The dark side…a glimpse

Now that Brennan Guigue is no longer under the Ontario provincial jail system’s control, we can open a Pandora’s box on life ‘down inside’ the Toronto South Detention Centre.

TSDC is one of two newer provincial institutions (the other is in Windsor) allowing only video link visits. It’s expected to be a template for the future. An approved visitor arrives at a pre-booked time, is screened, and then waits at an assigned video booth, one of about 70. The screen comes on at the appointed time, and hopefully the inmate is sitting at the video booth on his range, because a timer is counting down the 20 allotted minutes. Communication is by hand-held telephone receiver, and both parties have a colour head and shoulder view of one another.

This is a novelty at first, and technical problems are common, but reception staff does its best to accommodate visitor and inmate. In the end, there is no comparison between a Skype-type visit and an in-person face to face conversation through plexi-glass and metal bars, as is the case at other Ontario jails. Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services has in fact abandoned the concept of the beneficial ties to the community for inmates, even if it continues to pay lip service to the premise.

Brennan Guigue was held at Toronto South from late November of 2015 to the third week of January of 2017, when he was transferred to Toronto East Detention Centre. That is a story for another time. There is a world of difference though between the TSDC operation and Toronto East, a point we’ll repeat more than once. For now though, this documents a visit to Toronto South on Saturday, September 3rd in 2016, and the follow-up over the ensuing months…..and, we’ll switch to the first person.

The appointment was for 10am that day, Brennan appeared on screen promptly and my notes say he’d spent the first part of the morning reading, was awakened from a nap for the visit, and was a little groggy. I asked early on if he needed money in his canteen account. He didn’t know and excused himself to check his balance at the control post.

Each range has a ‘bubble’ where the guards oversee their charges; a computer terminal there has the information Brennan needed. He went to the window and asked his question. One of the four guards in the post, one with red hair and a prosthetic leg, told him to “get away from the window, you f——g piece of shit.” Brennan objected to the language, he didn’t deserve the response, and he said so.

He was quiet and a little perturbed when he returned to the video booth. I had to prod him into telling me what had happened.

As it turned out, after the visit that same guard came on to the range to put him back in his cell. He was itching to coerce Brennan into some retaliatory action, a not uncommon practice with some guards in our ‘prison industry’, but Brennan wouldn’t take the bait. The next day, a sergeant showed up at his cell, charging him with a misconduct for threatening. Brennan filed a grievance. On one of my later visits, on September 30, Brennan said that same guard was on duty but was very, very quiet. He assumed the guard had been given a copy of his complaint.

Why would a guard do this? Draw your own conclusions. How do they get await with it? One, who’s going to complain, and two, management turns a blind eye.

Not to let this go, I filed a freedom of information request with the ministry’s North Bay address, an office dedicated to this purpose. I asked for the names and i.d. tag numbers of the guards on duty on that range when the September 3rd incident occurred.

After a time, North Bay came back with two names:

William Thompson, #11557
Ronald Shapiro, #009922

But, there were four guards in the control post. Perhaps there should have been only two, but there were four at that time, on that date. I filed an appeal with Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner. North Bay went back to Toronto South for a clarification and eventually reported back to the IPC that the TSDC Deputy Superintendent in charge of security had reviewed the tape of the control post and saw only two guards.

Brennan contends that is a lie.

I then asked North Bay for a copy of that tape. My request could not be granted because the jail retains their tapes for only 30 days.

I went on to ask for the identity of the guard with red hair and a prosthetic. I was denied that information as too sensitive and personal, and that “disclosure would reasonably be expected to facilitate the commission of an unlawful act or hamper the control of crime.”

We can assume that William Thompson and Ronald Shapiro were assigned for duty on that range on September 3rd, and that one of them is red-headed, and has a prosthetic leg.

Let’s leave that behind. We’ll move on to something else soon.

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