Like we said, will they comply?

Back in July of 2014, the Globe and Mail reported that our federal prison system was using solitary confinement beyond UN recommendations, at the same time other jurisdictions understood the negative impact of isolating prisoners and were moving away from it. Correctional Service of Canada, under Commissioner Don Head, paid lip service to prohibiting the practice “in principle”, but were making no move to change.

Our July 14 letter to Mr. Head criticized the lack of action and suggested new policies could be in place within 72 hours under his direction. In response, a two-page letter from Assistant Commissioner Scott Harris attempted to sidestep the matter by defining solitary confinement as something different from CSC segregation policies. This is one of those examples we often hear of CSC employees looking one straight in the eye and lying without batting a lash. We more or less told Mr. Harris that when his letter was answered on August 23.

Forward to “Great! But, will they comply?”, published on November 18 of this year.

Assistant Commissioner Harris again wrote us:

December 1, 2015

Dear Mr. Klassen:

Thank you for your correspondence of November 18, 2015, addressed to the Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), Mr. Don Head, in which you express concerns regarding his testimony at a Senate Committee hearing in March 2015.

At the onset, I would like to clarify that the Commissioner/s testimony before the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on March 12, 2015, related to Bill S-208, An Act to Establish the Canadian Commission on Mental Health and Justice and not specific to the case of federal inmate Edward Snowshoe.

As I previously explained in my letter dated July 30, 2014, administrative segregation is often compare to solitary confinement and segregation as recognized in Canada.

For more information on federal corrections, including administrative segregation, please consult the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA), the Corrections and Conditional Release Regulations (CCRR), and Commissioner’s Directive 709: Administrative Segregation, all of which can be found on CSC’s website at the following link:

Thank you for taking the time to write


Scott Harris
Assistant Commissioner
Communications and Engagement Sector

And again, we responded:

December 16, 2015

Scott Harris, Assistant Commissioner,
Communications and Engagement Sector,
Correctional Service of Canada,
340 Laurier Avenue West,
Ottawa, ON K1A 0P9

Assistant Commissioner Harris:

I’m as baffled today by your December 1st letter as I was when writing on August 23 last year in answer to the July 30th letter you referenced.

When any person or persons employed by Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) removes an inmate to isolation in an institution, confines that inmate to a cell for 23 hours per day or more, and where that inmate is without property previously in their possession, access to programs and/or jobs, and the contacts with population and staff they had prior to the move, that is solitary confinement. You may call it by whatever name you wish, and categorize and sub-categorize it ‘til the cows come home, but it is and always will be solitary confinement.

The government’s intent is to restrict this practice of isolating prisoners, and so it should, in spite of what will no doubt be the protests of CSC’s NHQ. The prime minister and his justice minister may in the end need to appoint at-arms-length compliance officers deputized to enforce PMO instructions without recourse to appeal or delay, as counterpoint to a recalcitrant bureaucracy.

However this will unfold, there are many of us in the community who will be watching.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen
cc Justin Trudeau
Jody Wilson-Raybould

Sadly, controlling the civil service is like herding cats. It can take more resources than most people are willing to give, and some circumstances leave us suffering unnecessarily.

Omar Khadr: The pendulum swings…..finally.

Justin Trudeau has asked new justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to review the government’s litigation strategy. Included on her agenda is the previous government’s appeal of the decision to release Omar Khadr on bail pending the action to have his U.S. conviction reversed. At this point, she has simply asked for a delay in the process but the smart money and ‘common sense’, as Khadr lawyer Dennis Edney puts it, says the Liberal government will drop the matter.

Staff reporter Ben Spurr’s Toronto Star November 29 “Ottawa delays decision on Khadr appeal” is a quick overview on the subject, and strikes a decidedly sympathetic chord. As well, CBC television’s Firsthand at 9pm on Thursday, December 3, ran Omar Khadr: Out of the Shadows, a shorter version of Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival.

Is sanity really creeping back into Ottawa? We sent a letter off to Minister Wilson-Raybould:

December 4, 2015

The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould,
Minister of Justice,
House of Commons,
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Re: Ottawa delays decision on Khadr appeal
Toronto Star, Sunday, November 29, 2015

Dear Minister:

Finally, finally, the sun begins to shine in Ottawa!

The previous government’s shameful treatment of one human being for the sake of questionable ‘heinous’ political gain forever damns it to the sewer of gutter opportunism. And, how blatantly obvious the leaders of that government made their intentions, too.

I propose that Stephen Harper be compelled to hand Canada’s settlement cheque to Omar Khadr during a July 1st celebration on Parliament Hill once the claim against his homeland has been resolved.

In the meantime, I encourage you to withdraw any objection to his parole status, and to support the action to have his conviction in the United States overturned.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen
cc Stephen Harper – House of Commons
Steven Blaney – House of Commons
Ben Spurr – The Toronto Star

Given a better effort to locate a mailing address, we would have preferred to also send a copy of this letter to a previous justice minister, now The Honourable Mr. Justice Victor E. Toews of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench. His was a federal appointment under Harper’s government so we commiserate with Manitoba’s burden. It has been a pleasure to read, though, that Justice Toews’ salary is being garnisheed by Quebec for unpaid rent on accommodation in Gatineau while he was still in Ottawa.

Carding: no grave too deep!

“(Carding) is a form of arbitrary detention contrary to section 9 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” André Marin, former Ontario Ombudsman

Back in the third week of September, the Peel Police Board, which includes the mayors of Mississauga and Brampton as members, instructed their police to suspend carding. But, Police Act restrictions do not give police boards the authority over operational functions, and Peel police chief Jennifer Evans refused to implement the ‘recommendation’.

That is but one recent example fueling the protests against carding, and which prompted Ontario’s CSCS minister Yasir Naqvi to announce on Thursday, October 22, that the practice would be illegal “by the end of fall.”

Well, not quite. The Toronto Star’s headline a week later read, “Random Carding – The End” heralding Ontario’s announcement of a strict set of regulations for the interaction of police with members of the community. In other words, administration but not elimination. Desmond Cole’s companion piece that day, “You can’t legislate police decency”, applauded the new policy but argued that this good start is only a beginning to protect marginalized people from abuses of power.

Both the Star and the Globe ran editorials the next day on October 30. The Globe’s “Don’t regulate carding. Just ban it”, was echoed by the Star’s “Good riddance to carding.”

As expected, by November 7, the Star was reporting that “Chiefs, officers push back against new carding rules.” Police were making a last-ditch effort of halt aspects of the province’s restrictions on street checks before they became law during the 45 day review period of the proposed legislation. What impact they have is pending.

Arguments are now made from different sources that what’s proposed are nothing more than ‘toothless political band-aids’, that the Police Act must be changed to empower civilian police boards to control operational procedures, and that police officers will continue to do as they wish, law or no law.

Only we can bury carding. That, and lots and lots and lots of cameras. Most people don’t know their rights, are too timid to speak up for themselves or others, and frequently believe they are not vulnerable to abuse. Those attitudes must change.

Remember, the People are sovereign in a democracy, police officers are first and always public servants, deserving of respect and good will, but in the end, we still pay for their underwear.

Great! But, will they comply?

“Liberals to curtail solitary confinement” ran over Patrick White’s byline in the Globe and Mail’s Saturday, November 14 edition. The story was subtitled, “Trudeau directs Justice Minister ban long-term isolation and implement recommendations from inquest into Ashley Smith’s death.”

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society filed a January suit claiming solitary confinement contributes to prisoners’ deaths, indiscriminately targets mentally ill and aboriginal inmates, and is unconstitutional. Separately, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies also filed a lawsuit asserting the federal practice is unconstitutional.

Don Head, Correctional Service Canada Commissioner, denied federal prisons use ‘solitary confinement’ when he testified last March at a Senate Committee hearing into the death of Edward Snowshoe. Mr. Head is full of bovine excrement! A short letter copied below tells him so.

The move would bring Canada into line with guidelines set down by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and the direction both the United Kingdom and the United States are taking. Needless to say, it also reverses the so-called ‘tough on crime’ agenda of the previous government.

“This is a good start,” according to Howard Sapers, our federal inmate ombudsman. But, like him, before we celebrate an end to our medieval penal practices under a new and enlightened Liberal government, let’s remember that while it is one thing to order change, it may be quite another for a sometimes obstreperous civil service to enthusiastically carry out those orders.

November 18, 2015

Don Head, Commissioner,
Correctional Service Canada,
340 Laurier Avenue West,
Ottawa, ON K1A 0P9

Re: Liberals to curtail solitary confinement
Globe and Mail, Saturday, November 18, 2015

Commissioner Head:

You testified at a Senate Committee hearing last March into the death of federal inmate Edward Snowshoe.

“The term ‘solitary confinement’, which has been used in the medial quite a bit, actually refers to something different than what we do in Canada,” you were quoted by the Globe as saying at this hearing.

Mr. Head, you are full of bovine excrement!

Very truly,

Charles H. Klassen


The light beam flickers…….

In the last posting on Brennan’s trek for justice (“Finally…a beam of light”, August 16), he wanted copies of everything Stephen Fineberg received from Correctional Service of Canada in response to Access to Information requests, even though the written material was in French. Brennan is most anxious to get his hands on the video showing him screaming in pain, the sounds coming out of him not like one would expect from a human being, while guards are laughing off camera.

It’s likely however that getting all the relevant material, like the video content Brennan specified above, will take much more effort. Here’s why.

There was a hiatus on this project here in Toronto while other matters needed attention, but Brennan and Stephen Fineberg finally spoke on Wednesday, October 7. Firstly, Stephen had some equipment difficulty initially viewing the videos. That was resolved and he was sending all five on to Toronto. Secondly, he’d made copies of the written material, and asked if he should send that as well, recommending that he draw up an English summary. Our decision on that would be forthcoming. Thirdly, he had filed a complaint with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, suggesting Correctional Service of Canada may have held back more than the law strictly requires. The OPC may support CSC’s decisions, but anything at all which might be released as a result of the complaint would be a positive outcome. However, the OPC would not take the process further until it received written authorization from Brennan that Stephen Fineberg acts on his behalf, and this in spite of already available information indicating he does represent Brennan.

A few days later, we advised Fineberg that Brennan didn’t want the written material. And, Brennan’s letter to the OPC authorizing his lawyer to act on his behalf was mailed on the 14th, with a copy to Fineberg.

The videos arrived on the 17th. Only the first has been viewed to date. CSC has edited out any portion of that segment which shows CSC guards violating policy and the Criminal Code. It was difficult to watch, and our reaction has delayed further work, but it’s a job that must be completed within the next week or two.

Keep in mind this ‘event’ at the Regional Reception Centre in Ste-Anne-des-Plaines on July 22, 2014 began about 3 in the afternoon when Brennan was taken from his cell, did not finish until 11 that night when he was returned, and video was shot for 100% of those 8 hours. Stephen Fineberg’s October 26 email answered questions we had around the identity of the guards involved that day. He strongly suggested we authorize him to send us copies of the French written material along with his English summaries. We gave him an okay. In addition, once we can recognize and identify the gaps in the videos, he will include that in his complaint to the OPC.

You’d think we would be moving quickly on this, but we’re in an environment in Toronto where conflicting priorities challenge our best efforts to move forward as we’d prefer.

Please stand by………

In case you’re wondering……

October 18 was our last posting date, and it was to this category. Yes, we’ve been soaking in a milk bath since October 19 election night, but there are plenty of clouds in that sky we see through our spa’s window, and a storm is always on the horizon.

Just in case you’re wondering, “constructive sedition” will not go away. Everyone wants to advise Justin Trudeau where his top priorities should lay…….a sign of how badly this government change is needed……but expectations are bound to outweigh the man and his team’s ability to deliver and satisfy. All will not be well all the time. There’s bound to be a Judas in the ranks. To boot, the ‘dark side’ is ever lingering in the wings, scanning the agenda for opportunities to obstruct, obfuscate and oppose. How do we put it? No vigilance. No democracy. Constructive sedition will not go away.

But, other matters await attention, too. The Ontario government is taking action on “carding”…..or is it? And, the federal prison system is making us work long, hard and on difficult terrain to uncover all it did to Brennan Guigue.

Just a beginning…….

And, oh, by the way, Joe Oliver lost his Conservative seat in Toronto’s Eglinton/Lawrence riding.

Now, what was it President Josiah Edward Bartlet used to say on television’s “The West Wing”? Oh yes, “What’s next?”

Gotta Minute (15)

The anti-Harper handout/mailer we distributed in parts of Toronto’s Eglinton/Lawrence riding currently held by Conservative Joe Oliver drew attention to turnoverarocktoday. But, we expected email/phone/postal pushback to the content and tone of this brief piece.

What we got was nada. Nothing. Not one.

What does this say about Harper supporters’ lack of passion in defense of a party leader so severely criticized?

Can Harper stoop lower?

This posting’s title copies the Toronto Star’s Thursday, October 8 editorial heading commenting on Stephen Harper’s negative politicization of the niqab.

Another example that fits under the same banner is the juxtaposition of two items from the same newspaper:
Catherine Latimer is a former director general in the justice department and a Broadbent Institute fellow. Her op-ed piece in the Sunday, October 4 edition titled, “The making of a prison crisis”, begins, “Yesterday’s flawed ‘tough on crime’ policies are today’s prison crisis.”, and ends, “Our prisons are now in crisis, but if we surmount ‘touch on crime’ approaches and focus on just, effective and humane responses, Canada can once again be a world leader in corrections.” In between, she underscores how the current government’s mean-spirited stupidity for the sake of political expediency, coupled with a gullible and trusting public, is resulting in dangerous prison environments and lower community security.

A few days later on Wednesday, October 7, the paper ran Michael S. Schmidt’s piece from the New York Times, “6,000 inmates to be released from U.S. prisons.” The U.S. Justice Department is preparing to release these inmates at the end of October from federal institutions, a part of the rollback from harsh penalties for non-violent drug offences from the American experiment with a ‘tough on crime’ agenda in the 1980s and 90s, now involving about 50,000 inmates who will qualify for release.

We’ve said it before. We’ll say it again. Canada’s going where others have been and failed, where human and financial costs are unwarranted, and where Stephen Harper and the members of his Conservative caucus can make no excuses. Low? They lead the way.