For real…..or for ruse.

‘Poor Howard Sapers’, is how we began the November 27 posting, “It’s a wonderful life…..when you can pass the buck.”

Howard Sapers became the country’s Correctional Investigator in 2004, acting as an ombudsman for Canada’s federal prisoners. He studied criminology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, worked for the Parole Board of Canada and the John Howard Society, and was a Liberal MLA in Alberta for two terms before Paul Martin appointed him to the office he’s held for 12 years.

Every year he issued an annual report to the ministry overseeing Correctional Service of Canada with observations and details of investigations he and his staff conducted during the period. Recommendations to improve the operation and outcomes of our federal prisons were included. Those reports were eventually tabled in Parliament, along with a response from CSC.

On January 2 of next year, and three days after leaving his CI job, Howard Sapers takes on the roll of an independent adviser to Ontario’s government, leading an external review of segregation policies in the province’s jails. Media coverage of segregation/solitary confinement policies in particular has been long-running, extensive and universally critical.

Mr. Sapers’ mandate is broad, and will include several aspects of the penal system, from regulation to policy to recruitment to training and infrastructure. One newspaper account describes the present system as “troubled”, and for instance, is facing three class action suits recently initiated just around the thorny lockdown issue, a practice so common in Ontario as to render some jails almost entirely segregation facilities on a frequent basis.

This appointment is welcome news, at least in this embryonic stage, and we sent a letter to Mr. Sapers:

November 21, 2016

Howard Sapers, Correctional Investigator of Canada,
Office of the Correctional Investigator,
Box 3421, Station ‘D’,
Ottawa, ON K1P 6L4

Dear Mr. Sapers:

I’ve admired your work as Canada’s CI for years, but sir, you are a glutton for punishment. If the obstinacy of Correctional Service of Canada was an irritant, welcome to the quagmire that is Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

Julian Portelli, Senior Policy Advisor to Minister David Orazietti, notes your January 1, 2017 appointment as “an independent adviser on corrections reform.” Allow me to independently offer a little focused advice of my own.

Segregation/solitary confinement comes in many and varied forms.

SHU units in Ontario jails are an addendum and alternative to segregation; they’re basically segregation with a television on the range wall. CSCS will argue otherwise, but ask for a log of the number of days or partial days SHU units are locked down, rendering them de facto segregation ranges. Staff shortages are common in some institutions and when guards are needed to cover elsewhere, SHUs are simply locked down, sometimes for days.

Entire institutions can be segregation units. Security incidents warrant jail-wide lockdowns, but consider this. Toronto South Detention Centre was shut at least for Saturday, Sunday and Monday, October 29 to 31. All visits were cancelled. Why? From 7pm Friday, October 28 to 7am Tuesday, November l, 100 uniformed staff members were unable to work their shifts. (See attached copy of November 16 response to request number CSCS-A-2016-05043) There was no security issue at TSDC. Halloween is what there was, and it’s not a stat holiday.

Mr. Sapers, I wish you bon chance with this new assignment. Know that many of us are looking forward to your assessments.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

A few days later on December 3, both Toronto’s Globe and Mail, and Star newspapers ran the announcement that Ontario’s Ombudsman, Paul Dubé, will look into the use of segregation (Toronto Star), or solitary confinement (Globe and Mail) in the province’s institutions.

The terminology is interchangeable and that’s an important distinction; any confinement that resembles either is defined as the same. That comes into play to a greater degree with the federal government and its prisons, where it has insisted there is a difference. Correctional Service of Canada is alone in that position, while all other stakeholders prefer the old adage: If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, then it’s a duck. But, that’s fodder for a later entry.

For now, we sent Mr. Dubé the same letter that Howard Sapers received only a few days earlier.

For someone with knowledge on the subject, the conclusions these two men will reach are almost forgone. What will be interesting is how Ontario reacts……and acts.

BOO! You’re locked down!

……again, and again, and again.

Toronto law firm Koskie Minsky, LLP launched class actions a few months ago against Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services over the extraordinary use of lockdowns in the province’s jails. One, naming London’s Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre has been certified.

While indicators may show fewer lockdowns in some institutions since the law suits came to public attention, one opinion suggests there has been little change. After all, as one inmate pointed out, jail guards are not being sued, and neither is OPSEU, the Ontario Public Servants Employees Union which represents them.

Guards are the wellspring of lockdowns which can be institution-wide, or localized to specific ranges or areas of a jail complex. Lockdowns may or may not affect professional and family visits, although institution-wide security driven lockdowns universally do. Staff shortages trigger partial or total lockdowns and/or a suspension of visits.

There is one interesting example at Toronto South Detention Centre for a potentially frivolous institution-wide lockdown of inmates up to 24 hours a day over at least three days this fall, and which prompted the cancellation of all visits.

Toronto South was locked down on Saturday, October 28, Sunday, October 30, and Monday, October 31. All visits were cancelled over the three days. Shifts at TSDC usually run from 7pm to 7am, and 7am to 7pm, seven days a week. There were no apparent security or safety issues to cause this disruption of routine, but the other possible explanation was a substantial staff shortage.

A freedom of information request to the FOI services division of CSCS on November 2 asked for “the number of uniformed staff members scheduled to be on duty between 7pm, Friday, October 28, 2016, and 7am, Tuesday, November 1, 2016, who were unable to work their shifts during that period.”

The response came back quickly, dated November 16. “There were 100 uniformed staff members unable to work their shift(s) between 7:00pm October 28, 2016, and 7:00am November 1, 2016.”

No request was made for the total number in the uniformed work force scheduled during the period, or the total number of shifts involved. That information would understandably be withheld. All the same, 100 missing bodies would constitute at least a very few hundred uncovered shifts for the three days.

What happened? Halloween happened, and Halloween is not a statutory holiday when shift bonuses kick in.

Carding….it just won’t go away.

 ……everyone’s problem

A rhetorical question from a young black Torontonian to a newspaper reporter a couple of years ago: “Just where is this mysterious black man the Toronto police are always looking for?” It seems that a common explanation given by the police for stops is the search for a suspect sighted in the area.

Here we are at the end of 2016, and carding is still taking up the time and resources of police boards in Ontario, attracting media attention, and spawning protests and objections. Data isn’t readily available but it’s likely this same conflict is raised in every urban centre in the country.

Mohamed Salih is a thirty-year-old London city councillor. As an adult, he’s been stopped 15 times by police as he’s traveled across southern Ontario, including Toronto, Peel, Kitchener-Waterloo, and in his hometown. Each time it was for no reason and each time it was humiliating.

Salih made an emotional address to London city council in the middle of November, underscoring the damaging impact of carding/’street checks’ on parts of the community, and the “devastating” realization particularly on children to know their family car has been pulled over because they are black.

At his urging to do right, and after a standing ovation from his fellow councillors, a motion passed unanimously calling for a permanent end to the practice. Not only is London the first city in Canada to ban carding, but the vote implicitly criticized the new provincial regulations for not going far enough to restrict police intrusions into peoples’ lives. Council’s decision will still have to pass London police board scrutiny to become policy.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, the police board is implementing the revised street check provincial standards which are really an attempt to mollify critics without making any substantial changes to the how and why of police stops. Desmond Cole’s op-ed in the November 24 Toronto Star makes a valid argument that the point of carding is more about control than safety.

‘Control’ is one of the tenets of police training, and understandable when warranted. However, what is also true about police training is to never surrender an advantage once gained. The practice of stopping people under whatever guise sounds reasonable has been a part of our landscape for decades. That this now is focused primarily on blacks and other minorities has galvanized parts of society into one united protest.

In truth, we could all benefit from the comfort of knowing we are the ultimate controlling social force. That so many of us turn away from what does not directly disadvantage us…..for the moment at least….is cause for refection on the state of our humanity.

It’s a wonderful life……..

…..when you can pass the buck.

Poor Howard Sapers. Canada’s beleaguered Correctional Investigator has spent 12 years trying to bring our federal prison system out of the middle ages (well, at least out of the 19th century), and has been rebuffed, patronized, and parceled out time after time. Well, he’s leaving the position at the end of the year, BUT has accepted an appointment as an independent advisor on corrections reform for up to three years with Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services. Now, that’ll be a challenge. We’ll deal with that in another posting…….but, for now……

Here’s a self-explanatory letter to Ontario’s Minister of Health:-

October 28, 2016

Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health & Long Term Care,
Ministry of Health & Long Term Care,
10th Floor, Hepburn Block,
80 Grosvenor Street,
Toronto, ON M7A 2C4

Re: Hygiene standards

Dear Minister Hoskins:

I took a call recently from an inmate at the Toronto South Detention Centre who had been sent to segregation.

He was told he couldn’t have a toothbrush or toothpaste. He couldn’t have soap. A towel and face cloth represented a suicide risk and he couldn’t have a towel or face cloth. Worse, nothing would be available to clean his cell, his sink and toilet after the cell’s previous occupant vacated.

The matter of the risk a towel and face cloth poses is curious. These cells have no projections for suspension. And, a suicidal inmate could choke himself as easily with the waistband of his underwear.

Surely, this policy must contravene basic regulated hygiene standards, and, if this is the rule at TSDC, it must be the same at all provincial institutions.

I bring this to your attention rather than to MCSCS; after all, it is Minister Orazietti’s subordinates who formulated the present practice. Without the intervention by a senior government minister, these unhealthy conditions are likely to continue.
Yours truly,

Charles Klassen

An email came back from “correspondence services” of the ministry on November 14. The body of this read, “Thank you for your email dated October 28, 2016, to the Honourable Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, regarding hygiene standards at a correctional institution. While the ministry appreciates your bringing this issue to our attention, I have copied the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services on this response as that ministry would be best to address you concerns.” In other words, this ain’t my job, man.

Are you kidding?

We wrote back:-

November 15, 2016

J. King, Correspondence Service,
Ministry of Health & Long Term Care,
10th Floor, Hepburn Block,
80 Grosvenor Street,
Toronto, ON M7A 2C4

Dear J. King:

No, no, no!

I sent my letter regarding the sub-standard hygiene policies at Toronto South Detention Centre (copy attached) to Minister Hoskins specifically for his attention. As the Minister of Health for Ontario, surely he is the point person for best practices in health care and hygiene.

Sending this on to Community Safety & Correctional Services because “they would be best to address my concerns” is not only a waste, but a cop-out. CSCS, after all, initiated what must be unacceptable in 21st century Canada.

That is, unless your purpose was to pass a buck, which will get passed, and passed, and passed ‘til it’s forever at the bottom of a forgotten pile, and everyone can go to lunch. That is so typical of government bureaucracies undeserving of public support.

We must have people in office who are not afraid to make some noise!

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen
cc Dr. Eric Hoskins

You know this will go nowhere, don’t you. We’d have to get lawyers and the press involved to make any impression, and then only briefly. Nonetheless, we can’t let our public servants think no one is paying attention, and if just one person suffers indigestion from these comments, the effort is worthwhile.

To move on, here’s a letter to the head of Institutional Services for Ontario’s jails:-

November 1, 2016

Christina Danylchenko, Assistant Deputy Minister,
Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services,
Institutional Services,
25 Grosvenor Street, 17th Floor,
Toronto, ON M7A 1Y6

Re: Policy & Procedures Manual – A deficiency

Dear Deputy Superintendent Danylchenko:

There are about 50 references in the Inmate Information Guide for Adult Institutions (September 2015) advising inmates to speak to staff for help or assistance.

This puts a burden on C.O.’s to retain considerable procedural knowledge and information sources. Institutions are 24/7 operations, and the guide assumes that the delivery of assisted services are consistent over multiple shifts throughout the work week, involving numerous personnel. In practice, this is unfortunately not the reality. While interaction between staff and inmates is encouraged, verbal conflict is commonplace, like it or not. What happens when an inmate is stumped on how to proceed?

What happens when an inmate needs to identify a member of the staff? According to the Institutional Services Division, the only policy relating to staff identification requirements is covered in Regular Duty and Dress Uniform Standards, 6.1.3, Identification Tags. As a routine, staff members wear i.d. tags with their title and the institution’s name showing, while their photo and i.d. number is hidden. What’s more, I would prefer you ask inmates what responses they get from staff when asking for identifications, rather than repeating examples here.

It seems CSCS policy intentionally prevents an inmate from knowing with whom he/she is communicating. I don’t believe that’s the intention, but a lack of will to change the standards for the better results in an unavoidable conclusion.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

Now, granted there are any number of uniformed jail staffers who do their jobs to the best of their abilities, and to the standards their oaths, CSCS policies and procedures require. But there are others, plenty of others whose behavior goes beyond abusive. These misfits have been a part of jail landscapes for decades and once they’re on the public payroll, it’s next to impossible to budge them. It’s a different kind of ‘blue wall.’

Management, even at the highest levels, is fully aware of the concerns put forward by lawyers, judges, activists/advocates, and social workers. The response, if a complainant cannot be ignored summarily, is usually to take all matters under advisement, pass the files from desk to desk, and if pressed, eventually to admit things can be done better.

And that is where it ends……or that is where it has ended for at least the last 25 years we’ve observed jail conditions.

It’s a wonderful life…..when you can pass the buck.

Persistence……and Right…..

… ‘City Hall’.

Toronto’s Globe and Mail ran Patrick White’s “How a self-represented inmate fought and won release from solitary” in late summer.

This is a story we should never have to read. This is an example of what should not happen. And it wouldn’t, if our public servants followed the rules of their own making, using the authority we give them, obeyed the laws of the land, our land, and understood it is the people’s agenda and the people’s best interests that are paramount.

His name is Matthew Hamm. He’s a 37 year-old convict with multiple mental health diagnoses who has spent almost half his life in prison for various non-violent offences.

Near the end of June of this year, he and four other inmates at Edmonton Institution were moved from a mental-health unit to segregation. Guards assured them the change was unofficial and temporary, but soon after, the extra time out of their cells stopped and they were locked up for 23 hours a day. Officials then claimed the reason for the segregation placement was a confidential informant’s statement that the inmates were planning to attack several guards.

The information was baseless, and the informant later recanted his charges in writing, saying he had created the allegations because staff had offered to move him from segregation and get him a television. Nothing changed for Matthew Hamm and the four others, and “they (staff) didn’t seem to care.”

Mr. Hamm had learned habeus corpus law while serving an earlier sentence in a Saskatchewan federal prison when he challenged an arbitrary security classification, representing himself. He now took Correctional Service of Canada to court again, and again representing himself. Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice J.B. Veit gave Mr. Hamm considerable leeway to present his arguments and at one point he spoke for five straight hours. The hearing lasted three and half days.

The 44 page decision came down on August 10, Prisoners’ Justice Day. The court accepted his arguments and ordered the immediate release of the inmates from segregation. Matthew Hamm did this knowing he had only a very few months left on his sentence, and knowing too that once he began his action, guards in the prison would harass and inconvenience him at every turn. And, that is not the end of it; now he has to file in federal court to have the false allegations removed from his file.

To repeat, this is not about one inmate, one ‘criminal’ beating the system. The back story here is the significant relevance. This is about a public institution, one of our tax-payer funded federal prisons, that makes a wrong decision, perhaps well-intended, but negatively affecting five people in its charge, and then does nothing to correct the error. Not only that, but it encumbers the efforts of one individual seeking redress through the courts, waits to be ordered to follow its own policies, and of course won’t comment pending a review which might include an appeal.

And, all on your dollar!

ONTARIO – Too many charges, too few crimes.

……and, it’s costing every taxpayer in the province.

A Globe and Mail editorial on Friday, September 23, reviewed a contentious issue with the province’s justice system that’s been simmering for decades. Titled “Why Ontario courts are overcharged”, it questions a practice that is expensive, counterproductive, socially corrosive, and incidentally, should place a liability on the province for punitive damages…although it rarely does.

Ontario has the lowest violent crime rate in Canada but its justice system is chaotic and provincial jails are full of people on remand, waiting months and sometimes years for charges to be resolved.

The editorial was prompted by a newly-released study by the MacDonald-Laurier Institute which evaluates and grades criminal justice in the country’s provinces and territories. Its finding indicate police in Ontario lay too many charges that go nowhere. This is a common practice where peripheral charges are piled on for effect, or where unsolved crimes are ascribed to a person charged with a similar offence. What’s the old saying: Let’s run it up the pole and see who salutes!

Let’s cite the stats. In Ontario, 43 per cent of charges laid are eventually dropped or withdrawn. Of the balance, the conviction rate is 55 per cent. Ontario has the lowest conviction rate in the country, and the highest number of cases that are dropped. In Quebec and British Columbia by comparison, police must get the approval of a Crown prosecutor before laying charges. Quebec’s conviction rate is 75 per cent while only 8.6 per cent of charges are dropped or withdrawn. British Columbia has a 70 per cent conviction rate, with 29 per cent of cases dropped or withdrawn.

Ontario has argued that separating the police’s investigative function and the Crown’s prosecutorial role provides checks and balances for a more just system. There’s no indication offenders in Quebec and British Columbia are getting off lightly, while Ontario not only drives up costs across the board, but perception makes the process less transparent.

Perhaps the province could do the same with this issue as it is with the overuse of solitary confinement in its jails: have a study leading to a review leading to another study leading to………..

How many police stops should one man take?

Going all the way back to the July 27, 2015 posting, “A ‘carding’ game. Wanna play?”, the Toronto Star’s Jim Rankin and other reporters started a campaign to help people learn what the Toronto Police Service had collected during “carding” stops, and asked that their information be shared with the newspaper. A compilation of the results would reveal what was in the police database.

So, what happened?

I asked Jim Rankin this summer if we had blinked and missed something. “No, you didn’t miss anything,” he wrote back, “It never gained much traction, unfortunately.” He didn’t speculate as to why, but we could presume privacy issues might be a factor, but more importantly, the curious would have to submit access to information requests (the Star offered financial assistance if needed). Too much work? Fear?

Mr. Rankin suggested we stay tuned for a story he was completing about a Toronto man who had gone after the information on his own ‘cards’. While this person had never been convicted of a crime, there had been more than 40 encounters with police, and some of the notations on those cards were described as “quite troubling.”

“The man Toronto police won’t stop stopping” was published on the front page under the paper’s banner on Sunday, August 14. The story continued for a full page inside the first section.

Dale James, a slim 33 year-old black Torontonian has been stopped and ‘carded’ dozens of times by police on a regular basis over 16 years. He now stays home most days in the apartment he shares with his mother in northwest Toronto, and has stopped the trips to a therapist for treatment of depression, even though it’s getting worse. He fears for his life if he’s not able to avoid more contact with police.

Dale submitted multiple freedom-of-information requests and was able to retrieve details of 43 encounters with Toronto police from 2006 to 2015, and is appealing to Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner for what he believes are many more. The Star’s own analysis of contact card data indicates that James is correct, finding dozens more that involve him.

James and his younger brother are suing Toronto police for $2.2 million in damages, claiming an assault on James, racial profiling, arbitrary detention and search of James outside their apartment, and further, that police are “terrorizing” the entire family. There has already been one “substantial” settlement by Toronto police as the result of a 2013 lawsuit and a human rights complaint, but his lawyer says the details can’t be disclosed.

The contents of the numerous contact cards are contentious, lengthy, subject to argument, and very likely on the wrong side of the law in many instances. Nonetheless, James and his lawyer, Osborne Barnwell, visited a high-ranking officer in the local police division last year that resulted in a confidential resolution intended to develop a more positive relationship with police. The agreement also included a provision to assist with counselling services.

The latest lawsuit arises because that agreement had no impact on police behaviour towards Dale James and his family. It’s not a stretch to conclude that Toronto Police Service management did intend to resolve the issues between the two parties, but some officers on the street would have none of it.

This begs the question:  just who do our police think is in charge here, anyway?


Stephen Fineberg is a Montreal attorney working in prison law who Brennan Guigue has known for about twenty years. There had been a contact lapse of many years before Brennan asked him for help in taking Correctional Service of Canada to task for the OC assault at the RCC in July of 2014. He’s been working almost since day one to assemble material and evidence of wrongdoing from CSC through Access to Information, and when there was apparent stonewalling by the agency in releasing complete relevant data, Mr. Fineberg turned to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada for assistance.

Attorney Fineberg wrote a five-page letter to Brennan dated September 27 of 2016 summarizing the chronology of the course of his work from early August of 2015 to the present. He itemized all the steps taken during the period, but concluded that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s investigation into CSC’s lack of full disclosure would require at least a year to finalize. Given that the three-year time limit for initiating an action would expire in July of 2017, he recommended we move forward now.

AS A RESULT, WE SPENT THE MORNING OF MONDAY, OCTOBER 24, IN MONTREAL with Stephen Fineberg in the office of Attorney Daniel Romano reviewing the on-hand material relating to the July 22, 2014 incident at the Regional Reception Centre in Ste-Anne-des-Plaines. Mr. Romano had not seen any of this previously, and his assessment both informed our decision and directed the process.

Daniel Romano’s bio is at

Based on what he saw, Mr. Romano laid out the steps along a course with which we readily agreed. Understanding a risk of failure is always part of the landscape, he nonetheless has a high level of confidence in a favourable outcome, rooted in his experience in this area. As is to be expected, time is needed to accomplish the incremental stages in this action against Correctional Service of Canada, and always anticipating additional potential delays and complications.

We are both encouraged and relieved to be on the move, to be stepping out onto the field. It just may take a while before we broadcast a play.

Torture? Yes, we are complicit!

Posted in Montreal

Check back to March 23rd’s “Canada complicit with torture? Really?”

Canadian citizens Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin each filed $100-million lawsuits against the Canadian government ten years ago after they were tortured in a Syrian prison (and in the case of Elmaati, in Egypt also), claiming Canada was complicit in their treatment.

Turns out, it seems they were correct.

Lawyers for the three men fought and eventually won a lengthy legal battle with the RCMP and CSIS, gaining access to thousands of heavily redacted files, totaling hundreds of thousands of pages. CBC News obtained access to about 18,000 of those pages which will be used when the civil trials begin early in 2017.

Documented by CBC Investigates, and reported in mid-September on The National, and the fifth estate, “Thousands of pages of secret files obtained by CBC reveal how Canada’s police and intelligence service not only knew three Canadians were being tortured in Syrian jails in a post-Sept. 11 crackdown, but co-operated with Syrian officials in their interrogations.
The files also show a Canadian ambassador helped deliver questions the RCMP and CSIS wanted put to the Canadians imprisoned in Syria, a country with a dismal human rights record.”

Two commissions of inquiry have already concluded that Almalki, Elmaati and Nureddin were wrongly targeted by CSIS and the RCMP.

As we recorded in March, unfortunately, our new “sunny days” Liberal government is taking up the fight against an apology and compensation. They’re even going further than the Harper government to protect CSIS sources, and the Toronto Star noted in the spring that the three men’s lawyers were “stunned” by the Trudeau government’s position.

It should be no surprise that our elected representatives may be repulsed by the evidence, but feel compelled all the same to cover the butts of the civil service bureaucrats who are responsible.

The probable and best outcome for Almalki, Elmaati and Nureddin says Ottawa realizes its vulnerability to adverse public opinion, faces certain defeat in court, and settles. That avoids years of litigation, but does nothing to repair the damage to Canada’s reputation, or prevent similar misadventures in the future. And, the three men don’t get the satisfaction of a public apology.

Hey, maybe they won’t settle. Bottom line: CSIS and the RCMP will cost us.