For real…..or for ruse.

‘Poor Howard Sapers’, is how we began the November 27 posting, “It’s a wonderful life…..when you can pass the buck.”

Howard Sapers became the country’s Correctional Investigator in 2004, acting as an ombudsman for Canada’s federal prisoners. He studied criminology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, worked for the Parole Board of Canada and the John Howard Society, and was a Liberal MLA in Alberta for two terms before Paul Martin appointed him to the office he’s held for 12 years.

Every year he issued an annual report to the ministry overseeing Correctional Service of Canada with observations and details of investigations he and his staff conducted during the period. Recommendations to improve the operation and outcomes of our federal prisons were included. Those reports were eventually tabled in Parliament, along with a response from CSC.

On January 2 of next year, and three days after leaving his CI job, Howard Sapers takes on the roll of an independent adviser to Ontario’s government, leading an external review of segregation policies in the province’s jails. Media coverage of segregation/solitary confinement policies in particular has been long-running, extensive and universally critical.

Mr. Sapers’ mandate is broad, and will include several aspects of the penal system, from regulation to policy to recruitment to training and infrastructure. One newspaper account describes the present system as “troubled”, and for instance, is facing three class action suits recently initiated just around the thorny lockdown issue, a practice so common in Ontario as to render some jails almost entirely segregation facilities on a frequent basis.

This appointment is welcome news, at least in this embryonic stage, and we sent a letter to Mr. Sapers:

November 21, 2016

Howard Sapers, Correctional Investigator of Canada,
Office of the Correctional Investigator,
Box 3421, Station ‘D’,
Ottawa, ON K1P 6L4

Dear Mr. Sapers:

I’ve admired your work as Canada’s CI for years, but sir, you are a glutton for punishment. If the obstinacy of Correctional Service of Canada was an irritant, welcome to the quagmire that is Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

Julian Portelli, Senior Policy Advisor to Minister David Orazietti, notes your January 1, 2017 appointment as “an independent adviser on corrections reform.” Allow me to independently offer a little focused advice of my own.

Segregation/solitary confinement comes in many and varied forms.

SHU units in Ontario jails are an addendum and alternative to segregation; they’re basically segregation with a television on the range wall. CSCS will argue otherwise, but ask for a log of the number of days or partial days SHU units are locked down, rendering them de facto segregation ranges. Staff shortages are common in some institutions and when guards are needed to cover elsewhere, SHUs are simply locked down, sometimes for days.

Entire institutions can be segregation units. Security incidents warrant jail-wide lockdowns, but consider this. Toronto South Detention Centre was shut at least for Saturday, Sunday and Monday, October 29 to 31. All visits were cancelled. Why? From 7pm Friday, October 28 to 7am Tuesday, November l, 100 uniformed staff members were unable to work their shifts. (See attached copy of November 16 response to request number CSCS-A-2016-05043) There was no security issue at TSDC. Halloween is what there was, and it’s not a stat holiday.

Mr. Sapers, I wish you bon chance with this new assignment. Know that many of us are looking forward to your assessments.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

A few days later on December 3, both Toronto’s Globe and Mail, and Star newspapers ran the announcement that Ontario’s Ombudsman, Paul Dubé, will look into the use of segregation (Toronto Star), or solitary confinement (Globe and Mail) in the province’s institutions.

The terminology is interchangeable and that’s an important distinction; any confinement that resembles either is defined as the same. That comes into play to a greater degree with the federal government and its prisons, where it has insisted there is a difference. Correctional Service of Canada is alone in that position, while all other stakeholders prefer the old adage: If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, then it’s a duck. But, that’s fodder for a later entry.

For now, we sent Mr. Dubé the same letter that Howard Sapers received only a few days earlier.

For someone with knowledge on the subject, the conclusions these two men will reach are almost forgone. What will be interesting is how Ontario reacts……and acts.


BOO! You’re locked down!

……again, and again, and again.

Toronto law firm Koskie Minsky, LLP launched class actions a few months ago against Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services over the extraordinary use of lockdowns in the province’s jails. One, naming London’s Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre has been certified.

While indicators may show fewer lockdowns in some institutions since the law suits came to public attention, one opinion suggests there has been little change. After all, as one inmate pointed out, jail guards are not being sued, and neither is OPSEU, the Ontario Public Servants Employees Union which represents them.

Guards are the wellspring of lockdowns which can be institution-wide, or localized to specific ranges or areas of a jail complex. Lockdowns may or may not affect professional and family visits, although institution-wide security driven lockdowns universally do. Staff shortages trigger partial or total lockdowns and/or a suspension of visits.

There is one interesting example at Toronto South Detention Centre for a potentially frivolous institution-wide lockdown of inmates up to 24 hours a day over at least three days this fall, and which prompted the cancellation of all visits.

Toronto South was locked down on Saturday, October 28, Sunday, October 30, and Monday, October 31. All visits were cancelled over the three days. Shifts at TSDC usually run from 7pm to 7am, and 7am to 7pm, seven days a week. There were no apparent security or safety issues to cause this disruption of routine, but the other possible explanation was a substantial staff shortage.

A freedom of information request to the FOI services division of CSCS on November 2 asked for “the number of uniformed staff members scheduled to be on duty between 7pm, Friday, October 28, 2016, and 7am, Tuesday, November 1, 2016, who were unable to work their shifts during that period.”

The response came back quickly, dated November 16. “There were 100 uniformed staff members unable to work their shift(s) between 7:00pm October 28, 2016, and 7:00am November 1, 2016.”

No request was made for the total number in the uniformed work force scheduled during the period, or the total number of shifts involved. That information would understandably be withheld. All the same, 100 missing bodies would constitute at least a very few hundred uncovered shifts for the three days.

What happened? Halloween happened, and Halloween is not a statutory holiday when shift bonuses kick in.

Carding….it just won’t go away.

 ……everyone’s problem

A rhetorical question from a young black Torontonian to a newspaper reporter a couple of years ago: “Just where is this mysterious black man the Toronto police are always looking for?” It seems that a common explanation given by the police for stops is the search for a suspect sighted in the area.

Here we are at the end of 2016, and carding is still taking up the time and resources of police boards in Ontario, attracting media attention, and spawning protests and objections. Data isn’t readily available but it’s likely this same conflict is raised in every urban centre in the country.

Mohamed Salih is a thirty-year-old London city councillor. As an adult, he’s been stopped 15 times by police as he’s traveled across southern Ontario, including Toronto, Peel, Kitchener-Waterloo, and in his hometown. Each time it was for no reason and each time it was humiliating.

Salih made an emotional address to London city council in the middle of November, underscoring the damaging impact of carding/’street checks’ on parts of the community, and the “devastating” realization particularly on children to know their family car has been pulled over because they are black.

At his urging to do right, and after a standing ovation from his fellow councillors, a motion passed unanimously calling for a permanent end to the practice. Not only is London the first city in Canada to ban carding, but the vote implicitly criticized the new provincial regulations for not going far enough to restrict police intrusions into peoples’ lives. Council’s decision will still have to pass London police board scrutiny to become policy.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, the police board is implementing the revised street check provincial standards which are really an attempt to mollify critics without making any substantial changes to the how and why of police stops. Desmond Cole’s op-ed in the November 24 Toronto Star makes a valid argument that the point of carding is more about control than safety.

‘Control’ is one of the tenets of police training, and understandable when warranted. However, what is also true about police training is to never surrender an advantage once gained. The practice of stopping people under whatever guise sounds reasonable has been a part of our landscape for decades. That this now is focused primarily on blacks and other minorities has galvanized parts of society into one united protest.

In truth, we could all benefit from the comfort of knowing we are the ultimate controlling social force. That so many of us turn away from what does not directly disadvantage us…..for the moment at least….is cause for refection on the state of our humanity.