Lindsay back in December of 2016 and still walk free.  And what about ministry personnel like you who enable the daily atrocities and abuses that characterize life in provincial institutions by turning a blind eye to violence and a deaf ear to judicial reprimands?  Impunity extends to you too, doesn’t it.

Are you able to feel shame?

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Soleiman’s family is in the midst of a $14.3 lawsuit against Ontario and the individuals responsible for his death.  That however is the sound of only one shoe dropping.  How about criminal charges where criminal charges are due as a next step!

Prisons as long term care facilities….and more….next time.

Guards coast to coast ……#5

WHY SO MUCH ATTENTION TO PRISON GUARDS?  A note from an inmate in Alberta included an afterthought unrelated to his purpose in writing but it illustrates one reason for the notice correction officers are due.
This man was wakened early one morning by guards to search both him and his cell.  He was not moving fast enough to please one guard who called him “a piece of shit.”  He objected at length, and as a result, was written up for a minor charge.  No contraband was found in the search.
The charge was dismissed by an internal review but the deputy warden, with whom he had never met, let him know that his behaviour would not be tolerated, and his visiting privileges were in peril.  The guard’s behaviour was never an issue.  The inmate was free to file a grievance, a process that is universally understood to be nothing more than a sop.
This is typical for every day in our provincial and federal institutions.
THAT’S REASON ENOUGH!

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In a call shortly after 7pm on Saturday, September 7 in 2019, an inmate in Millhaven Institution phoned from the prison gym where guards had moved the men on his range while they conducted an unauthorized search of the institution.  There had been violent incidents on one range during the last week of August and guards had recommended a search of the institution.  The warden did not agree and would not consent to a search.  The guards waited for the weekend when management would not be in their offices and went ahead anyway.

The inmates could have countered the guards’ action.  If, for instance, the men on his range refused to allow the search and the guards persisted, extraction teams would be called, equipment and chemical agents would be issued, thereby creating a written record requiring a justification for the search.  The inmate on the call complained that his fellow prisoners didn’t have enough “jam” to confront guards who were violating policy.  In plain English, they did not have the balls.  And, as he said, this is the kind of thing that will go on for as long as people stand by and do nothing.  For him, that meant it would go on forever.

So, what happens if/when the warden learns that a search was conducted despite her decision?  Anywhere from not much to nothing.  Management does not want a conflict with the guards’ union.

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It was late on an early June afternoon last summer.  During a call from an inmate in a maximum-security institution in eastern Canada a commotion erupted on the range.  A loud but unintelligible male voice was shouting a command, repeated more than once, and was then followed by the sound of a short scuffle.  The inmate on the phone called out to someone, castigating them for the use of pepper spray.  I asked for an explanation.

An inmate had been a ‘nuisance’ earlier in the day, uncooperative and in a foul mood.  As I was on the phone, he was let out of his cell for a shower, called for a guard to turn on the water, was ignored, and ignored more than once.  Using some initiative, he pulled a plastic bag over his head which brought guards running onto the range, ordering him to remove it.  He refused.  Pepper spray was discharged.  He would be particularly vulnerable to the effects of pepper spray under the circumstances, and even though he put himself into that position, caution was in order.  That’s the objection the inmate on my phone was making.

Once the bag was off, policy dictates an inmate who has been sprayed must be decontaminated ….in the shower.  For better or worse, and one way or another, this man was getting his shower.

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Some would say the inmates above and below were authors of their own misfortune, but that is no justification for guards to behave less than to expected standards.

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An inmate in a western province was transferred to a maximum-security institution, likely earning the move to a more restrictive environment.  He had prescription glasses which were a necessity for any reading, writing, or close work.  When his property arrived, he opened the protective case to find the glasses had been crushed and broken.  That could only have occurred when guards at the previous institution packed his property.

This inmate was told he could not replace his glasses, at least not without intervention from God.  He had contact lenses which would have been a partial solution, but he needed moisturizing solution.  He was told that was no longer available from the institution.  He was not given any options, and water was neither a satisfactory nor a sanitary substitute.  He needed lenses to function.

What this man needs most is a lawyer.

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Treading into a provincial jurisdiction, namely Newfoundland and Labrador, offers two recent examples of perfidy by their penal system staff.

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The CBC ran a story on December 8 of last year under Bruce Tilley’s byline which began, “A former Bishop’s Falls inmate claims one corrections officer performed dental surgery on him while another recorded it, and he’s suing them, three dentists, and the provincial government.”

It seems that Ron McDonald and Roy Goodyear, two guards at the local correctional centre, took inmate Blair Harris to the Gander Family Dental Clinic for surgery on October 16 last fall and dentist Dr. Louis Bourget permitted McDonald “to do a procedure” while Harris was sedated, and Goodyear videotaped it and then distributed the recording.

Harris was unconscious and none the wiser, but on November 19 he was told by a provincial superintendent of prisons that he had obtained the tape and a day later said that both guards had been fired. A week later, the inmate was taken to another clinic because teeth fragments left in his gums required further surgery.

Blair Harris is no longer in custody.  The RCMP is investigating.

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Jonathan Henoche died at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s on November 6, 2019 after an interaction with jail guards.  He was a 33-year-old Inuk man from Labrador, awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge relating to the death of an 88-year-old woman there in 2016.  He had been moved to St. John’s over concerns for his safety.

The chief medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.  The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary announced charges against ten guards on December 22 of last  year.  The charges include manslaughter, failure to provide necessities of life, and criminal negligence causing death.  The announcement did not include the names of the accused, when they were arrested or under what conditions they were released.

That’s right.  The charges were not filed in court and all ten were released.  Bob Buckingham is Mr. Henoche’s lawyer.  “I have never seen a case where one individual has been charged with manslaughter and allowed to go home, let alone a cabal of ten correctional officers charged with the care and custody of an individual be charged like this, and not be brought to court.  It is reprehensible.  How many aboriginal accused persons get to have their bail hearings deferred on manslaughter charges?  Or get to have their names withheld from the media?”

Charges were filed in court this January 8, and the ten guards were named.  Again, Mr. Buckingham, “In all the research that I have done – and I’ve had a number of my colleagues doing research on this across the country – no one has ever seen people charged with manslaughter who have been released by an officer in charge…without being brought to a court for a judicial interim release before a judge.  This was favouritism to a group of Department of Justice employees.  And the racism component involved the fact that my client was Aboriginal.”

Nuff said.

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If guards are not part of the solution, then they are part of the problem.
Guard material is endless.  But with one exception next time, we will move on.

The Senate & Prison Guards….#4

The Senate of Canada’s Standing Committee on Human Rights took to the road between February of 2017 and March of 2018 to examine the human rights issues of federally-sentenced persons, visiting prisons across Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.  Members of the committee also held 22 meetings, taking evidence from 92 witnesses, including inmates, academics, lawyers, corrections officers, and Indigenous representatives.
The Committee released an Interim Report in February of 2019 but was denied leave to meet that summer to finish the Final Report.  That will be completed in 2021.

Three excepts from the Interim Report, commenting on prison guards:

During site visits, the committee was told by federally-incarcerated persons that they often experienced reprisals for accessing the complaint and grievance processes under the CCRA (Corrections and Conditional Release Act), or for speaking out about human rights issues.  Staff members confirmed that they discourage this use of the grievance system, preferring to settle things informally.  The lack of procedural fairness in segregation decision-making was also highlighted by witnesses.  According to witnesses, reprisals could take various forms including harassment, destruction of property, loss of privileges, interference with correspondence, visits and programming, neglect of responsibilities and excessive use of force.  These types of reprisals were discussed in some detail by El Jones (Nancy’s Chair in Women’s Studies, Mount Saint Vincent University), who indicated that retaliation can also come in very subtle ways, such as being labelled as a “troublemaker” on the range or being continually targeted for disciplinary action based on the arbitrary exercise of discretion.

In fact, the committee was informed that a number of federally-incarcerated persons refused to meet with the committee for fear of reprisal.  The committee was very concerned to find that this fear extended to communications with senators during site visits.  In this context, it was particularly disturbing that at certain institutions, correctional staff surreptitiously listened to the committee’s confidential meetings with federally-sentenced persons, despite the committees (at time repeated) requests for privacy.

It should also be noted that fear of reprisal in the federal correctional system was not only raised by federally-sentenced persons.  In confidential meetings with current and former correctional officers, the committee learned that they too feared retribution from their coworkers for reporting inappropriate or unacceptable behaviour by other correctional officers directed at them, other staff or prisoners.  During these meetings, the committee was also told that correctional officers are admonished by other correctional officers for being too friendly with prisoners.  Behaviours deemed too friendly included helping prisoners file grievances.

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Specific instances of inmate experiences will flesh out the Senate report’s findings.  This is one, and while it may seem petty and does not involve interactions between guards and inmates, it contributes to a pervasive cynicism in the prison environment.

From Canada’s West, an Inmate’s Observation Examples How Negative Attitudes Toward Guards Develop in the Inmate Population. 

Correctional Service of Canada operates a few medium security institutions with a design model incorporating direct observation ranges.  Guards work on ranges from a glass enclosure, a ‘bubble,’ that allows sightlines to all cells, improving oversight and command.  The arrangement also gives inmates a view of their keepers.

An inmate noted a few weeks ago that as he walked by and looked at the guards in the bubble on his range, one was slumped sleeping in a chair, trying not to fall off his perch, and snoring loudly enough to be heard through the glass.  A second guard sitting close by was concentrating on his phone, tapping an outgoing message.  On another day, he watched three guards in their chairs busy tapping away on their phones in unison.

Inmates are not out of their cells during the night, so these guards were not on a late shift.  Sleeping on the job is not encouraged for one, and policy requires that mobile devices stay in the car or a locker during work.  Aside from keeping staff focused on their duties, there’s a practical purpose for the prohibition.  A misplaced or lost phone would trigger a lockdown and search.  Nonetheless, their use during working hours is pervasive.  Repercussions, if any, are minor.

Offenders are imprisoned under the surveillance of public servants whose uniforms grant impunity.  What’s the lesson there?

….guards and inmates…once more next time.

Correctional Officer DARIN GOUGH…… Guards……#3

“ONTARIO MAN SUING PRISON GUARD AFTER ALLEGED ASSAULT CAUGHT ON CAMERA IN PRISON PARKING LOT.”
So read the lead of Nicole Brockbank’s CBC News posting on October 16, 2019.

Paul Saliba has an accessible parking permit due to injuries from a serious car accident.  He had permission from Correctional Service of Canada to use a disabled spot in the staff parking lot when he visited his son at the Bath Institution just west of Kingston.  On February 28 in 2017, about four months after CSC granted him use of the parking space, Correctional Officer Darin Gough cancelled his visit over an argument about parking in the staff lot.

Mr. Saliba is in his late sixties and was stopped by C.O. Gough before he could enter the prison.  A disagreement over the use of the parking spot escalated when the guard cancelled his visit and Mr. Saliba would not identify himself out of fear for retribution against his son.  Gough escorted him back to his car where he took pictures of his licence plate while Saliba reached into his car for his cellphone, intending to take a picture of the guard.  “I was going to try and take pictures of him, but I’m not savvy with that,” Saliba told CBC News.  “The next thing I know he slammed me up against the vehicle next to my vehicle.”

He believes he would have been charged for assaulting the guard had it not been for a security camera that shows C.O. Gough grabbing him by the coat and pushing him against a vehicle.  Gough insists he never touched Saliba, even after looking at the video, and claims he was “the true victim” of the altercation.  CSC investigators disagreed.  “There is no doubt (Gough) did touch Mr. Saliba, although he is adamant he did not.”

As a brief interjection, federal prison video has no audio, and it is Correctional Service of Canada’s standard operating practice to discount video evidence that does not support a CSC narrative.  What is more, and despite the finding of the investigators, neither CSC nor C.O. Gough will accept culpability for its treatment of Mr.Saliba

To move on, he reported the incident to the Ontario Provincial Police and the prison warden.  The police declined to lay assault charges against Darin Gough, and Saliba then laid a private charge against the guard following the release of the prison investigation.  In September of this year, Crown Julie Scott stayed the charge by arguing that the effort to get a conviction was not warranted, given the possible penalty.

Paul Saliba is now focusing on his civil lawsuit against Darin Gough and the Attorney General of Canada.  His $500,000 action claims C.O. Gough “concocted false criminal accusations” against him “to cover up Office Gough’s own wrongdoing” and that the Correctional Service of Canada owed him a duty of care as a visitor at their institution.  A Justice of the Peace earlier told him to exercise patience in the process, as “they protect their own.”  The first Discovery Hearing was not until December 8 and 10 of this year, with a second scheduled for late January.

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“GUARD’S ‘SELFIE’ ON VISITOR’S PHONE PROMPTS INMATE TO LAUNCH CASE.”
Brendan Kennedy’s report in the Toronto Star, August 21, 2018

Paul Saliba almost walked away from his lawsuit against Darin Gough more than a year ago, until he came across media coverage of another incident involving Gough and a visitor to Bath Institution, this time in February of 2016.

Tammy Truesdell was visiting her husband Jason Lauzon on February 17, 2016.  She left her phone in the car; later, Darin Gough and a drug detector dog checked the vehicle in a random search.  When Ms. Truesdell checked her phone after the visit, she found an email from her security feature app.  The email was titled “someone tried to unlock your hangouts,” and included a close-up photo of Darin Gough, his face a portrait of concentration, his eyes focused and the tip of his tongue sticking out.  The phone’s security takes an “Intruder Selfie” when someone incorrectly enters its four-digit passcode twice, then emails it to the phone’s owner.

She was shocked and angry.  Visitors may be subject to a search of their person and sometimes their vehicles, but CSC guards do not have the right to search the contents of phones.  Ms. Truesdell recognized Gough as the guard who had searched her earlier in the day and spoke to her husband that evening.  He filed a complaint using the prison’s internal grievance system.

The complaint went nowhere, not surprising given that the grievance process is a sop.  Prison management discounted the photo it was given.  Gough denied trying to unlock the phone, saying he must have inadvertently triggered the security function when he moved the phone into the glove compartment so it would not be damaged by the drug dog.

Lauzon took the government to court in the face of “unequivocal photographic evidence.”  He was not suing prison officials or looking for damages, but he asked the Federal Court to review the Correctional Service of Canada’s handling of his grievance.  All he wanted was an acknowledgement of what occurred and an apology.  Lauzon’s lawyer, Paul Quick of the Queen’s Prison Law Clinic, said the case may be minor but was important, “because it clearly illustrates the dynamic that allows prison staff to commit abuses and act outside the law without fear of being held accountable.”

When Lauzon raised the matter with a supervisor, assistant warden Tim Hamilton told him if he ever wanted to be transferred to a minimum-security facility, he should “keep (his) head down, stay off the radar and don’t flood us with paperwork,” which Lauzon understood as thinly veiled threats.  According to Paul Quick, “the word of a guard will not only be believed over that of a prisoner but will be accepted over all other evidence….,” adding that “time and again” CSC is “fundamentally incapable of acknowledging wrongdoing.”  He went on. “It sends prisoners a message that it is not the law that matters, but simply power and the ability to get away with it.”

According to Brendan Kennedy’s report, “The inmate grievance was denied at each stage of the process until a judge dismissed the couple’s application for judicial review because the potential wrongdoing happened to Ms. Truesdell, a visitor, not to an inmate.”  But Justice Glennys McVeigh noted in her decision that “the idea that two incorrect four-digit codes could be imputed simply by moving a phone into the glovebox is an unlikely explanation for what occurred.”

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Paul Saliba is forging ahead with his action: “The judge in Napanee was on my side and made us come back to court 8 times before Crown Julie Scott had the charges stayed.  He warned the Crown that I was passionate about this and I would not stop there if he had to stay the charges.  He was so correct!  I will not stop until we see changes.  We cannot continue like this.”

We know Tammy Truesdall and Jason Lauzon were not satisfied with the outcome of their action against the prison agency.  We do not know what their experience with the system has been since they stood up to it.  No doubt their names are red flagged.  No doubt they are subject to biased scrutiny.  Hopefully, they are alert and cautious, but not cowered.

Expect Paul Saliba to be challenged, frustrated, and oppressed as he pushes against a government service not regulated by the mechanisms of popular control.  There’s more to come.

….and, there’s still more guards to come, too.

Guards……#2

An inmate assaulted a guard at the Ontario provincial Maplehurst Correctional Complex west of Toronto.  This happens; it’s not uncommon.  Regardless of sound arguments that some guards in provincial and federal institutions invite and coerce physical confrontations with offenders, it is not a good idea to attack staff and, understandably, criminal charges result.  And what is more, inmates who assault a guard are in turn ‘punished’ by other guards.  This should not happen either.  It’s against policy for one, and it’s illegal for another.

Let’s call this inmate Fred.  Fred’s encounter goes back several years but is illustrative of others before and since.  Fred was so savagely beaten by a group of guards and his injuries so severe that management transferred him to the old Toronto West Detention Centre, a jail the province closed at the end of 2014.  Once there, he was hidden away.  No visitors, no family were allowed to see Fred while he received medical attention and healed.

Fred’s lawyer was also barred, a major no-no.  Inmates and their lawyers meet by right.  A lawyer associated with us went into a rant when hearing of this incident, claiming that under the same circumstances he would quickly appear before a judge.  Well, on second thought, he might not do that.  Why?  Going that far could mean any future appointment to see a client in a provincial institution might just as likely as not be delayed and even abandoned.  It’s not unusual that social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists …and lawyers…with arrangements to meet with inmates, many with a court order, are sometimes left hanging in a barren small room waiting for clients.

Did Fred’s story get media coverage?  No. Were guards charged?  No.  This was one of many extreme interactions between guards and inmates, and while charges do make the news occasionally, most incidents get no attention from the media, from the ombudsman, from law enforcement or from the Courts.

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Toronto South Detention Centre opened in January of 2014.  Its brief and controversial history is marked by censure from lawyers, civil liberty groups, citizen advocates, and the media.  Bad press has slowed recently, likely due to a more potent management on the one hand, and control of what information escapes the facility on the other

In 2017, an inmate is charged with assaulting two guards there, an inmate we’ll call George.  There’s video (no audio) of the incident from a camera mounted several metres away.  George is in custody on remand awaiting the disposition of charges that will eventually earn him prison time.  His lawyer might normally advise a client in this situation to plead guilty to the assaults and put them behind him.  This wouldn’t affect the outcome on his criminal charges or necessarily impact sentencing negatively, and it could even work in his favour.

But this lawyer saw something more than an assault in that video.  This lawyer saw a Charter of Rights Section 8 violation, a section that states that “Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.”  This incident began when a guard interfered with George’s rightful access to property and then escalated a confrontation by pepper spraying him in the face….twice…when George objected to the obstruction.  George entered a not guilty plea.  An action on the Charter violation couldn’t begin unless the assault charges were dismissed.

In the end, the trial, scheduled for two days, was cut short midway on the second day when the judge became ill before he could rule.  He withdrew, and the Crown stayed the charges rather than start over.  During the hearing, the video evidence could have supported either side of the question, except for witness testimony and the Crown’s argument that George was guilty mainly because he had a prior criminal record, prompting doubt of George’s guilt.

The guard who initiated the incident was ex-military, not uncommon in the ranks of ‘correctional officers.’  Before the trial began he re-enlisted and was sent overseas, conveniently unavailable to the Court.  The second guard involved and a third guard close-by who witnessed the assault testified in practised unison, except for one relevant detail, and were also under observation in Court by a representative from their union.

This came off as a wash….nobody won.  So, why report it here?  Well, it illustrates daily frustrations encountered by inmates in jails and prisons that foster disrespect for their keepers and for the law.  Offenders in custody will say, “they don’t care” and “things will never change,” while advocates will argue that if guards are not a part of the correctional process, then they are a part of the problem with the correctional process.

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One last example of an irritant that compromises peace in custody comes from the Toronto East Detention Centre.  This is a dirty jail.  Toronto East is a grimy, mucky, unwashed provincial jail.  The facility probably thinks otherwise, but even the large cube-like visitor waiting room and the two adjacent areas where inmates are brought to meet family/friends beg for soap, water, and….bleach.  The condition of the two visitor washrooms ranges week to week from terrible to unusable.

Jack was transferred to Toronto East awaiting trial and noted the conditions of the jail in mail and conversations.  Inmates who have visits first submit to a security check that includes leaning face-first against a wall for a pat-down, a reasonable and expected routine.  Jack had previously picked up skin infections elsewhere in the system and then had to contend with inconsistent health care.  When he was called for a visit at the East and butted his fists against that wall for a pat-down rather than the palms of his hand, guards refused to clear him.

His visitor waited two hours, inquired about the delay, was told the visit was cancelled, and left the institution.  All the while Jack was making his argument with management on what in reality was a non-issue, finally was given the okay for his visit….except by that time his visitor had left the premises.  This was nothing more than a Little Napoleon guard looking for an excuse to stir up resentment, perhaps provoke an inmate, and then complain about the difficulties and risks in his job that justify the demands his union will make in the next round of contract negotiations.

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These three provincial jails are no different than others in Ontario.  The Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre in London, Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, Central East in Lindsay, and Thunder Bay predominate significantly among them for attracting unwanted attention.  And the jails in Ontario figure no differently in the prison industry’s landscape than provincial jails in the rest of the country.

….#3 next time.

Who’s afraid of the big, bad prison guards?

WELL, IT APPEARS EVERY SERVANT OF THE CROWN in Canada from the executive through to the legislative branches of federal and provincial governments, and the judiciary to some extent, are paralyzed by the sight of the uniform worn by “correctional officers.”  Thus it has been for decades.

Let’s cite a relevant posting by CBC News on October 28 of this year:-

“CBC News cross-referenced a decade of Toronto police disciplinary decisions with all of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) investigations in which the police watchdog laid charges against Toronto police officers, and against available data on public complaints.

The review revealed that only 12 per cent of investigations where the SIU laid charges against Toronto cops have led to a disciplinary hearing decision against the officer involved in the last 10 years.

For public complaints, the numbers are even lower.  Just one per cent of complaints made to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) about Toronto police officers in the last five years has led to a disciplinary hearing.”

The CBC release did not analyze how police were disciplined at these hearings, if at all.

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No, this isn’t a misplaced “Policing” posting.  That will come, but for the moment, let’s also look at an excerpt from The Senate of Canada, Human Rights Committee, Interim Report, February 2019 we’ve printed before:-

“The security features inherent to federal correctional facilities are designed to keep people in as much as they are to keep people out.  As a result, the management of the federally-sentenced population is largely conducted away from public scrutiny.  Invisible to the general population, federally-sentenced persons are often forgotten.”

The gist of where this is going?  Despite some indicators to the contrary, police practices are more open to public audit than the environments in which prison/jail guards work.  If the results of complaints against Toronto police are as CBC research concluded, then where would one suppose grievances against guards end up?

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Correctional Service of Canada and its provincial equivalents are bureaucracies, systems characterized by a division of labour, a clearly defined hierarchy, detailed rules and regulations, and impersonal relationships.  Not exactly an arrangement conducive to the rehabilitation of offenders.

Guards have been featured frequently here (e.g. the numerous Soleiman Faqiri entries, “Prison light switch #3” August 4, 2019, “Toronto South…..again” April 28, 2019, “Bob’s ‘Blue Wall’” November 18, 2018) and as with all else with Correctional Service of Canada and the provincial counterparts, guards will continue to attract our attention.

First, let’s define who a guard is, and how the role of a correctional officer (CO) figures into penal system operations.  The CSC site’s details could apply for all custodial agencies:-

  • guards supervise and interact with offenders
  • regularly watch for signs that the safety of others or security of the institution might be at risk
  • take appropriate security measures when necessary

Brief and broadly subjective, the functions are further defined and limited by a plethora of laws, policies, and directives.  This surfeit of regulations burdens all civil servants, and some empathy is deserved.  Regardless, right and wrong doesn’t need a handbook.

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As bleak and tense as the relationship between inmates and guards is much of the time, there are occasional exceptions to the norms.  One example:-

A few inmates are out of their cells on an evening in a maximum security institution.  They’re told to lock up by guards earlier than expected.  They comply.  But, one inmate’s clothes are still in the washer.  He calls to a nearby guard, asking politely if his clothes could be moved from the washer to the dryer.  The guard puts the inmate’s laundry in the dryer.
On his way off the range, that guard stops at the cell of a seasoned long-time inmate who has motioned him over to quietly thank him for helping an inmate in need.  That older inmate knows this young and inexperienced new guard has done a good deed but will pay for it when other guards razz and dig at him for what he did.

The who’s, where’s, and when’s can’t always be put in print.  There are risks.

…..next installment….more guards.

Defunding prisons……

……IS ABOUT TAKING AWAY THE NEED FOR PRISON FUNDING, NOT TAKING AWAY MONEY THE PRISON INDUSTRY BUDGETS TO KEEP ITSELF AFLOAT.

As it is now for example, Correctional Service of Canada which operates our federal prisons can’t meet its mandate for “actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens,” without more resources.  Efficacious audits underscore the failures of the system to meet the objectives of its Mission Statement.  Or, as has been argued here and elsewhere, is the health of the industry a greater priority for CSC than the success of its commission? 

Isn’t the primary assignment of everyone employed by Canada’s “correctional services” to put themselves out of a job?  Now, that’s an unrealistic ideal but it can’t be dismissed as a target.    No matter, the response from prison ranges is, “They don’t care!”  Meanwhile, Canada’s federal and provincial prison industry does not like media attention focused on inmates and what they have to say.  That detracts from their messaging.  We reviewed that issue here on November 4, in 2018 with “The Firewall…..”

A recent John Howard Society report based on prisoner accounts of life behind the walls had many common themes, many mirroring earlier narratives.  Quoting from John Howard….

  • Poor conditions that got worse in recent years, such as poor food, expensive phone calls, poor ‘pay’ for prisoners (about $3 per day after compulsory deductions).
  • Lack of opportunity to do positive things, such as improve one’s education or learn real job skills.  It’s hard to use one’s time productively in prison, which works against rehabilitation.
  • Lack of access to effective programs to address the problems such as addictions that brought people into prison.  Many prisoners feel that they are released in worse shape than when they were first imprisoned.
  • Poor health care; lack of access to doctors and medication; absence of dental care.
  • Many staff who have no interest in being positive or helpful.
  • Challenges in visiting and communication, making it hard to maintain contact with family and friends.

According to the Society there are other issues that surface like a lack of privacy, endless petty requirements, and threats of abusive treatment if staff don’t approve of behaviour.

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Food is not simply a life necessity but more importantly is life affirming.  Note the 19th century axiom that an army marches on its stomach.  Likewise, if our penal systems were correctional, then a proper provisioning for inmates is basic to the process.  It comes first.  Yet, the Canadian Senate’s 2018 interim report on its study of human rights in federal prisons notes one inmate issue is that the “quality and quantity of food is severely substandard.”  Even a 2019 federal audit of institutions found major problems with prison food services and raised concerns about quality, safety, a warning of food waste, unsatisfactory meal portions, and a “food-related health event” behind the walls. 

Dr. Ivan Zinger, Canada’s Correctional Investigator, used this audit and his office’s own findings to flesh out a case study of Correctional Service of Canada’s prison food in his 2018-2019 Annual Report.  From his report, “CSC’s food services program nominally operates on a national average per diem ration rate of $6.12 per inmate per day………” 
That provides for a 2600 daily caloric intake which is recommended for a low activity male, aged 31 – 50!  Inmates argue that unless they have funds to supplement the diet with canteen food, they would ‘starve.’

More from Dr. Zinger’s report:  “Because food is so foundational to inmate health and well-being, and has other impacts on the order and security of the institution, I am publicly reporting on concerns shared with the Commissioner (Anne Kelly) regarding the findings and, in my view, omissions of this particular audit………I am particularly concerned by some very disturbing developments and adaptations that have accompanied the implementation of CSC’s food services modernization project:

  1. The significant, predictable (and undocumented) amount of ‘cook-chill’ meals that are spoiled, wasted or considered inedible on the regular menu cycle.
  2. An inadequately low (and unreliable) per diem food metric that may unnecessarily put inmate health and safety at risk in an institutional setting.
  3. The rise of food as a commodity in the parallel (or underground) inmate economy.
  4. Inmate canteens that supplement or substitute for meals or portion sizes that are unappetizing, inadequate, poor of inconsistent quality.
  5. Loss of local autonomy to address deficiencies in meal quality and quantity (e.g., running out of certain food items or meals on the service line), which increases the risk of inmate frustration, tension, protest and/or violence.”

Dr. Zinger went on to make two food recommendations to CSC, both graciously received with florid comment but ultimately bound for a file drawer.

In a comment to us, one inmate sourly noted that at Millhaven Institution, considered the worst prison in Canada, a salad with the evening meal consisted of a handful of lettuce with a packet of salad dressing.  But, when he was transferred to Collins Bay Institution a few miles away for a multi-day program, salad included radish, onion, celery, etc. along with lettuce.  But, both prisons are on the same national menu, stressing inconsistencies with the food program.

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Yes, “food is so foundational to inmate health and well-being”, and just so, it is the same for everyone and anyone on Earth.  There’s no intention here to ignore world hunger by spotlighting Canadian prisoners, or federal prisoners in particular.  

There may be less hunger in the world now than a few decades ago, but we still have no excuse for allowing people anywhere to be food poor.  We produce more than we can consume but getting it to where it’s needed is a challenge, and not just that, but putting it into the hands of the people in want and getting it past the impediments that are often thrown up by unscrupulous intermediaries and corrupt governments is a cause looking for help.  A cause looking for your lhelp.

Even here in Canada, the National Zero Waste Council says we waste almost 2.2 million tonnes of edible food each year, costing us more than $17 billion.  58 percent of all food produced in Canada – 35.5 million tonnes – is lost or wasted according to new information, and about a third of that could be rescued for communities in need.  So, why are children going to bed hungry within a few blocks of where you live?  Can you spare some time?

More to come next time……..

DEFUND PRISONS!…..how ’bout that?

Just because the movement to defund police won’t gain traction unless people exercise the control they have by right of the power a democracy gives them doesn’t silence the call to action.

Likewise, prison reform has been a part of societal dialogue at least since the nineteenth century.  While the ebb and flow of incremental changes have benefited the effort in Canada, outcomes still don’t warrant the use of  “corrections,” “correctional,” and “correcting” in labeling what our jails and prisons are, as opposed to what they are intended to be.  After all these decades, the work goes on.

Over long years. innumerable organizations, groups and individuals have contributed voluminous and often repetitive entreaties, arguments, lawsuits, and demands for progressive initiatives to prioritize rehabilitation, recovery, and reintegration.  Ignored, denied, shunted aside, the responses spill from a yellowed and tattered ancient partisan script in use across the penal landscape.

Even the annual reports of the federal Office of the Correctional Investigator, along with human rights agency surveys that monitor provincial jails, bodies whose purpose is to work with the public service to encourage constructive upgraded practices, are patronized, humored, and neutralized.

But, the resistance cannot dampen the chorus for change; impediments only invigorate.  New voices will always replace those that drop away.  And as for this space, it’ll continue to press arguments for custodial sanity.

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“The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), as part of the criminal justice system and respecting the rule of law, contributes to public safety by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens, while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control.”

That is the Mission Statement of the federal prison industry and it could summarize how the provincial penal systems across Canada see their purpose as well.  The men and women who wrote and approved and adopted this summary of objectives for Correctional Service of Canada no doubt believed it upheld the highest principles for improving the lives of those who come into conflict with the law, while protecting the best interests of the community.

One can wonder if the authors of the mission statement assumed these ideals would flow down through the ranks of institutional staff to be taken on as professional goals.  Or would they assume that?  Like it or not though, management’s mission may not be celebrated in the trenches….would that it was otherwise.

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Our reaction to that lofty mission statement, to that declaration of a vision guiding the objectives of the prison industry, is reminiscence of an unrelated event of recent memory.

On January 20 in 2017 Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States in Washington.  As Mr. Trump took the oath of office and addressed the crowd on that day, he was surrounded on the dais by dozens of VIPs, including previous presidents and first ladies.

As the newly sworn-in president finished speaking, George W. Bush leaned toward Hilary Clinton and said, “Well, that was some weird shit.”

Next – HUNGER IS NOT REHABILITATING……and more.

TRUMP on the one hand….. COVID on the other…..

 

OKAY, OKAY……WHERE WE STAND.

The world is preoccupied by the threat of COVID-19, as it should be, and with trying to cope with death and ruin as the virus spreads.

And, people who aren’t appalled by America’s political climate are laughing at how far the international prestige of the United States has plummeted under the current administration.

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Do no harm….the first rule of medicine.
If you hear the sound of hoofbeats, think of horses first….the second rule of medicine.

COVID-19 is perilous, it’s real, it’s deadly.

Do five things…
follow the science…wear a mask…social distance…make hand hygiene a habit…
and don’t pay attention to the b.s.

There’s a lot of manic drivel, gibberish, and nonsense defying reason with this virus.  Don’t bite.

Vaccines will come.

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Dear Americans:  It’s one thing to support Republican Party candidates.  It’s quite another to legitimize Donald Trump.  The world knows this man is a dangerous idiot, a domestic terrorist, an international thug, a Russian stooge, and a failed businessman who wouldn’t know truth if it f–ked him up the ass dry.  And, he’s personally responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans.  That’s only a start.

Nonetheless, there are large numbers of people in the United States who enthusiastically say, “Hey, this is the kind of person we want in the White House.”

Bottom line:  How is it possible for a voter’s moral compass to become so corrupted?

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America can be rid of Trump easily. 
The virus is a challenge the world will meet.

In the meantime, inequities and sanctioned state abuse, misdirected resources and indifferent opportunists, and a lack of potent accountability and transparency in public life still plague societies. 

This space will now get back to grappling with that.