On Trump…….a word……or two.

There are better things to do than comment on Donald Trump. There are a lot better things deserving of comment than Donald Trump. Unfortunately, it seems de rigueur today for anyone who has something to say about anything to pause long enough to take a position. And so, yielding to convention, and interrupting important work, here are a few words on the subject.

Our youthful and energetic prime minister congratulated Mr. Trump on his election victory, on his inauguration, and then invited him to Ottawa. It’s become a recent tradition for newly elected American presidents to make Ottawa their first foreign trip, and Mr. Trudeau was simply following a familiar precedent, as if all was right in the world of politics.

All is not right, and Canadians cannot be complacent and silent. A short letter to the PM offered a blunt perspective rooted in this unfortunate reality:-

January 23, 2017

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau,
Prime Minister of Canada,
House of Commons,
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Re: Donald Trump

Dear Prime Minister:

I am a Liberal Party supporter and a Justin Trudeau booster.

The position you have taken on the result of the U.S. presidential election, and the interaction with Mr. Trump to this point is understandable and politic. That you can hold your nose with one hand and extend the other in welcome makes you a martyr.

The rest of us, however, do not have to follow suit. Donald Trump is a parasitic fascist, a sorry excuse for a human being, a pathological liar, and an emotional basket case. One can hope you would prefer a trip to Washington to meet with him, and save the rest of us travel to Ottawa to make him feel unwelcome, should he come to this country.

In the end, I wish you the very best of good fortune with this uncertain venture.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

On a personal note, I was a part of the Niagara District High School’s United Nations Club a way back in the mid-1950s. It was a large, lively group where each participant was assigned the role of representing a United Nations member state.

I took on the USSR, and to ensure authenticity, the Soviet Union’s Ottawa embassy put me on its mailing list. Each week a package arrived with the latest English translations of news of the accomplishments and successes of the revolution, and the leaders’ speeches celebrating the merits of the communist movement toward world domination.

Outlandish, outrageous, and offensive as it was, the Soviet propaganda…..that’s what it’s called….of the 1950s cannot hold a candle to what the world has heard and seen from Donald Trump in the last eighteen months. Why waste resources to protest his assault on intelligent life; a short note to the man’s comments on the size of the inauguration crowds is all this writer can justify:-

January 23, 2017

Mr. Donald Trump,
The White House,
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW,
Washington, DC,
20500

Mr. Trump:

The live feed of the pictures around the U.S. Capitol on January 20 are clear.

If you take issue with what is obvious to even the casual observer, then I suggest you release your own photographic records.

Mr. Trump, it’s a matter of put up or shut up.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

With this, we hope not to feel the need to bring up the topic again. There is a plentitude who recognize the danger and can rally for right.

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Another…….we don’t want to know.

Our letters usually aren’t written with expectations of a response. They’re intended to increase the sale of antacids. Sometimes a comment comes back, and occasionally a second letter will go out as an addendum to a first to provoke a reaction. More of that is warranted but time is a valuable and limited resource. Then there is the rare occasion when an answer will appear months later, unexpected but presenting an opening for a comeback. This is one example, dusted off from last year’s files but worth a chuckle.

Late last July, the Toronto Star published “PTSD rates high among male corrections officers” under Gloria Galloways’ byline. In it, 36% of male federal prison guards reported being affected by post-traumatic stress disorder caused by “the dangerous and emotionally corrosive atmosphere within Canada’s prisons.”

The article voiced the complaints of guards and the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers which represents them, claiming that not enough is being done to offer treatment and resources to the men who are suffering. Many have to pay for their own therapy, and disability benefits are difficult to access. There have been some improvements to available assistance, particularly in Ontario and Manitoba, but the union asks the federal government to work with all provinces for changes.

We wrote to Ralph Goodale, the Liberal cabinet member responsible for Correctional Service of Canada on August 2…….

One factor always overlooked which exacerbates the challenges for guards is the incidents of PTSD among federal prison inmates. The environmental conditions stressing CSC staff members also affect the men and women on the other side of the bars in the same way and to the same degree. Some inmates may already display symptoms of the disorder when they first enter the prison system, a result of their life’s experience.

The difficulty for inmates is that assets which guards access in the community, or to which they can petition for redress, are not available in prison health-care units, or are withheld arbitrarily, or have a limited efficacy. The result is an overall highly charge negative atmosphere. Given those circumstances, it is no wonder a large percentage of guards in our federal prisons are asking for help.

Solutions must include remedies for everyone behind the walls.

That was it. No response expected. Frankly, no response welcomed.

Then, in early December, a letter dated December 2 arrived over the minister’s signature, and unapologetically began with……

Thank you for your correspondence of August 2, 2016………

It went on for over a page…….

The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has a legislative mandate to provide every inmate with essential health care and reasonable access to non-essential mental health care, etc………

Right.

CSC provides offenders with a variety of mental health interventions, including assessments and treatment, etc……..

Right.

In the fiscal year 2015-2016, CSC spent approximately $77 million on mental health services, etc…..

Right.

Our government is focused on ensuring that federal correctional institutions provide a safe and secure environment, etc…….

Right. No mention of the guards’ complaints.

This deserved another kick at the can

December 22, 2016

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

Re: PTSD & prison guards II

Dear Minister:

Thank you for your December 2 response to mine of August 2. Your staff may have prepared that letter for your signature, but I must believe you endorse its contents.

I don’t intend we belabour the subject of the stressors to which prison guards are subject in our federal institutions, but your letter exposes a vulnerable CSC flank. Given all the resources and programming available to address the mental health of inmates, and the $77 million spent in one fiscal year (2015-2016) to support these services, one question goes begging.

Why then are so many correctional officers looking for help with PTSD?

What is done to determine the efficacy of these inmate programs? How well are the resources delivered, what ongoing oversight monitors inmate engagement, and how does scheduling impact outcomes? $77 million is a lot of money; how well are stakeholders embedded in the allocation process? And finally, how well is CSC collaborating with community resources?

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

One thing neither CSC management nor the federal ministry responsible for it seems inclined to do is analyze the who’s, why’s, what’s and where’s that result in over a third of prison guards claiming a disabling condition. That closet door opens a Pandora’s box.

No vigilance. No democracy.

A letter went out to the Parole Board of Canada’s office in Abbotsford, British Columbia in the spring of last year with a comment on a recent decision the board made. We weren’t critical of its work but rather offered an opinion on an issue raised around the efficacy of programs available in our federal prison system.

The regional manager replied by email, apologizing for not using regular post as he preferred to make an immediate response. The board was thankful for the input, asked if the letter could be shared with stakeholders, and fundamentally supported what we had to say.

As well, this parole board member noted how much he agreed with the footer on our letterhead…….No vigilance. No democracy.

Barack Obama’s farewell address from Chicago on Tuesday evening, January 10th, could easily be described with the same words. He made a call for participation by every person as a safeguard against the dangers of apathy and indifference.

turnoverarocktoday.com is forced to match the scope of its activity with the limits of available resources, just as its forerunners did over the years. This leaves a lot of ‘rocks to turn over’, and more, contends with restraints even in those areas where it concentrates what assets it has.

There is no hope of stirring a mass involvement towards the greater good, or persuading most that the individual is a relevant power to overwhelm the darker forces that “work their wily ways”, as Churchill alliterated. We can argue that willfully stepping over the rocks underfoot marks a path towards such a degree of corruption that the democratic institutions we take for granted are compromised. This is like climate change. It’s not something we should be anticipating. This is with us now.

Spend a half day in a courtroom. Any courtroom. Show up for a municipal council meeting just once. Live in a city that is a government centre? Check out the legislature’s public gallery. Total this at five or six hours a year. The point? Your presence is warily welcomed but the scrutiny not so much. That should be warning enough.

No vigilance. No democracy. They’re more than just words.

More of our tax dollars at work.

“Do you job….or pay!” was published on June 19 of last year. An Ontario superior court justice awarded two provincial jail inmates at total of $85,000 in compensation for the excessive use of lockdowns in a Milton, Ontario jail.

The two had some legal advice, but as was noted in this post, “Both men represented themselves in court.”

Jamil Ogiamien’s $60,000 portion of the award was to be paid jointly by the province and federal government, since Ottawa was responsible for his detention. He was being held pending a deportation hearing, a removal to Nigeria, a country he left as a child and with which he had no connection.

Subsequently, in late October, Mr. Ogiamien was ordered out of the country at the end of the first week of November. However, in the months after that June award decision, Ontario and Ottawa appealed the ruling, but the hearing was not scheduled until February. Under those circumstances, he’d be gone from Canada and end up with nothing. A last-minute reprieve was granted the day before the deportation order took effect, although border enforcement officials would not give a reason for the temporary suspension.

As an aside, it should be noted that Mr. Ogiamien was charged with impaired driving and possession of cannabis in April of 2013, was acquitted a year later, but was still held under an immigration detention order.

Going back to the original action and award, where two inmates representing themselves in court, taking on the province and feds over jail conditions, and then winning a judgement over the arguments of government lawyers, we were curious about how much taxpayers were billed. Accessing information only from the province of Ontario, we asked, “What legal costs did the Ministry of the Attorney General incur defending this action?”

The answer: Please be advised that this matter was assigned to salaried staff. As a result, the only legal costs incurred for this file have been disbursements. To date (December 20, 2016), the total amount of disbursements incurred in relation to this matter is $9,571.47. This includes disbursements in connection with Ontario’s ongoing appeal of the superior court decision.

It’s not difficult to estimate the salaries and benefits for a few government lawyers over the period of time this case is working its way through the system. Certainly, the figure would multiply the amount of disbursements a number of times.

Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just not violate the human rights standards the government itself sets in the first place?

2017 – what’s up?

turnoverarocktoday was conceived as a monitor of human rights abuses in this country, narrowly focused in a few specific areas. All the same, looking under those rocks presented a previously unforeseen challenge where opportunities to expose the hidden outweighs the resources available to do just that.

The venerable British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, a leading champion of human rights and civil liberties in Canada, operates with a staff of ten, but has the committed support of more than 200 pro bono lawyers, and ‘countless’ volunteers and donors. Its impact is felt across the country, but even the BCCLA is forced to limit the scope of inquiries, investigations, and litigation it takes on at any one time.

Remember, we’re addressing our Canadian social environment and specifically the concerns that arise within our civil service and with our public servants. That isn’t to say we have no reason to take pride in this country or applaud the good that comes from it. For one, activist groups may come under assault and even legal censure, but the law protects our existence.

Justin Trudeau’s “we can do better” is an understatement. A prime minister with a conscientious cabinet alone will not right wrong without many more BCCLAs or turnoverarocktodays. There’s never enough of us on the one hand, and too much silence from the community on the other.

We carry on.

The criticism of segregation and solitary confinement policies in our federal prisons and provincial jails captured the media’s attention during the second half of 2016. Thanks to BCCLA and toart along with so many other social activists for forcing governments to at last acknowledge a long-standing problem with how we treat the men and women we often consider the least among us. Just as relevant, although almost never a part of any exposé, are the actions of ‘rogue guards’ who ignore their oath and code of conduct to circumvent policy, practice and even the law to abuse both their office and their charges.

What the response to the media coverage will accomplish is pending, and we shouldn’t be overly optimistic. Bureaucracies not only resist change but develop protocols to inhibit the attempts of reformers. turnoverarocktoday will take time for this issue from the beginning of 2017.

Brennan Guigue has been in provincial custody during 2016. He’s written extensively, some autobiographical, but more precisely on the realities of conditions inside Ontario’s provincial penal system. This is interesting reading and much of it will be posted in the New Year.

We carry on….weekly or biweekly in 2017…..but, we carry on.