An end to Ontario’s scourge?

……..or is optimism wasted?

From last week, “By early May, with Howard Sapers preliminary report in hand, the government announced reforms for solitary confinement, and an ‘overhaul’ of its jails”

Just so, Patrick White’s “Ontario jails to be overhauled, minister says” from the May 25th Globe and Mail began by saying that, “The minister in charge….determined to make the province an international model for humane correctional practices……” Minister Lalonde said Howard Sapers initial report released two weeks prior was “fair”, and she promised to “tackle” and “address” each of his 63 recommendations.

The Globe article continued, “She refused to say whether addressing the recommendations would be analogous to implementing them”, but said she would be introducing new legislation this fall to reflect those recommended changes. That’s a tall order; Mr. White reminded us that current laws have gone untouched since the nineties.

A long, two-page April 26th letter arrived from Minister Marie-France Lalonde, responding to four of ours from last fall, winter, and into 2017. As could be expected, it reviewed the changes and improvements that have been implemented and are upcoming in Ontario’s institutions, committing further to work with the Ombudsman’s report and the Howard Sapers review.

The minister’s confidence led her to stumble with two paragraphs deep into this letter about the Toronto South Detention Centre, by writing, “….the ministry is proud to have opened this modern, state-of-the-art detention centre……” and went on to herald what she and her staff believe are the considerable assets of TSDC. The minister forgot she wasn’t writing a grade-school class.

Of course, a response was warranted:-

May 29, 2017

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

Re: Bury the truth; hide the facts

Dear Minister:

Thank you for your April 25th letter in response to four of mine from 2016 and 2017. Ministry staff may be responsible for its composition, but your signature endorses the contents.

The remarks around Toronto South Detention Centre are troublesome. Only last week I had yet another call from a TSDC inmate to say he was denied a copy of Raizel Robin’s Toronto Life March cover article, “The $1-billion hellhole” that I sent him. In my experience, inmates at other provincial institutions have not had the same problem with their mail. Criminal defense lawyers and social workers familiar with TSDC would have preferred that the Toronto Life article reflected the full scope of Ms. Robin’s research, but assumed the magazine would only publish a balanced perspective.

The facts contest your ministry’s pride in Toronto South. The institution discounts inmate discord because of its source, and lawyers know complaints they have can compromise their ability to connect with clients. Simply, the MCSCS public position is not supportable under scrutiny.

In any case, with Howard Sapers’ interim report in hand, you announced a new vision for Ontario’s jails, focused primarily but not exclusively on the use of solitary confinement. Progress is welcome but you’ll be challenged to legislate changes on the one hand, and guarantee compliance on the other. Judgements will have to await outcomes.

I wish you good luck.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

cc: Mike Wasylyk, Superintendent, Toronto South Detention Centre

And, she is wished the best of luck. Let’s see where this goes.


Segregation – an Ontario scourge

“Researchers believe it damages the body and brain as well, but they can’t test this hypothesis, because what we do to prisoners every day – house them in prolonged isolation – is illegal to do to laboratory animals. It is against the law to treat rats the way we treat people in solitary.”
…….from “Buried alive – stories from inside solitary confinement”, by Dan Winters
GQ Magazine, March 2017

This feature in GQ examples the extremes of segregation practices in some American prisons, but the principle Dan Winters espouses has a place everywhere prisoners are isolated for more than 22 hours a day over periods of more than two weeks. Even then, or when a segregation placement is frequent, the mental and physical outcomes can be damaging.

We’ve already looked at the challenges confronting federal segregation (Segregation – a federal snapshot, March 5 and March 12, for instance), but our provinces and territories are facing similar scrutiny. Intransigent Manitoba stands out in its support for the status quo, but what is needed in Winnipeg are the same levels of activism that is leading to reviews of solitary confinement elsewhere in the country. British Columbia in particular has made a commitment to progressive change.

The assault on Ontario’s segregation policies in its jails has been led by Patrick White at Toronto’s Globe and Mail. Mr. White, with the support of the paper’s editorial board, is not alone in condemning solitary confinement, but their work was instrumental in bringing the issue to the forefront. From “Solitary confinement review accomplishes little, critics say” on October 18, to “High ratio of isolated inmates have mental-health issues” the next day, along with an editorial also on the 19th criticizing the ministry’s delay in dealing with a problem of its own making, the spotlight is persistent.

On through the fall, with some considerable input from the Toronto Star, the government was pressed to do something. Patrick White reported on November 9 that Ontario had enlisted the help of Howard Sapers, former Correctional Investigator for Canada, to review conditions in the province’s jails. A November 11 Globe editorial encouraged Mr. Sapers to “speak truth to power,” a habit for which he’s noted.

By late November, the minister responsible at least acknowledged the matter of segregation deserved attention, but critics continued to accuse Ontario of indifference and ignoring calls for reform. By December, even the provinces ombudsman announced his intention to look at what was described as the ‘torture’ of inmates by Ontario. The Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services announced it would ‘tackle’ inmates’ mental health and segregation, admitting there were ‘serious problems’ with segregation.

In April of this year, Ontario’s ombudsman released his findings, saying Ontario’s segregation practices were ‘unacceptable’. A Globe editorial did not mince words, calling on the province to define segregation, document it, reform it, and end it. And then, the lawsuits began. By early May, with Howard Sapers preliminary report in hand, the government announced reforms for solitary confinement, and an ‘overhaul’ of its jails.

In recognition of his work, Patrick White won a National Newspaper Award in the spring in the beat reporting category for his coverage of federal and provincial prisons.

It’s worth noting that ‘policies’ can become simple guidelines, subject to the whims and vagaries of OPSEU members who work as guards in the province’s institutions. These too came under the media’s probing, with numerous articles beginning last fall and through the winter. Whatever the outcome of all this, it’s important that reforms be enshrined in legislation. Otherwise, they can become mere suggestions.

Remember this, too. Nowhere in this country does a custodial sentence in response to a criminal act permit the mistreatment of a human being, physically or mentally. More, that is specifically prohibited in both provincial and federal jurisdictions. All the same, it not only can be a common occurrence, but our governments tend to claim immunity from the acts and consequences for which their employees may be responsible. To boot, these our governments use your tax dollars to defend the indefensible.


“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.”

‘…..ON THE MOVE!’ from last October 30 ended with those words. Now, we’re about to make that play.

Montreal attorney Stephen Fineberg spent over two years prodding Correctional Service Canada through access to information requests to release material and evidence of the July 22, 2014 assault on Brennan Guigue by CSC guards at the Regional Reception Centre north of Montreal. When they stalled delivery of the complete video information in particular, he turned to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, which ruled there was no justification for the delay.

Let’s be frank. Correctional Service of Canada, a self-serving agency of your federal government, your civil servant, is wilfully and intentionally withholding video to which it has no restrictive legal claim. CSC does not want anyone to see the major portion of the tapes it has so far refused to release. It knows the contents will be another public relations disaster for our federal prison system, another embarrassment for national headquarters in Ottawa, and perhaps even go so far as to expose management and employees to a legal liability.

Late last October, Montreal attorney Dan Romano of Kalman Samuels, QC & Associates agreed to take on Brennan Guigue’s claim against CSC. Stephen Fineberg no longer litigates, Dan Romano was his recommendation, and all relevant material was turned over to the firm. We have only praise and thanks for Stephen’s experience and expertise in his field, and for his help. We are the better for the efforts he made on Brennan’s behalf.

Attorneys at Kalman Samuels have used the last few months to accomplish those “incremental stages” referenced on October 30 and have developed a strategy going forward. After a couple of fits and starts, a Demand Letter, the first step in the process, will be on it’s way to the Regional Reception Centre’s superintendent this week. Correctional Service of Canada will have 30 days to respond.

This is one chapter of our Canada 150 celebrations!  Fireworks optional!


Matthew Hines’ death was a homicide……..

…..and the perpetrators have not been charged!

Referencing the posting on Matthew Hines from October 2 of last year (Matthew Hines died. Chapter the second), a use-of-force incident at Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick ended with the death of an inmate with a history of mental illness.

“In this case, everything that could go wrong in a use-of-force intervention went wrong,” is how Canada’s new Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger summed up his May 2nd report. The Toronto Globe and Mail’s Patrick White added in his “Ombudsman report slams N.B. prison for inmate’s death”, that the report’s conclusion “is damning and far-reaching: Correctional Service Canada (CSC) failed Mr. Hines, his family and the public from the moment officers tackled him that night (May 25, 2015) on through to misleading public explanations and, finally to an absence of accountability for a ‘preventable’ death.”

The New Brunswick coroner finally released his report, after lengthy stalls, and concluded the 33-year-old died from acute asphyxia due to pulmonary edema, a condition caused by excess fluid in the lungs. The family was initially told that he died of a seizure.

How did this happen? Correctional Service Canada employees….guards…. repeatedly pepper-sprayed the inmate directly in the face and at close range, not only without apparent cause, but contrary to CSC policy and against the manufacturer’s recommendations. These same guards had earlier viciously and unnecessarily beat this man bloody. What’s more, an institutional duty nurse, arriving on the scene of an inmate in distress and not moving, didn’t even check the man’s vital signs. The Correctional Investigator found 21 legal and policy violations, seven of them major, listing failures and violations that would certainly result with criminal charges in any other setting.

So, what has happened? According to CSC, one person was fired and three others were disciplined, whatever that means………CSC isn’t talking. And, as the ombudsman questioned, no senior management was held accountable after an internal investigation.

Yes, the RCMP reopened its investigation after the details of this incident came to public attention, but months later there is still no word on its findings.

Makes one proud, doesn’t it?

And, as we wrote back in October, Matthew Hines two sisters have hired a lawyer.