Stop the torture! Good idea.

An unsolicited email received from Yasir Naqvi and dated May 11 invited submissions for the “Comprehensive Review of Segregation” Ontario’s Community Safety & Correctional Services is undertaking. This has been in the works since the media began heavily criticizing federal and provincial governments and our penal systems for its overreliance on the use of solitary confinement, and the resulting damages of the practice.

The invitation came about because of letters sent to Minister Naqvi over time questioning the operation of this province’s jails. However, the deadline for submissions was May 15, too late for us to offer an opinion. It’s never too late though to argue a position. We’ve published our letter to Mr. Naqvi here, and have copied five stakeholders as listed.

There is a reference in the letter to the Globe and Mail’s Tuesday, April 26 editorial, “Solitary Confinement: Stop the torture”, and copies were attached to the addressees. Copyright prevents our reproducing it here, but we can quote from it.

Firstly, the title is definitive. The editorial begins, “What does it take to get governments to pay attention to crises of their own making? In the case of the cruel overuse of solitary confinement…….., the answer would appear to be that there is nothing at all that can move authorities to action.” It continues, “….only Ottawa has made a firm commitment of any kind to ban long-term solitary confinement in federal prisons…”, and concludes, “Solitary confinement, when misused the way it too often is in Canada, is torture. Only the 14 governments that oversee it can fix this. That only one has made a commitment to do so is shameful.”

May 24, 2016

The Honourable Yasir Naqvi,
Minister of Community Safety & Correctional Services,
18th Floor, George Drew Building.
25 Grosvenor Street,
Toronto, ON M7A 1Y6

Re: Comprehensive Review of Segregation

Dear Minister Naqvi:

I thank you for your May 11 email requesting submissions around a review of segregation policies in the province’s jails, but your May 15 deadline left me unable to contribute. Nonetheless, I will comment.

First, I would recommend the Globe and Mail Editorial from Tuesday, April 26 of this year, entitled “Solitary Confinement: Stop the torture”, copy attached.

Reform evasion: Correctional Service of Canada has attempted to pre-empt federal reforms to segregation by voluntarily revising its use of solitary confinement, but only by improving procedural policies. Practices don’t change. Likewise, CSCS is using SHU (Special Handling Unit) ranges to move inmates out of segregation into an environment which can easily be as bad, or worse, than segregation, primarily because of incessant lockdowns. When staff shortages arise elsewhere in an institution, guards are pulled from SHU ranges and inmates there are simply locked down, sometimes for days. But, technically, the SHU is not ‘segregation’ and not subject to the review you are undertaking.

Compliance: Your office and CSCS management presume policies, practices and procedures in force within our provincial institutions are followed as a matter of course. I don’t doubt they are, to a large degree. However, there isn’t an inmate or inmate support who doesn’t understand best practices are at times compromised as “suggestions”, while relevant documentation will conform to the management model all the same. CSCS has not thus far guaranteed safeguards to independently scrutinize compliance.

Inmate Remedy: Provincial inmates have no substantive resource to challenge a segregation placement, or any institutional decision for that matter. Internal options are weighted against a complainant. Most external choices manage broad mandates which can leave jail inmates in a priority margin. Not only that, but even if an inmate is able to access the Inmate Information Guide for Adult Institutions (September 2015), pages 10 to 15, and can obtain assistance from staff, the complexities of the process can seem daunting, be discouraging, and too often regarded as futile, particularly where there are financial considerations.

There is no Utopian solution, but a major move in the right direction would see Ontario establish a dedicated destination solely for prisoner petitions, similar to the federal Office of the Correctional Investigator. An important distinction between the federal OCI and an Ontario equivalent though would have the provincial office submit its annual report directly to the legislature, rather than through CSCS or the Attorney General.

Whatever changes your office proposes, the objective must be a level playing field, both in substance, and with the perception, of fairness, legitimacy and impartiality, backed by an at-arms-length enforcement component.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

Margaret Welch, Associate Deputy Minister, Correctional Services, MCSCS
Christina Danylchenko, Assistant Deputy Minister, Institutional Services, MCSCS
Paul Dubé, Ombudsman, Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario
Human Rights Legal Support Centre,
Honourable Glen Murray, Ministry of Environment & Climate Change

Note:  Glen Murray is our local MPP


A badge but no gun?

Comedian Chris Rock once suggested we should outlaw bullets, not guns. But, either way, guns and bullets are a lethal combination.

“If we keep enabling deadly police confrontations, we will be forced to keep justifying deadly outcomes.”
This is from Desmond Cole’s Toronto Star column of December 3rd last year, “Time to disarm the police”. He’s become a weekly contributor to the newspaper’s op-ed page, his work centering on racial, policing, and social justice issues.

Desmond argues that Toronto police are too quick to resort to deadly force, resulting in multiple fatal shootings. He makes an unfavourable comparison with Montreal’s more progressive police service when dealing with people in mental health crises, citing examples which “proved that police often do put their lives on the line, and can do so without needlessly jeopardizing the lives of the people they serve.”

The Toronto Police Accountability Coalition,, goes even further in its Bulletin No. 95 of March 21 this year. Noting not only the number of police shootings, plus the budgeting for a “substantial number of new weapons”, and the increasing use of CEW weapons (tasers), the TPAC concluded that “it is time to talk seriously of taking weapons out of the hands of rank and file constables.”

One telling observation came out of the trial of Constable James Forcillo, who was convicted of attempted murder in the death of Sammy Yatim, one of Toronto’s more infamous police shootings. Sammy Yatim died on an empty Toronto streetcar on the evening of July 27, 2013. He was in mental distress and carrying a small knife when confronted by several police officers at a distance who were outside the vehicle.

One, James Forcillo, fired nine rounds within seconds of coming on the scene, hitting his target eight times. The first three shots were fatal, the other five were for what, “good measure”? Not only that, another officer subsequently tasered the prone and almost dead man.

After the trial, CBC’s Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway briefly spoke with a British police officer who had reviewed the evidence. Under similar circumstances in Britain, he said, the police there would probably not have deployed weapons.

The police in Britain would probably not have deployed weapons.

Where are the angry lawyers?

A social/legal worker who frequently visits Ontario’s provincial jails to assist inmates with navigating our courts arrived at an institution one evening for an 8pm appointment. The meeting was to finalize a court-ordered report which would expedite an inmate’s release. But, time was short, and a deadline loomed.

After signing in, shown into an interview room, and then waiting twenty minutes, a staff member told this worker that the inmate had refused the meeting. This wasn’t true, the worker knew that, but said nothing, and left the institution.

Why would the worker be told what all involved knew was a lie, and why would the worker not protest? Why would one of your public servants interfere?

Well, perhaps a guard was angry with the inmate for some reason, or annoyed with the worker. Maybe no guard wanted to escort the inmate to the meeting. Perhaps available guards just couldn’t be bothered. The possibilities are aplenty.

Doesn’t happen? Really? Then you need to speak to an officer of the court, a social/legal worker, a lawyer…..or, perhaps a jail guard.

Why wouldn’t the worker complain? Because, quite simply, a complaint would make later work more difficult in any provincial jail.

Doesn’t happen? Really? Then, you need to speak to an officer of the court, a social/legal worker, a lawyer…..or perhaps a jail guard.

Why not post names, dates, places, more complete details? Well, if the HonourableYasir Naqvi, Ontario’s Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Service, thinks all is right with the world, then more information puts people at risk…….from our own public servants.

One other example, but with a another inmate. A lawyer arrived at an institution to meet a client, and was subsequently told the visit was refused. And to repeat, this was a lawyer trying to confer with a client. Of course the inmate had not refused, the lawyer knew this and perhaps wasn’t compliant and humble, so when the same lawyer arrived at another time to meet with the same client, the lawyer was told the client had been moved to a different institution. The lawyer went to the other location only to learn no such transfer had taken place. Again, identifying details only jeopardizes the lawyer/client relationship…..again, from our own public servants.

Doesn’t happen? Really? Then you need to speak to an officer of the court, a social/legal worker, a lawyer….or perhaps a jail guard.

Granted, this isn’t part of the daily routine and the frequency with which it occurs is a subject for speculation, but that it happens at all is unacceptable. This is but one of a few shortcomings within our provincial penal system that confounds the administration of justice and which prompted this letter to the Criminal Lawyers Association:-

April 28, 2016

Anthony Laycock, Executive Director,
Criminal Lawyers Association,
189 Queen Street East, Suite #1,
Toronto, ON M5A 1S2

Re: Ontario’s provincial jails

Dear Director Laycock:

For the last twenty-five years or more of observation and tapping into the first-hand experiences of others, the penal institutions operated by Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services posit one omni-present question.

Why are you putting up with the conditions under which you and your clients suffer?

Set aside how widely known to the public the circumstances in our jails are, certainly every person walking the corridors of any Ontario provincial courthouse is aware of a high degree of ethical and moral corruption among some front-line uniformed jail workers. At the very least, this is costly to you, the people you represent, and the operation of our courts. At worst, it ‘brings our system of justice into disrepute.’

Bottom line: this would be better if it didn’t stink!

Remedies? MCSCS management and their political masters do their jobs, insisting that policies, procedures, best practices……and the law, are not only followed, but that compliance and accountability are watchwords throughout the ministry. A responsible, progressive, responsive government sets up an inmate-exclusive resource like the federal Office of the Correctional Investigator.

Reform is unlikely though until you, your organization, lawyers, their firms, and the courts prod, provoke and challenge the status quo. Change cannot come soon enough.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

Pepper spray……yes, it burns.

Pepper spray, or OC spray (from “oleoresin capsicum”), is a lachrymatory agent, a chemical compound irritating the eyes to cause tears, pain, and temporary blindness. Considered a less-than-lethal control option, it has been deadly in rare cases.

According to Dr. Gregory Smith, Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Epidemiology, UNC School of Public Health and Chair, NCMS Occupational and Environmental Health Committee:-
“The ill effects of OC. Dermal exposure to OC spray causes tingling, intense burning pain, swelling, redness, and, occasionally, blistering (capsaicin alone causes redness and pain, but not vesiculation). A severe dermatitis, called “human hand”, is found in people who process chili peppers in Mexico. Capsaicin amplifies inflammation by releasing substance P from the skin and nasal mucosa. Multiple exposures of skin or mucous membranes over a period of seconds or minutes exaggerate the response. Capsaicin augments allergic sensitization and worsens allergic dermatitis. Exposure may diminish sensitivity to heat-or-chemical-induced pain, thus increasing the risk and severity of skin burns. Capsaicin powerfully stimulates heat receptors, causing reflex sweating and vasodilation, and activates hypothalamus-mediated cooling; this dual effect increases the risk of hypothermia if victims are decontaminated with cold water on cold days”

These effects assume pepper spray is used as recommended by the manufacturer. Brennan on the other hand was attacked by a group of guards using a concentrated form of OC (see Just Another Day on the Range? The Guigue Summary posted Sept. 26/14). These men didn’t use hand-held dispensers, but instead a heavy canister with a hose and spray nozzle. The entire rear of his naked body was “painted”, and the aerosol spray in the air came into contact with much of the rest of his unprotected skin.

If any of us were to do this, we’d be charged with a number of indictable Criminal Code offenses, possibly even attempted murder. Be reminded that Brennan Guigue cannot be the only victim of such treatment by our public servants for one, and two, we are responsible for their behaviour.

Last month’s April 17th posting, “…now we have the names”, under the Justice for Brennan Guigue banner was important, given how much the forty pages of printed material submitted by Correctional Service of Canada reveals, and in spite of how much more was withheld (see Material/Evidence Requested from CSC, Nov. 2/14), and for which we continue to press CSC to release.

Toronto police – mercenaries?

Why shouldn’t the police who patrol our neighbourhoods live where we do, or at least in the same communities?

And, why do our police officers ‘cocoon’ in their cars, isolating themselves further from the people they “serve and protect”.

This has been on our radar for decades, but it’s recently come to the front burner in the United States where tensions between police and racial groups draws attention to the demographic composition of police departments across the country.

Now, the Toronto Star’s Betsy Powell brings this issue home with, “Many new cops don’t live in Toronto”, from the paper’s Friday, February 12 edition. And, there is no difference in Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary and other Canadian cities.

Peter Sloly, a former Toronto deputy chief, estimated that 80 to 85 per cent of Toronto’s cops don’t live in the city. Only 21 of 44 recent recruits call Toronto home. Police union leaders claim Toronto is too expensive for many on the force, but this argument ignores that today’s police earn a lot more than the average Torontonian.

“I think you can be committed to a neighbourhood, committed to community safety, do your job, and sleep somewhere else,” is how former Toronto police chief Bill Blair defended an out-of-town workforce.

But, Mariana Valverde, a criminologist at the University of Toronto disagrees. “Where you live and what you think of a good place to live, does have a bearing on how you do your job as a police officer. We care more about people who live like us…’s basic psychology.” She believes this should be included in the debate around police reform and our perspective for controlling the force’s $1-billion budget.

A tempest in a teapot? How many teapots make a cyclone?