It’s a wonderful life……..

…..when you can pass the buck.

Poor Howard Sapers. Canada’s beleaguered Correctional Investigator has spent 12 years trying to bring our federal prison system out of the middle ages (well, at least out of the 19th century), and has been rebuffed, patronized, and parceled out time after time. Well, he’s leaving the position at the end of the year, BUT has accepted an appointment as an independent advisor on corrections reform for up to three years with Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services. Now, that’ll be a challenge. We’ll deal with that in another posting…….but, for now……

Here’s a self-explanatory letter to Ontario’s Minister of Health:-

October 28, 2016

Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health & Long Term Care,
Ministry of Health & Long Term Care,
10th Floor, Hepburn Block,
80 Grosvenor Street,
Toronto, ON M7A 2C4

Re: Hygiene standards

Dear Minister Hoskins:

I took a call recently from an inmate at the Toronto South Detention Centre who had been sent to segregation.

He was told he couldn’t have a toothbrush or toothpaste. He couldn’t have soap. A towel and face cloth represented a suicide risk and he couldn’t have a towel or face cloth. Worse, nothing would be available to clean his cell, his sink and toilet after the cell’s previous occupant vacated.

The matter of the risk a towel and face cloth poses is curious. These cells have no projections for suspension. And, a suicidal inmate could choke himself as easily with the waistband of his underwear.

Surely, this policy must contravene basic regulated hygiene standards, and, if this is the rule at TSDC, it must be the same at all provincial institutions.

I bring this to your attention rather than to MCSCS; after all, it is Minister Orazietti’s subordinates who formulated the present practice. Without the intervention by a senior government minister, these unhealthy conditions are likely to continue.
Yours truly,

Charles Klassen

An email came back from “correspondence services” of the ministry on November 14. The body of this read, “Thank you for your email dated October 28, 2016, to the Honourable Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, regarding hygiene standards at a correctional institution. While the ministry appreciates your bringing this issue to our attention, I have copied the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services on this response as that ministry would be best to address you concerns.” In other words, this ain’t my job, man.

Are you kidding?

We wrote back:-

November 15, 2016

J. King, Correspondence Service,
Ministry of Health & Long Term Care,
10th Floor, Hepburn Block,
80 Grosvenor Street,
Toronto, ON M7A 2C4

Dear J. King:

No, no, no!

I sent my letter regarding the sub-standard hygiene policies at Toronto South Detention Centre (copy attached) to Minister Hoskins specifically for his attention. As the Minister of Health for Ontario, surely he is the point person for best practices in health care and hygiene.

Sending this on to Community Safety & Correctional Services because “they would be best to address my concerns” is not only a waste, but a cop-out. CSCS, after all, initiated what must be unacceptable in 21st century Canada.

That is, unless your purpose was to pass a buck, which will get passed, and passed, and passed ‘til it’s forever at the bottom of a forgotten pile, and everyone can go to lunch. That is so typical of government bureaucracies undeserving of public support.

We must have people in office who are not afraid to make some noise!

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen
cc Dr. Eric Hoskins

You know this will go nowhere, don’t you. We’d have to get lawyers and the press involved to make any impression, and then only briefly. Nonetheless, we can’t let our public servants think no one is paying attention, and if just one person suffers indigestion from these comments, the effort is worthwhile.

To move on, here’s a letter to the head of Institutional Services for Ontario’s jails:-

November 1, 2016

Christina Danylchenko, Assistant Deputy Minister,
Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services,
Institutional Services,
25 Grosvenor Street, 17th Floor,
Toronto, ON M7A 1Y6

Re: Policy & Procedures Manual – A deficiency

Dear Deputy Superintendent Danylchenko:

There are about 50 references in the Inmate Information Guide for Adult Institutions (September 2015) advising inmates to speak to staff for help or assistance.

This puts a burden on C.O.’s to retain considerable procedural knowledge and information sources. Institutions are 24/7 operations, and the guide assumes that the delivery of assisted services are consistent over multiple shifts throughout the work week, involving numerous personnel. In practice, this is unfortunately not the reality. While interaction between staff and inmates is encouraged, verbal conflict is commonplace, like it or not. What happens when an inmate is stumped on how to proceed?

What happens when an inmate needs to identify a member of the staff? According to the Institutional Services Division, the only policy relating to staff identification requirements is covered in Regular Duty and Dress Uniform Standards, 6.1.3, Identification Tags. As a routine, staff members wear i.d. tags with their title and the institution’s name showing, while their photo and i.d. number is hidden. What’s more, I would prefer you ask inmates what responses they get from staff when asking for identifications, rather than repeating examples here.

It seems CSCS policy intentionally prevents an inmate from knowing with whom he/she is communicating. I don’t believe that’s the intention, but a lack of will to change the standards for the better results in an unavoidable conclusion.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

Now, granted there are any number of uniformed jail staffers who do their jobs to the best of their abilities, and to the standards their oaths, CSCS policies and procedures require. But there are others, plenty of others whose behavior goes beyond abusive. These misfits have been a part of jail landscapes for decades and once they’re on the public payroll, it’s next to impossible to budge them. It’s a different kind of ‘blue wall.’

Management, even at the highest levels, is fully aware of the concerns put forward by lawyers, judges, activists/advocates, and social workers. The response, if a complainant cannot be ignored summarily, is usually to take all matters under advisement, pass the files from desk to desk, and if pressed, eventually to admit things can be done better.

And that is where it ends……or that is where it has ended for at least the last 25 years we’ve observed jail conditions.

It’s a wonderful life…..when you can pass the buck.


Persistence……and Right…..

… ‘City Hall’.

Toronto’s Globe and Mail ran Patrick White’s “How a self-represented inmate fought and won release from solitary” in late summer.

This is a story we should never have to read. This is an example of what should not happen. And it wouldn’t, if our public servants followed the rules of their own making, using the authority we give them, obeyed the laws of the land, our land, and understood it is the people’s agenda and the people’s best interests that are paramount.

His name is Matthew Hamm. He’s a 37 year-old convict with multiple mental health diagnoses who has spent almost half his life in prison for various non-violent offences.

Near the end of June of this year, he and four other inmates at Edmonton Institution were moved from a mental-health unit to segregation. Guards assured them the change was unofficial and temporary, but soon after, the extra time out of their cells stopped and they were locked up for 23 hours a day. Officials then claimed the reason for the segregation placement was a confidential informant’s statement that the inmates were planning to attack several guards.

The information was baseless, and the informant later recanted his charges in writing, saying he had created the allegations because staff had offered to move him from segregation and get him a television. Nothing changed for Matthew Hamm and the four others, and “they (staff) didn’t seem to care.”

Mr. Hamm had learned habeus corpus law while serving an earlier sentence in a Saskatchewan federal prison when he challenged an arbitrary security classification, representing himself. He now took Correctional Service of Canada to court again, and again representing himself. Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice J.B. Veit gave Mr. Hamm considerable leeway to present his arguments and at one point he spoke for five straight hours. The hearing lasted three and half days.

The 44 page decision came down on August 10, Prisoners’ Justice Day. The court accepted his arguments and ordered the immediate release of the inmates from segregation. Matthew Hamm did this knowing he had only a very few months left on his sentence, and knowing too that once he began his action, guards in the prison would harass and inconvenience him at every turn. And, that is not the end of it; now he has to file in federal court to have the false allegations removed from his file.

To repeat, this is not about one inmate, one ‘criminal’ beating the system. The back story here is the significant relevance. This is about a public institution, one of our tax-payer funded federal prisons, that makes a wrong decision, perhaps well-intended, but negatively affecting five people in its charge, and then does nothing to correct the error. Not only that, but it encumbers the efforts of one individual seeking redress through the courts, waits to be ordered to follow its own policies, and of course won’t comment pending a review which might include an appeal.

And, all on your dollar!

ONTARIO – Too many charges, too few crimes.

……and, it’s costing every taxpayer in the province.

A Globe and Mail editorial on Friday, September 23, reviewed a contentious issue with the province’s justice system that’s been simmering for decades. Titled “Why Ontario courts are overcharged”, it questions a practice that is expensive, counterproductive, socially corrosive, and incidentally, should place a liability on the province for punitive damages…although it rarely does.

Ontario has the lowest violent crime rate in Canada but its justice system is chaotic and provincial jails are full of people on remand, waiting months and sometimes years for charges to be resolved.

The editorial was prompted by a newly-released study by the MacDonald-Laurier Institute which evaluates and grades criminal justice in the country’s provinces and territories. Its finding indicate police in Ontario lay too many charges that go nowhere. This is a common practice where peripheral charges are piled on for effect, or where unsolved crimes are ascribed to a person charged with a similar offence. What’s the old saying: Let’s run it up the pole and see who salutes!

Let’s cite the stats. In Ontario, 43 per cent of charges laid are eventually dropped or withdrawn. Of the balance, the conviction rate is 55 per cent. Ontario has the lowest conviction rate in the country, and the highest number of cases that are dropped. In Quebec and British Columbia by comparison, police must get the approval of a Crown prosecutor before laying charges. Quebec’s conviction rate is 75 per cent while only 8.6 per cent of charges are dropped or withdrawn. British Columbia has a 70 per cent conviction rate, with 29 per cent of cases dropped or withdrawn.

Ontario has argued that separating the police’s investigative function and the Crown’s prosecutorial role provides checks and balances for a more just system. There’s no indication offenders in Quebec and British Columbia are getting off lightly, while Ontario not only drives up costs across the board, but perception makes the process less transparent.

Perhaps the province could do the same with this issue as it is with the overuse of solitary confinement in its jails: have a study leading to a review leading to another study leading to………..

How many police stops should one man take?

Going all the way back to the July 27, 2015 posting, “A ‘carding’ game. Wanna play?”, the Toronto Star’s Jim Rankin and other reporters started a campaign to help people learn what the Toronto Police Service had collected during “carding” stops, and asked that their information be shared with the newspaper. A compilation of the results would reveal what was in the police database.

So, what happened?

I asked Jim Rankin this summer if we had blinked and missed something. “No, you didn’t miss anything,” he wrote back, “It never gained much traction, unfortunately.” He didn’t speculate as to why, but we could presume privacy issues might be a factor, but more importantly, the curious would have to submit access to information requests (the Star offered financial assistance if needed). Too much work? Fear?

Mr. Rankin suggested we stay tuned for a story he was completing about a Toronto man who had gone after the information on his own ‘cards’. While this person had never been convicted of a crime, there had been more than 40 encounters with police, and some of the notations on those cards were described as “quite troubling.”

“The man Toronto police won’t stop stopping” was published on the front page under the paper’s banner on Sunday, August 14. The story continued for a full page inside the first section.

Dale James, a slim 33 year-old black Torontonian has been stopped and ‘carded’ dozens of times by police on a regular basis over 16 years. He now stays home most days in the apartment he shares with his mother in northwest Toronto, and has stopped the trips to a therapist for treatment of depression, even though it’s getting worse. He fears for his life if he’s not able to avoid more contact with police.

Dale submitted multiple freedom-of-information requests and was able to retrieve details of 43 encounters with Toronto police from 2006 to 2015, and is appealing to Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner for what he believes are many more. The Star’s own analysis of contact card data indicates that James is correct, finding dozens more that involve him.

James and his younger brother are suing Toronto police for $2.2 million in damages, claiming an assault on James, racial profiling, arbitrary detention and search of James outside their apartment, and further, that police are “terrorizing” the entire family. There has already been one “substantial” settlement by Toronto police as the result of a 2013 lawsuit and a human rights complaint, but his lawyer says the details can’t be disclosed.

The contents of the numerous contact cards are contentious, lengthy, subject to argument, and very likely on the wrong side of the law in many instances. Nonetheless, James and his lawyer, Osborne Barnwell, visited a high-ranking officer in the local police division last year that resulted in a confidential resolution intended to develop a more positive relationship with police. The agreement also included a provision to assist with counselling services.

The latest lawsuit arises because that agreement had no impact on police behaviour towards Dale James and his family. It’s not a stretch to conclude that Toronto Police Service management did intend to resolve the issues between the two parties, but some officers on the street would have none of it.

This begs the question:  just who do our police think is in charge here, anyway?