Hellhole, you say.

“Riots. Stabbings. Beatings. Lockdowns. THE $1-BILLION HELLHOLE.”

This is from the cover of the March issue of Toronto Life magazine, printed over a photo of the Toronto South Detention Centre, which “was supposed to be a state-of-the-art superjail. Instead, it’s a total disaster.”

Raizel Robin, a Toronto freelance writer/journalist with a long list of wide-ranging writing credits, conducted over 50 interviews preparing this story. She made attempts to meet and speak with Brennan Guigue, an inmate in Toronto South at the time, but was blocked by the institution’s visiting policies, and the head of security. Nonetheless, he was able to get some of his written material to her which is included in her research.

On the morning of Thursday, February 16, the day before the magazine issue was on the newsstands, Raizel guested on CBC radio’s Metro Morning, hosted by Matt Galloway out of Toronto. At one point, she said that Toronto South inmates were so often locked down for long periods that the men don’t know just when they would be let out. When Matt asked what that must be like, Raziel referred to an inmate who had told her to imagine being locked in your bathroom for 24 hours. That relevant analogy came from Brennan Guigue.

CBC asked Community Safety & Correctional Services for a comment on the Toronto Life story. The most current minister, Marie-France Lalonde, came back with a long and old toe-the-CSCS-line-policy-statement that means nothing at all…..but says everything.

A letter had gone to the new minister soon after her appointment:-

January 20, 2017

The Honourable Marie-France Lalonde,
Minister of Community Safety & Correctional Services,
18th Floor, George Drew Building,
25 Grosvenor Street,
Toronto, ON M7A 1Y6

Dear Minister:

You are a brave politician to take on CSCS at a point when the ministry is coming under increased scrutiny and facing several legal challenges. And so it should. I’ve been nipping at its heels for twenty-five years.

I have two suggestions.

The bureaucrats who people 25 Grosvenor will go a long way to keep you occupied and away from the many closets in the agency. Lord forbid that you should peek inside any one of them.

When presented with a stack of files for your attention, start at the bottom. That’s where the good stuff is hidden.

In hopes that this note actually ends up on your desk, I am,

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

Guess we didn’t make an impression.

Not willing to leave it be, another short letter went to the minister on February 22. The body is reprinted here:-

Re: The $1-Billion Hellhole

Dear Minister:

I can’t believe the response you and your ministry gave to Matt Galloway of CBC’s Metro Morning when he asked for a reaction to the March Toronto Life cover story on the Toronto South Detention Centre.

Raizel Robin had much more material than she needed or used in the article. I know, because I was one of her contributors. There are thousands, even tens of thousands of people in this province who are better informed than you appear to be.

Looks like you didn’t take the advice in my January 20th letter.

As it is now, it seems you’ve only taken a few weeks on the job to go over to ‘the dark side.’

Yours truly,

God grant the legal actions against the government will cost Ontario millions….will cost you millions.

“The $1-Billion Hellhole” is available on-line at http://www.torontolife.ca.


Segregation……another stench from under ‘a rock’.

This is another item from the root cellar waiting for ‘screen time’.

Back on October 12 of last year, the Globe and Mail ran “Use of solitary in federal prisons plummets” under Patrick White’s byline. The story begins with, “Canada’s prison agency has halved the number of inmates it keeps in indefinite solitary confinement over the past two years……”

Correctional Service of Canada wouldn’t admit outside pressure influenced the changes, but there is no question CSC is attempting to to curry favour with the Justice Minister. What Don Head and the rest of the prison management team do not want is any intrusion into their domain, and will do what it can to thwart efforts to bring Correctional Service of Canada into the 20th century, let alone 2017.

Nick Fabiano is CSC’s director-general of security….at least he was last fall. After reading his comments on the subject, we had to jump in:-

October 17, 2016

Nick Fabiano, Director-General, Security,
Correctional Service of Canada,
340 Laurier Avenue West,
Ottawa, ON K1A 0P9

Re: Solitary confinement

Mr. Fabiano:

“There’s been a collective push among all of management to ensure that we’re exercising our responsibilities and due diligence.” Nick Fabiano, Globe and Mail, October 12

Cow cookies!

The management team at Correctional Service of Canada has not only had ample opportunities over decades to introduce progressive policies without outside prompting, but the agency has been emphatically encouraged to do so for years from any number of knowledgeable and expert resources, here and elsewhere. That it stubbornly resisted and even rejected recommendations outright is a true measure of CSC’s medievalist mentality.

What you and the others at 340 Laurier Avenue West are now doing is attempting to stave off legislated changes to CSC policies and practices. If you can convince the government that you’re moving in the direction you should have taken long ago, then perhaps it will leave you alone to go right back to the dark ages.

“I don’t think this issue (solitary confinement) will be solved without legislative changes,” is how Howard Sapers sees it. He’s right, and not only on the question of the use of segregation, but in so many areas where the Service has refused to let in the light.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

cc Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould, Hon. Ralph Goodale,
Howard Sapers, Com. Don Head, Patrick White-Globe and Mail

It wasn’t just Mr. Fabiano’s remark quoted at the start of our letter that offends, but he went on later to say that, “we are providing advice on that front”, referring to the government’s goal to have the Service implement the recommendations of the Ashley Smith inquest. Good grief, CSC has diligently ignored and subverted as many of those proposals as it can.

Cow cookies, indeed!

Drive-thru justice?

turnoverarocktoday has put most of its resources into Justice & the Penal Systems and related areas because it’s an overwhelmingly rich and fertile source of material. There is so much in line for preparation, and more awaiting editing/rewrite. Using assets for the site’s broader mandate is a daunting challenge.

This story, important only to those immediately involved, illustrates the vagaries of a justice system plagued by a backlog peppered with often frivolous and unsupportable actions that satisfy only the questionable agendas of some stakeholders.

There have been a few recent calls from an inmate in Toronto South Detention Centre who is held on remand, waiting for the disposition of a number of charges. Let’s call him Zachariah, because it’s a great name. Zachariah is charged with two bank robberies, using disguises, and so forth, while his girlfriend has been charged as an accessory for sitting in an idling ‘getaway’ car. There is no evidence….no DNA….no money….no reliable witnesses….nothing connecting either of them to these crimes. There is security tape which does show a disguised suspect who could resemble Zachariah…..and a few hundreds of other black men his age and size. His one vulnerability is opportunity….he might have been in the area of the crimes about the time they were committed.

So here we have a man whose life is on hold while he sits in a provincial jail that has a well-earned reputation as a difficult environment, his girlfriend has a cloud hanging over her, time is passing, and there can be many months before a satisfactory conclusion is reached that works well for them both…if they risk a trial, and the cards are dealt in their favour.

And so, his lawyer and the Crown negotiated a resolution that the Court will accept under the circumstances. If Zachariah will plead guilty to the charges, he will be sentenced to six months in custody, which of course will be reduced by the two months he has already spent in jail, plus the extra benefit for time-served as a presumably innocent defendant. And, the charges against his girlfriend will be dropped.

What? These are serious crimes. What this offer tells Zachariah is, we-think-you-possibly-did-these-bank-jobs-but-we-can’t-prove-it-and-we-know-you-can’t-afford-to-sit-in-jail-for-months-waiting-for-a-potentially-better-outcome-so-if-you-accept-this-deal-we-can-close-the-file-and-show-the-case-as-won-without-wasting-the-court’s-time-with-a-trial. How this will impact Zachariah and his girlfriend’s life is irrelevant to the officers of the court.

Nonetheless, of course he’s going to take the offer.

Policing & ‘alternative facts’

Waseem Khan was in downtown Toronto with his wife on the last Tuesday morning in January, taking his daughter to daycare. He saw one in a group of police officers pull a man from the back seat of a cruiser, put him face down on the ground, and then kick the man in the head. Khan stopped after witnessing that, took out his phone, and began recording from about 20 feet away.

The video shows an officer stomping on the man’s legs, telling him to “stop resisting”, even though the man was motionless and may have been unconscious. Two officers approached Khan, telling him to stop recording, threatening to take his phone as evidence (which they cannot do), and suggesting the man under police control might spit at him and transmit AIDS (which is not true). Khan stopped recording shortly after, but filed a complaint, calling police behaviour ‘disgusting.’

The ‘Khan incident’ captured media attention for three days in the city, and came less than two weeks after a misconduct case against Toronto Police was resolved through mediation. This was in relation to another incident where police wrongfully tried to block a member of the public from taping an arrest. And, this on top of a guilty decision against a police officer last week by an arbitration board in a GTA community when a teenager was arrested and charged, held overnight, and her phone confiscated when she wouldn’t stop recording a police action.

The proliferation of mobile recording technology has been a boon to ‘reality’ entertainment everywhere, but it has even more so too often shown police activity our law enforcement agencies would prefer remain out of sight. It is not the technology that prompts the actions that are videotaped, but rather a technology that is readily at hand to record policing in the bad light that has too commonly been accepted as ‘standard operating practice.’ For example, accompanying punishing use of force unnecessarily by ordering a compliant victim to “stop resisting.”

An interesting police response has evolved from the hours of readily available videotape, some of it taken by police bodycams and cruiser cameras, as well as so much more from the public. That is the claim that film may not reliably show the whole story, that a camera angle may be biased, or that the before and after are relevant. The objectivity of film must be tempered by subjective assessment. In other words, alternative facts, which have become watchwords in the United States in 2017, must be part of the equation.

We have just one question. With alternative facts, under what circumstance is it okay for a police officer to kick a prone man in the head?