Soleiman Faqiri….restless in the grave…

….WAITING FOR JUSTICE.

 Soleiman’s family and his supporters’ anger only grows as court documents suggest jail guards violated policies and ignored guidelines when they killed him on December 15 in 2016.  The province fired two managers as scapegoats, but its culpability is detailed by its refusal to hold jail staff members involved in this crime accountable, allowing a questionable OPP investigation to prevail.

Ottawa lawyer Michael Spratt’s essay, “The dangers of turning a blind eye to abuse in jails,” was published on the editorial page of the Wednesday, January 20 Toronto Star.  Referring to Soleiman Faqiri’s death, Mr. Spratt writes “…despite the compelling evidence suggesting the killing was a criminal offence, the OPP declined to charge any of the guards because they could not say for sure who delivered the fatal blow.  The OPP’s absurd justification for the lack of charges is a legal fiction that smells of a coverup.”

Mr. Spratt believes police should be charging the guards involved in the killing as well as investigating politicians who often intentionally ignore the violence in the jails they supervise.  He tells us that we should not be surprised by the atrocities that occur in jails when politicians go so far as to dismiss “judicial condemnation” for the conditions they allow to persist.

The closing argument demands that “Those who commit murder, even if they are jail guards, should be held to account.  And so should the politicians who enable them.”

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We thanked him for his perspective, adding in our letter that “Those guards wanted Faqiri in that cell where he died.  Once inside, all they had to do was close the door.  Why didn’t they just do that and leave him alone?  It’s the kind of scene that plays out in provincial and federal institutions across Canada daily.  The inmate had given guards a hard time and they wanted to teach him a lesson.  They may not have intended to kill him, but they sure as hell didn’t care if he died.”

The minister needed to be reminded of the obvious:-

January 25, 2021

The Honourable Sylvia Jones, Solicitor General,
George Drew Building,
Toronto

Re:     Soleiman Faqiri

Minister Jones:

A group of men is brawling one afternoon in the courtyard of the YMCA across Grosvenor Street from your office.  It’s noisy.  The storm of flailing arms and legs, shouts, screams, and shuffling feet is incessant, and it appears focused on just one person, a victim of the melee.

The police arrive, the dust settles.  A man lies dead on the concrete plaza.  Notes and photos are taken, men are interviewed.  No one is arrested.  An investigation follows.  No charges are laid.  Why?  The police cannot determine which of that group of men may be responsible for the homicide.

Fiction?

Yes, unless those men were employed by Ontario’s correctional services, in uniform and working in our jails.  Like the men who murdered Soleiman Faqiri in Lindsay back in December of 2016 and still walk free.  And what about ministry personnel like you who enable the daily atrocities and abuses that characterize life in provincial institutions by turning a blind eye to violence and a deaf ear to judicial reprimands?  Impunity extends to you too, doesn’t it.

Are you able to feel shame?

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Soleiman’s family is in the midst of a $14.3 lawsuit against Ontario and the individuals responsible for his death.  That however is the sound of only one shoe dropping.  How about criminal charges where criminal charges are due as a next step!

Prisons as long term care facilities….and more….next time.

Guards coast to coast ……#5

WHY SO MUCH ATTENTION TO PRISON GUARDS?  A note from an inmate in Alberta included an afterthought unrelated to his purpose in writing but it illustrates one reason for the notice correction officers are due.
This man was wakened early one morning by guards to search both him and his cell.  He was not moving fast enough to please one guard who called him “a piece of shit.”  He objected at length, and as a result, was written up for a minor charge.  No contraband was found in the search.
The charge was dismissed by an internal review but the deputy warden, with whom he had never met, let him know that his behaviour would not be tolerated, and his visiting privileges were in peril.  The guard’s behaviour was never an issue.  The inmate was free to file a grievance, a process that is universally understood to be nothing more than a sop.
This is typical for every day in our provincial and federal institutions.
THAT’S REASON ENOUGH!

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In a call shortly after 7pm on Saturday, September 7 in 2019, an inmate in Millhaven Institution phoned from the prison gym where guards had moved the men on his range while they conducted an unauthorized search of the institution.  There had been violent incidents on one range during the last week of August and guards had recommended a search of the institution.  The warden did not agree and would not consent to a search.  The guards waited for the weekend when management would not be in their offices and went ahead anyway.

The inmates could have countered the guards’ action.  If, for instance, the men on his range refused to allow the search and the guards persisted, extraction teams would be called, equipment and chemical agents would be issued, thereby creating a written record requiring a justification for the search.  The inmate on the call complained that his fellow prisoners didn’t have enough “jam” to confront guards who were violating policy.  In plain English, they did not have the balls.  And, as he said, this is the kind of thing that will go on for as long as people stand by and do nothing.  For him, that meant it would go on forever.

So, what happens if/when the warden learns that a search was conducted despite her decision?  Anywhere from not much to nothing.  Management does not want a conflict with the guards’ union.

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It was late on an early June afternoon last summer.  During a call from an inmate in a maximum-security institution in eastern Canada a commotion erupted on the range.  A loud but unintelligible male voice was shouting a command, repeated more than once, and was then followed by the sound of a short scuffle.  The inmate on the phone called out to someone, castigating them for the use of pepper spray.  I asked for an explanation.

An inmate had been a ‘nuisance’ earlier in the day, uncooperative and in a foul mood.  As I was on the phone, he was let out of his cell for a shower, called for a guard to turn on the water, was ignored, and ignored more than once.  Using some initiative, he pulled a plastic bag over his head which brought guards running onto the range, ordering him to remove it.  He refused.  Pepper spray was discharged.  He would be particularly vulnerable to the effects of pepper spray under the circumstances, and even though he put himself into that position, caution was in order.  That’s the objection the inmate on my phone was making.

Once the bag was off, policy dictates an inmate who has been sprayed must be decontaminated ….in the shower.  For better or worse, and one way or another, this man was getting his shower.

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Some would say the inmates above and below were authors of their own misfortune, but that is no justification for guards to behave less than to expected standards.

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An inmate in a western province was transferred to a maximum-security institution, likely earning the move to a more restrictive environment.  He had prescription glasses which were a necessity for any reading, writing, or close work.  When his property arrived, he opened the protective case to find the glasses had been crushed and broken.  That could only have occurred when guards at the previous institution packed his property.

This inmate was told he could not replace his glasses, at least not without intervention from God.  He had contact lenses which would have been a partial solution, but he needed moisturizing solution.  He was told that was no longer available from the institution.  He was not given any options, and water was neither a satisfactory nor a sanitary substitute.  He needed lenses to function.

What this man needs most is a lawyer.

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Treading into a provincial jurisdiction, namely Newfoundland and Labrador, offers two recent examples of perfidy by their penal system staff.

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The CBC ran a story on December 8 of last year under Bruce Tilley’s byline which began, “A former Bishop’s Falls inmate claims one corrections officer performed dental surgery on him while another recorded it, and he’s suing them, three dentists, and the provincial government.”

It seems that Ron McDonald and Roy Goodyear, two guards at the local correctional centre, took inmate Blair Harris to the Gander Family Dental Clinic for surgery on October 16 last fall and dentist Dr. Louis Bourget permitted McDonald “to do a procedure” while Harris was sedated, and Goodyear videotaped it and then distributed the recording.

Harris was unconscious and none the wiser, but on November 19 he was told by a provincial superintendent of prisons that he had obtained the tape and a day later said that both guards had been fired. A week later, the inmate was taken to another clinic because teeth fragments left in his gums required further surgery.

Blair Harris is no longer in custody.  The RCMP is investigating.

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Jonathan Henoche died at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s on November 6, 2019 after an interaction with jail guards.  He was a 33-year-old Inuk man from Labrador, awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge relating to the death of an 88-year-old woman there in 2016.  He had been moved to St. John’s over concerns for his safety.

The chief medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.  The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary announced charges against ten guards on December 22 of last  year.  The charges include manslaughter, failure to provide necessities of life, and criminal negligence causing death.  The announcement did not include the names of the accused, when they were arrested or under what conditions they were released.

That’s right.  The charges were not filed in court and all ten were released.  Bob Buckingham is Mr. Henoche’s lawyer.  “I have never seen a case where one individual has been charged with manslaughter and allowed to go home, let alone a cabal of ten correctional officers charged with the care and custody of an individual be charged like this, and not be brought to court.  It is reprehensible.  How many aboriginal accused persons get to have their bail hearings deferred on manslaughter charges?  Or get to have their names withheld from the media?”

Charges were filed in court this January 8, and the ten guards were named.  Again, Mr. Buckingham, “In all the research that I have done – and I’ve had a number of my colleagues doing research on this across the country – no one has ever seen people charged with manslaughter who have been released by an officer in charge…without being brought to a court for a judicial interim release before a judge.  This was favouritism to a group of Department of Justice employees.  And the racism component involved the fact that my client was Aboriginal.”

Nuff said.

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If guards are not part of the solution, then they are part of the problem.
Guard material is endless.  But with one exception next time, we will move on.

The Senate & Prison Guards….#4

The Senate of Canada’s Standing Committee on Human Rights took to the road between February of 2017 and March of 2018 to examine the human rights issues of federally-sentenced persons, visiting prisons across Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.  Members of the committee also held 22 meetings, taking evidence from 92 witnesses, including inmates, academics, lawyers, corrections officers, and Indigenous representatives.
The Committee released an Interim Report in February of 2019 but was denied leave to meet that summer to finish the Final Report.  That will be completed in 2021.

Three excepts from the Interim Report, commenting on prison guards:

During site visits, the committee was told by federally-incarcerated persons that they often experienced reprisals for accessing the complaint and grievance processes under the CCRA (Corrections and Conditional Release Act), or for speaking out about human rights issues.  Staff members confirmed that they discourage this use of the grievance system, preferring to settle things informally.  The lack of procedural fairness in segregation decision-making was also highlighted by witnesses.  According to witnesses, reprisals could take various forms including harassment, destruction of property, loss of privileges, interference with correspondence, visits and programming, neglect of responsibilities and excessive use of force.  These types of reprisals were discussed in some detail by El Jones (Nancy’s Chair in Women’s Studies, Mount Saint Vincent University), who indicated that retaliation can also come in very subtle ways, such as being labelled as a “troublemaker” on the range or being continually targeted for disciplinary action based on the arbitrary exercise of discretion.

In fact, the committee was informed that a number of federally-incarcerated persons refused to meet with the committee for fear of reprisal.  The committee was very concerned to find that this fear extended to communications with senators during site visits.  In this context, it was particularly disturbing that at certain institutions, correctional staff surreptitiously listened to the committee’s confidential meetings with federally-sentenced persons, despite the committees (at time repeated) requests for privacy.

It should also be noted that fear of reprisal in the federal correctional system was not only raised by federally-sentenced persons.  In confidential meetings with current and former correctional officers, the committee learned that they too feared retribution from their coworkers for reporting inappropriate or unacceptable behaviour by other correctional officers directed at them, other staff or prisoners.  During these meetings, the committee was also told that correctional officers are admonished by other correctional officers for being too friendly with prisoners.  Behaviours deemed too friendly included helping prisoners file grievances.

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Specific instances of inmate experiences will flesh out the Senate report’s findings.  This is one, and while it may seem petty and does not involve interactions between guards and inmates, it contributes to a pervasive cynicism in the prison environment.

From Canada’s West, an Inmate’s Observation Examples How Negative Attitudes Toward Guards Develop in the Inmate Population. 

Correctional Service of Canada operates a few medium security institutions with a design model incorporating direct observation ranges.  Guards work on ranges from a glass enclosure, a ‘bubble,’ that allows sightlines to all cells, improving oversight and command.  The arrangement also gives inmates a view of their keepers.

An inmate noted a few weeks ago that as he walked by and looked at the guards in the bubble on his range, one was slumped sleeping in a chair, trying not to fall off his perch, and snoring loudly enough to be heard through the glass.  A second guard sitting close by was concentrating on his phone, tapping an outgoing message.  On another day, he watched three guards in their chairs busy tapping away on their phones in unison.

Inmates are not out of their cells during the night, so these guards were not on a late shift.  Sleeping on the job is not encouraged for one, and policy requires that mobile devices stay in the car or a locker during work.  Aside from keeping staff focused on their duties, there’s a practical purpose for the prohibition.  A misplaced or lost phone would trigger a lockdown and search.  Nonetheless, their use during working hours is pervasive.  Repercussions, if any, are minor.

Offenders are imprisoned under the surveillance of public servants whose uniforms grant impunity.  What’s the lesson there?

….guards and inmates…once more next time.