Don’t you just hate it when that happens!

“Torture us no more. Now for the feds…..”, was published on June 5. Reprinted in it was a letter to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, encouraging the minister to move forward with long overdue federal prison reforms. It included yet another warning of Correctional Service of Canada’s reluctance to accept outside recommendations, let alone government directives. We didn’t expect an answer. We didn’t want a response. We wanted action.

Nonetheless, a letter arrived in early July over the minister’s signature. Unfortunately, it met the criteria for implausibility. Here’s what Mr. Goodale had to say:-

‘Thank you for your correspondence of June 1, 2016, in which your express you concerns regarding the use of administrative segregation in federal correctional institutions.

Our government is committed to implementing the recommendations from the inquest into the death of Ashley Smith on restricting the use of administrative segregation and the treatment of those with mental illness.

That said, the law provides for administrative segregation in limited circumstances to help ensure the safety of all inmates, staff and visitors. Specific legal requirements are set out in section 31 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and must be met in order to place an inmate in administrative segregation, including that there be no reasonable alternative and that the inmate be released from segregation at the earliest appropriate time.

We recognize that the challenges raised by these issues are complex and require careful consideration. Canadians expect us to do better – and we will.

Thank you again for writing.’

Should this just be put to file with a shrug? Is objecting to a public servant’s disappointing, cursory, scripted shuffle meat for further correspondence?

Don’t you just hate it when that happens!

As Minister Goodale’s letter sat pending a second look, the August 19 Globe and Mail ran Patrick White’s story, “Court ruling a rebuke of prison system’s use of solitary confinement.”

In this account, three inmates at the maximum-security Edmonton Institution were placed in solitary confinement in late June when a manager learned from a confidential informant that the three men were planning an assault on a group of guards. No criminal or institutional charges were laid. Of the three, one suffers from bipolar disorder, the other two are aboriginal.

CSC is legally obliged to provide inmates with detailed reasons for a segregation placement. This didn’t happen, and the men, without lawyers, filed an application of habeas corpus, and forced a judicial review of the decision to isolate them.

Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Joanne Veit freed the men from segregation because prison authorities ignored factors around procedural fairness, aboriginal identity and mental health history. “Given the basis on which the inmates were sent to solitary confinement, and the individual mental health and aboriginal circumstances of each inmate, the decisions to send each of them to solitary confinement is not reasonable,” the judge concluded. “In the totality of the evidence on this application, I am unable to conclude that the institution had available reliable and credible information that these applicants were planning a serious assault…….,” she added.

Further, and just as serious, the judge found that despite CSC’s commitment to the accommodation of aboriginal identity and mental-health issues, Edmonton Institution gave no considerations to this.

So here we have three prison inmates doing this hard work from segregation on their own, so that others in the same situation can use this decision, and because they were tired of having CSC staff and management take the law into their own hands.

Don’t you just hate it when that happens!

Minister Goodale needed another shot………

August 22, 2016

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

Re: Unreasonable delays

Dear Minister Goodale:

The July 4 response to my June 1 letter was unexpected. Your time is valuable, and a template letter is both patronizing and not worthy of your high office. Surely, you cannot believe section 31 of the CCRA holds sway with Correctional Service of Canada’s operation when it doesn’t suit their interest.

The 104 recommendations that came out of the Ashley Smith inquest are now more than two and half years old. I don’t doubt you and your government’s commitment to implementation. I do strongly doubt CSC’s cooperation under its current management. The agency has had more than enough time to initiate substantive progressive reforms without prodding.

And yet, as the Globe and Mail reported on August 19, “Court ruling a rebuke of prison system’s use of solitary confinement”, Justice Joanne Veit of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench found grounds to underscore CSC’s continuing and ongoing failures.

One wonders just how long before action replaces “careful consideration.”

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen
cc Don Head, Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

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