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

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