……..ON THE MOVE!

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 http://www.kalmansamuels.com.

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.

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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.

Prisons for profits….the end?

The United States of America heralds itself as the world’s premiere champion of democratic principles and human rights, but with only 5% of the earth’s population, it has 25% of its prison inmates. Notorious human rights offenders like China and Iran don’t incarcerate its citizens to the same degree as the U.S. The United States was also in the forefront of privatizing prison services……..prisons for profits.

Reducing the numbers of Americans in prison is an issue during this year’s presidential campaign, but it’s a backburner item. A concern for the centre and left of centre, prison populations involve states’ rights which are more a conservative cause. This won’t be front of mind for the candidates.

But now to the question of who runs U.S. prisons. As the Washington Post recently reported, after years of documented human rights abuses by the private prison industry, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is finally ending its use of privately-run, for-profit prisons. As Senator Bernie Sanders put it in a press statement responding to the DOJ decision, “Study after study after study has shown private prisons are not cheaper, they are not safer, and they do not provide better outcomes for either the prisoners or the state.”

On the contrary, corporations in the business of operating prisons for profit are planning for growth, looking for cost cutting efficiencies, and opportunities to benefit from criminal activity.

Unfortunately, the U.S. federal prison population currently stands at about 193,000, and is dropping due to changes in sentencing policies over the last three years. Of this, only 22,660 inmates are living in federal private prisons. While this represents a small minority of the total number of men and women imprisoned in the country, the feds example should spur state governments to take a closer look at their penal systems.

The Justice Department’s decision doesn’t put an immediate end to their partnership with the private prison industry. It instructs officials to decline to renew contracts or to limit a contract’s scope, with a goal to reduce and eventually end the use of privately operated prisons.

This doesn’t cover private prisons used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is asking the U.S. government to act on these centers as well. “The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose civil immigration detention facilities form a far larger component of private prison contractors’ portfolios, must immediately follow the DOJ’s example. Locking up immigrants, including families and children fleeing extreme violence in Central American, should not be a source of profit for huge corporations, particularly given private contractors’ terrible record providing inadequate medical and medical health care to dying immigrants.”

Whatever criticism can be levelled at government operated prisons, here or in the U.S., there is still no excuse to allow for-profit corporations to use crime to fuel a growth industry, abuse the human rights of individuals, criminals or not, and promote recidivism rates at the risk of community safety.

The Neptune Four – an update

Take a minute to review “Confidence and trust” from March 13 of this year. Four black teenagers are stopped by police a way back in November of 2011, assaulted, arrested, charged, released, and vindicated. They’ve become known as the Neptune Four after the street on which their homes are located.

The teenagers are suing the police. The two Toronto officers who first came into contact with the young men were subsequently charged with misconduct. The Toronto police disciplinary tribunal for the two charged officers is scheduled for this month, October of 2016, almost five years later!

As matters stood in March, the Ontario Human Rights Commission wanted standing at the discipline hearing. It was a rare request for intervenor status, unprecedented for a police tribunal. The OHRC intended to ensure the tribunal considered racial profiling which it believes is a clear factor in the alleged misconduct.

But, on Monday, July 11, the Toronto police hearing officer ruled that, because the tribunal does not have the ability to grant the human rights’ commission involvement in the process, its request to participate had to be denied. The Toronto Star later ran an editorial calling on the regulations to be changed.

The teens were originally charged with assaulting police, and one who did not want to answer police questions was charged with threatening death and assault with intent to resist arrest. All charges were withdrawn. The Office of the Independent Police Review Director found the youth were not misbehaving and that the stop and subsequent questioning violated their charter rights.

Jim Rankin at the Star has been on top of this story from the beginning. Given how long it has taken to get this far, we shot a note off to him in the summer suggesting we should hope these four former teenagers who are now men will not be sending their own kids to mentoring sessions before this wraps up. His response…… “Amen!”

We shouldn’t be surprised if this hearing drags on for months, with postponements, delays, and legal challenges. One thing we can conclude with certainty. In the end, the City of Toronto and its taxpayers will be turning over a handsome albeit undisclosed and confidential settlement to the complainants.

There’s a point that needs to be made here too in view of incidents like this, and the even more unsettling interactions between police and young black men in the United States. African-American and African-Canadian mothers and fathers are well-advised to “police proof” their sons at an early age.

One of many memorable quotations in the lexicon of Jack Bernstein, the revered head of film for Famous Players during the 1970s and 80s may be suitable here…..”So, to this it’s become!”

Matthew Hines died. Chapter the second.

The September 25 posting to Justice for Brennan Guigue, “What say you, Minister?”, was prompted by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s response to the death of inmate Matthew Hines at Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick on May 27 in 2015.

CBC News has added two additional postings on this – “Correctional service admits ‘staff misconduct’ in inmate’s death”, and, “Prison watchdog investigates death of N.B. inmate pepper-sprayed 5 times by guards”

The ‘prison watchdog’ is Howard Sapers, Canada’s Correctional Investigator.  He’s been looking into this since Matthew Hines died when his department’s investigation asked how and why guards beat and then repeatedly pepper-sprayed the inmate before his death.  According to Sapers, his office has been held up by one missing piece, the New Brunswick coroner’s report showing a definitive cause of death.

Correctional Service of Canada cites privacy legislation which prevents it from discussing specifics of Matthew Hines death, or why the original story CSC offered of the incident differs from its own investigative report issued more than a year later.

Likewise, Ralph Goodale’s office won’t comment beyond the statement it released on August 24 because of the ongoing CSC investigation.

Canada’s privacy legislation has been a boon to our government ministries.  Correctional Service of Canada makes frequent use of it.  In the matter of Matthew Hines, CSC is still referencing it even though the principal is dead.

In the meantime, the RCMP has reopened its investigation into this death-in-custody. Initially, foul play was ruled out and the file was closed, but “additional information” has persuaded the police to take another look, although it wouldn’t say what new information was uncovered.

Scott Harris, the CSC regional deputy commissioner for the Atlantic region, admitted there was “staff misconduct” and “excessive force” in the case of Matthew Hines.  One staff member was fired and three others have been disciplined.  “We take this case very seriously and we’re trying to learn from it,” Harris said.

CSC’s internal board of investigation found at least 12 instances where staff did not follow policy.  Harris’ statement listed changes the agency is making because of this death-in-custody, including more front-line staff training with the handling of mental health issues.

Scott Harris followed what seems to be Correctional Service of Canada’s standard operating policy when it concedes there’s been an operational wrongdoing.  Use privacy legislation to limit disclosure, underscore the serious concern for policy violations, announce the changes that are intended, and express an intention to learn from the experience.   We shouldn’t discount CSC’s sincerity when its spokespersons toe this line. There are no doubt components within the system that have the best interests of all stakeholders in mind.  But, neither is there any question about what lessons can be learned and by whom and for what purpose.  It depends on perspective.  To Don Head, the Commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada, the in-custody death of an inmate where policy and human rights violations are in evidence are black marks his already beleaguered department can do without.  To the tiers of management working under him, how professionally misadventures like the mistreatment of inmates are handled when information becomes public may impact future career outcomes.  To the guards in our prisons and their immediate institutional superiors, one of their own has been fired and three others disciplined (although we can’t know what that entails) following the investigation of this event.  Minimizing public exposure in all aspects of job performance is a priority. Remember that Brennan Guigue was removed from RCC in Montreal within hours after the OC assault, sent to Donnacona (CSC had to make room for him on a ‘load’), immediately placed in segregation there to keep him out of sight, and the institution’s health care unit refused to document his injuries.

Matthew Hines two sisters have hired a lawyer.