Toronto South Detention Centre……revisited


The quotation is from Toronto writer/journalist Raizal Robin’s “The $1-Billion Hellhole” Toronto Life cover story in its March 2017 issue. Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno reprised the nomenclature in the headline of her December 14, 2019 opinion piece. Known also as Guantanamo South and the Plea Factory, the latter since many remand inmates admit their guilt just to get out of the jail, “it’s a failure from top to bottom,” said John Struthers, president of the criminal lawyers’ association.

Rosie DiManno began her column with, “Segregation. Isolation. Over-crowding. No showers. No fresh air. No family visits. No lawyer meetings. Seething anger that can be taken out on anybody.”


Why is this jail such a mess? Every Ontario institution has its challenges, and trouble often spills over into the press. To cite four examples, conditions at the Thunder Bay jail are under scrutiny regularly, Elgin-Middlesex in London has a deplorable reputation, and Ottawa-Carlton has been controversial. Lindsay generates the most complaints; living conditions prompted a recent five-day hunger strike. But, it’s the shining citadel on Horner Avenue in Etobicoke, the Toronto South Detention Centre, that grabs the headlines.

“Despite so much evidence to the contrary, government, guards and their union cite inmate hostility as a central cause of the problems at the institution….along with ongoing complaints by guards of staffing shortages.” That’s from our posting on July 21 of last year.

Inmate hostility is justified to the degree it exists at Toronto South. Staff shortages do exacerbate the toxicity of the facility’s environment, too. In the meantime, the Ministry consistently insists it intends to resolve any issues plaguing the jail each time Toronto South makes news.

It keeps making headlines. At the beginning of March, five correctional officers were charged with aggravated assault of an inmate on December 20th of last year, and a sixth is expected to be indicted as well. Police won’t release the names of the accused, an unusual decision considering the shielding of identities and reputations of correctional officers implies a double standard. And, the dance goes on.

In the beginning back in 2014, tension among guards was palatable given that some were previously stationed at the Don Jail and others came from the Toronto West Detention Centre, both shut down earlier. That festering incompatibility permeated the entire operation, stressing inmates and non-unformed staff alike. While those issues may have been overcome and a more homogeneous climate exists today, lingering bad practices still predominate.

One bottom line stands out as an explanation for the disarray. Management doesn’t. Management doesn’t manage. We’ve seen this elsewhere at both the provincial and federal levels. Senior civil service management and the politicians who are expected to oversee operations, in this case provincial jails, are nervous and even afraid of the power of the unions. Labour unions serve a purpose and warrant support, but they are not in charge.

When will Toronto South improve? Life will change when management and the Minister at Community Safety & Correctional Services expect established practices, policies, and procedures to be foremost in daily operations at the jail, and adopts persuasive encouragement to ensure compliance.


George Floyd – Murder most foul!


Police officers across North America use tactics and techniques that are not sanctioned, frequently questionable and excessive, sometimes illegal, and occasionally lethal. These expedients encompass a surprisingly long list, unfamiliar to the most of us, and often unseen even during a police action in public in front of witnesses.

True, there are many cops who wouldn’t stoop to the practices of others, but that impregnable police ‘blue wall’ shields all and every uniform from unfettered scrutiny. That wall must be breached and toppled.

Look at the May 25 video. Derek Chauvin has his left knee on George Floyd’s neck. Notice that he puts his left hand into his left pant pocket. Why? Is he missing his keys? Is he looking for a snack? He can’t be trying to balance himself. That he could do by laying his hand on the body of the vehicle next to him; he does that too at one point.

No, his left hand is in his pant pocket to access one of those unsanctioned police tactics. Note the hand is not pushed deeply into the pocket, just far enough to hide what’s he doing with it. What he’s doing is pressing the palm of that hand into his upper thigh muscle, using his shoulder and arm strength to increase the pressure on George Floyd’s neck.

That’s intent to harm, and in this instance, was it intent to kill? Thomas Lane, Tou Thao, and J Alexander Kueng, the three uniformed men with Derek Chauvin, knew what was happening, and stood by. They all watched a man die at their hands. They let it happen.

There’s more. The City of Minneapolis and its police department are also culpable in the death of George Floyd. Derek Chauvin was a police officer for twenty years and there was plenty in his file to merit dismissal at more than one point before May 25, 2020. Would George Floyd be alive today if city management had acted when it should have to get rid of a bad cop?

Tim Walz, Governor of Minnesota, Jacob Frey, Mayor of Minneapolis, the state’s Attorney General, Keith Ellison, and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo haven’t mentioned that hand in that pocket. This will bring it to their attention.