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.

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