The noise is deafening……

…..they’re pretending not to hear us.

Mary Dwyer is the current manager of health care services at the Toronto South Detention Centre. She came to our attention when she testified in early February in an action by a TSDC inmate looking for redress from the lack of proper medical care in the institution, particularly during lockdowns which are rampant there.

The above is from “Jail health care? Ontario, challenge this!”, an April 10 posting underscoring neo-medieval conditions in parts of the operation of the province’s provincial jails. This entry fleshes out the story referenced on April 10 as one further example of violations of Ministry policy and best practices, Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the United Nations’ “Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.”

Gregory Chaytor spent seven months in pre-trial custody in Toronto South awaiting the disposition of drug charges. He pleaded guilty to two offenses, but a sentencing application submitted by his lawyer Michael Leitold (lay-i-told) alleged that Chaytor was subject to “frequent and ever-increasing” lockdowns at Toronto South, amounting to “arbitrary administrative segregation.” Further, he contends he didn’t get appropriate medical or mental health care. As a result, he was seeking an enhanced credit of 1.75 days’ credit for each day served before trial, rather than the usual 1.5 days’ credit.

The sentencing phase began in December of 2015. The Toronto Star published Amy Dempsey’s print and on-line account of the February 5 appearance by Toronto South’s Michael MacLennan, security manager, and Mary Dwyer, the institution’s health care manager, at a pivotal court date in the process.

Ms. Dwyer testified that she had never seen the Star’s articles describing staff and inmate complaints about inadequate medical services, claiming, “I don’t read newspapers….which as you know are not accurate.” Mr. Leitold also asked her about several Ontario Court decisions in which judges criticized health care at the institution. “First time I’m hearing it,” was her response. Not only was her testimony considered surprising given the wide-spread coverage of problems at Toronto South, but Ontario’s Ombudsman had investigated dozens of health-care complaints at the jail and would have been in touch with her department.

Security manager Michael MacLennan conceded that lockdowns are much like solitary confinement, but he contested defence figures on their frequency. During his testimony, it was revealed that not all jail records available on lockdowns had been provided to the defence or the Crown. As a result, Ontario Court Justice Mary Hogan, criticizing the lack of complete information but reserving judgement of whether anyone was to blame, adjourned the hearing until a May date, the earliest available on the calendar, allowing the balance of the records to materialize.

With that, the story ended. No further news appeared in the media. I contacted Michael Leitold in early June for a clarification and resolution.

As it turned out, the Supreme Court of Canada had struck down one of the previous government’s ‘tough-on-crime’ provisions while the Chaytor matter was adjourned. This allowed the defence and the Crown to agree to a sentence of time served for the two offenses, and the judge further sentenced Chaytor to a $10 fine. The SCC decision rendered the application for a super-enhanced credit for adverse pre-trial conditions moot, and so the Court did not rule on the application.

But, according to Mike Leitold, “in passing judgement, the presiding Justice M. Hogan made clear her concern with the evidence she had heard to that point, and opined that she would have likely granted Mr. Chaytor’s application for the enhanced credit.”

It continues to confound that the judiciary frequently faults Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services’ operation of the province’s jails, while those we elect to ensure what is happening in those institutions does not happen appear oblivious to the issues raised every day by hundreds of inmates and their advocates.

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Do your job…..or pay!

Ontario Superior Court Justice Douglas Gray awarded $85,000 to two inmates at the Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton after ruling their charter rights were violated by staffing-related lockdowns.

In the May 9 week judgement, Justice Gray ruled that recurring and relentless lockdowns, for sometimes up to 50% of the time on average, violated the inmates’ rights to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. “Degrading”, “disproportionate” and “excessive as to outrage standards of decency” is how the judge described the practice. “The conditions of detention during lockdowns are very close to segregation or solitary confinement. In some ways they are worse. The inmate is holed up with another inmate not of his choosing. The actual periods of confinement for 24 hours a day are entirely arbitrary, and unpredictable, both as to timing and length.”

As reported by Amy Dempsey in the Friday, May 13, Toronto Star, the judge rejected an argument made by the province’s lawyers that conditions described by the inmates were not anywhere close to being egregious or shocking to the public and did not violate their rights. Justice Gray ruled that lockdowns “do not arise from legitimate safety and security concerns” but rather because the ministry has been “unwilling or unable to have sufficient staff available.” Not only that, but Ontario has known about the problem since at least 2002 and not corrected it.

Jamil Ogiamien triggered the lawsuit when he filed an application last July alleging unlawful detainment, and inmate Huy Nguyen joined the action. Nguyen was awarded $25,000, to be paid by the province. Ogiamien was awarded $60,000, to be paid jointly by the province and the federal government, since Ottawa is responsible for his detention.

Both men represented themselves in court.

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, and the Ministry of the Attorney General would not comment as the case is still in the appeal review period, and they would not say if there are plans to appeal.

These same conditions that led to the decision exist elsewhere, notably Lindsay and Toronto South. Barbara Jackman, a lawyer who assisted in the case but did not directly represent the complainants believes this is the first time monetary damages have been awarded for conditions created by lockdowns. Daniel Brown, a criminal defence lawyer and a director with the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, agrees with Ms. Jackman that this may open the door to a class action lawsuit, that other people may bring similar applications in the future, and that this isn’t an isolated problem.

As Daniel Brown put it, the inmates “weren’t asking for steak dinners and comfier beds. They were just saying, don’t lock us up for no reason. Don’t deny us our basic liberties, our right to have a shower and a phone call and contact with our family.”

As we see it, one major obstacle to a flood of actions is the reluctance of some defence lawyers to take on the province, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, prison guards, and OPSEU (Ontario Public Service Employees Union) which represents Ontario’s uniformed jail staff. As a reference, please see the May 15th posting on this site, “Where are the angry lawyers?”

Just whose back does Ottawa have?

Are you sure you’re in the picture?

Brennan Guigue is a product of the ‘system’…..the child welfare system, the juvenile justice system, the adult penal system. This triad doesn’t prepare anyone for a life in the community free of constraints, ready and able to engage the world in the ways most of us usually take for granted and handle by rote. As one example, coping with money can be a mystery.

Brennan visited his local Royal Bank branch recently during one of his brief respites from prison to take care of some business. His account there was opened in 2008 on another stay in the community when he strode confidently into the branch, announced his intention to a teller, and then spent some time with the manager who was intrigued by an intelligent and articulate ex-con only too willing to share his prison experience with the uninitiated. Here was the consummate bank robber looking to be an upstanding citizen.

There had never been an account balance of more than a few dollars through the years but it was active even while he was incarcerated. On this particular occasion in 2015, he was told he qualified for a Visa card with a $2000 spending limit! What? A man of 45 with no credit history, no assets, a lengthy criminal record and no experience at managing money, qualified for a Visa card? Albeit unknown to the bank, a man saddled too with emotional and mental health issues, but those didn’t matter given that he shouldn’t have been offered the service in the first place. Or should he?

Brennan wanted to do well. Brennan wanted to belong. He eventually accepted the Visa card, promising he would spend only what he could repay each month. The balance reached $1500 in about three weeks. To show the bank he was serious about his responsibilities he paid half of the $1500 using his Ontario Works cheque, leaving almost nothing for the rest of that month. The balance again ballooned to about $1500. This time, a Good Samaritan paid his bill.

By the time the stressors of contending with life outside prison walls overwhelmed him and he once again ran afoul of the law, the Visa card balance was $2100. He accepts the debt; he wants to pay it off; he hopes Visa will bide its time. Truthfully though, it’s a long shot. It’s a hole-in-one on a par five.

But, the $2100 will be repaid. You and I will cover it in the various ways an organization like Visa employs to recoup its losses. And, it does so with our government’s blessing. This is not about Visa. This is not about the Royal Bank of Canada. All banks and all credit vendors are the same. This is about our government allowing these businesses to operate in the ways they do to our detriment.

Here’s one more brief tale of government complicity with big business.

A friend in Toronto is a long-time Bell Canada customer. He has a land line with two phones in his home. His only “feature” is voice mail. He has no need for more, and no need to spend beyond the minimum.

Unusual for him, he called a sister in Oshawa for her birthday. She wasn’t home; he left a short message. When the bill arrived later in the month, he saw an 80 cent charge for the one minute long distance call, but a further $2.95 ‘ld’ charge, both amounts plus tax. Curious, he called Bell. The $2.95, plus tax, was a charge for the use of the long distance (ld) service, since he didn’t have a plan.

Are you kidding us, Bell Canada?

And finally, as an “oh, by the way”, it’s not news that the Toronto Police Service executed raids on dozens of marijuana medical dispensaries in the city a short few weeks ago. Some of these stores apparently would sell to anyone of age. Operators and staff were handcuffed, money and product seized, and many, many charges were laid. Now, not all marijuana businesses were affected, but the dozens that were was a message to all that the illegal trafficking in marijuana would not be tolerated…….until the law was actually changed.

The news conference on the action held by the chief of police was disrupted by noisy protesters. No one doubts most if not all charges will be dropped, dismissed or resolved summarily with minor fines. So why was such a major and expensive effort launched for such a meager return in the end?

Was there a legitimate reason to act in the best interest of the people? Or, did the multi-million dollar corporations expecting to control the billions of dollars in legal marijuana trade prompt the move? How many of these organizations have ex-political figures on their boards?

Food for thought. Maybe Bernie Sanders should spend some time with us?

Torture us no more. Now for the feds.

The May 29 posting critical of the overuse of solitary confinement in Canada’s penal institutions targeted Ontario’s provincial system.

The letter to Ontario’s Yasir Naqvi published last week was followed closely by a recommendation to Canada’s Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale for our federal prisons. Correctional Service of Canada has a history of practiced and adroit sidestepping of progressive measures endorsed by the Correctional Investigator, other stake holders, and even political leaders. That’s why Lisa Kerr has insisted that positive structural and procedural changes must be enshrined in legislation.

I wonder if the Trudeau government has the chutzpah to show CSC management that it’s “our way or the road.”

June l, 2016

The Honourable Ralph Goodale,
Minister of Public Safety,
House of Commons,
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Re: Solitary confinement: Stop the torture

Dear Minister Goodale:

You may be familiar with the Toronto Globe and Mail’s Tuesday, April 26th editorial, “Stop the torture”, a condemnation of Canada’s overuse of segregation in our provincial and federal penal institutions. A copy is attached.

Included as well with this is Lisa Kerr’s “Solitary confinement rules must be written in law”, from the Globe’s Monday, May 2nd edition. Professor Kerr accuses Correctional Service of Canada of pre-empting substantive reforms by only improving procedural inmate protections, which any informed observer knows is no reform at all. She argues that only legislative action will result in the changes your government supports.

Current CSC management has a history of recalcitrance. If you intend to leave the team in place, then at least send Mr. Head and his subordinates on a tour of European prison systems. Denmark and Germany should top the list. Their observations will either inform the direction Canada’s prison policies will take, or persuade Mr. Head, et al, to consider their career options.

Dillydally no more. Act now!

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

cc Don Head, Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada