What does it take……

………to persuade people to think?

CBC News’ Murray Brewster posted “Ottawa ditches mediation talks in $27 million Abdelrazik lawsuit” on April 17 on the network’s site.

Check out our “Omar Khadr….one last time?” from January 28. Abousfian Abdelrazik is one of the last remaining terror suspects suing Canada for wrongful detention.

As a quick review, Abdelrazik, a Sudanese-born Canadian citizen, went home for a family visit in 2003, was imprisoned there for a year, and then spent six more years waiting for Canada to allow him to return to Montreal.

He returned to Canada in 2009 only after our Federal Court ordered the government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper to bring him home. Abdelrazik’s action against Canada personally names former Conservative foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon because he had refused to issue an emergency passport.

Federal lawyers approached Abdelrazik last September, asking if there was an interest in resolving the case, and the two sides met throughout the fall to set out the terms. Discussions progressed towards a mediation conference, scheduled to take place between February 28 and March 2.

But, government lawyers abruptly pulled out of the meeting, and a September 14 trial date is now set in Federal Court for the $27 million lawsuit.

“They said they could not provide us with any reasons,” said Paul Champ, Abdelrazik’s lawyer. “They were looking more at the polls than at their principles and, unfortunately, I think that’s probably why they withdrew.”

CBC was unable to get a response from CSIS, Justice or Public Safety. However, it appears the decision to withdraw one day before mediation was set to begin is a calculated political move, based on negative public blowback to other settlements, particularly the payment to Omar Khadr.

“It’s unfortunate this case wasn’t settled because – for the taxpayer – I think this is going to cost a lot more,” Paul Champ concluded.

May 4, 2018

The Honourable Ralph Goodale,
Minister of Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness,
House of Commons,
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Re: Abousfian Abdelrazik

Dear Minister Goodale:

Justice Department lawyers recently walked away from a scheduled mediation session to settle Mr. Abdelrazik’s action against Canada and former foreign minister Lawrence Cannon. CBC News was referred by Justice to Public Safety for comment, but your spokesperson declined as the question is ongoing.

I’m a Liberal Party supporter disappointed by a number of positions the government has taken that I see as contradicting the progressive policies that put it into office. This decision around Mr. Abdelrazik is but one example. The move to let this play out in court will cost us all more in the end, and looks to be a safe political option to deflect possible/probable public criticism of a pre-emptive settlement.

That public is ill-informed, and one might hope a government with the courage of its own convictions would put some effort into educating the naysayers. It’s a missed opportunity to build support for the difficult work you have chosen.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

Why don’t people get that we were in the wrong? Why don’t people get that we can settle now, or go to court, lose, and pay out “a lot more.”


What is your dignity worth?

Remember Alex Wubbels? She was the nurse at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City forcefully detained in July of last year by police officer Detective Jeff Payne for refusing to draw a sedated patient’s blood in connection with a police investigation. Her arrest was captured on body camera video and widely distributed.

Nurse Wubbels was following hospital policy, and no charges were filed against her.

University of Utah Health now bars police officers from patient-care areas. Officer Payne was fired from his job with police, and from part-time work as a paramedic. Nurse Wubbels accepted a settlement of $500,000, split between the city and the hospital. Her lawyer declined to explain why they agreed to settle.

How about Nandi Cain Jr.? He was the black man beaten by a Sacramento, California, white police officer on April 10 of last year as he was walking home from work in the afternoon. Officer Anthony Figueroa accused Cain of jaywalking, but Nandi questioned the validity of the stop.

The incident was picked up on the cruiser’s dashboard camera, and a cellphone video shot by a passenger in a car when the driver stopped to record what was happening. The passenger and driver both got out of the car and screamed their objections to the assault.

In the end, at least seven police officers could be seen in the video, Cain was searched, accused of jaywalking, and charged with resisting arrest. He claimed he was stripped naked and verbally abused at the Sacramento County Jail. The charge was dropped and he was released within hours.

Nandi Cain filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the police. The portion of the suit pertaining to his treatment while in custody was settled last fall for an undisclosed amount, and the balance of the action was resolved by a $550,000 cash settlement this spring, plus changes to police policy.

Yes, non-disclosure clauses are not as frequent in the United States as in Canada, where we have less accountability attached to use of tax dollars, and settlements in the U.S. are customarily higher as well. The figures above are in American dollars, too.

Brennan Guigue filed a claim through his legal representatives on July 24, 2017, in Quebec Superior Court against the Attorney General of Canada, and Eric Charbonneau, a guard at the Quebec Regional Reception Centre. He’s asking for $220,000 in damages relating to the incident on July 22, 2014 where he was “tortured and abused by Canada’s own federal civil servants”, as we wrote on March 4 of this year.

Complete videos of the incident were finally turned over to his lawyers at the end of this February. Still to come are redacted portions of Correctional Service of Canada documents which, even in their present edited state, repeatedly underscore that the actions taken on July 22 of 2014 were unwarranted. A full medical file has also been requested.

Counsel Véronique Forest from Canada’s ministry of justice is representing the government. She’s answered the Guigue claim with an argument that can be précised as a declaration that nothing was amiss in 2014, the defendants are not liable, and the plaintiff is responsible for what happened.

One might assume she hasn’t seen the videos and hasn’t read the documentation. We’d be tempted to counter by suggesting the film be posted for her benefit, but that would raise objections from some quarters.

In the meantime, both parties supported a delay in the proceedings until this September in order to ready the file for trial.

As we wrote in March, “The wheels turn…….”


Not easy. Solutions never are, not even when there’s a will.

Yes, under pressure, politicians heading the relevant ministries admit “we can always do better”, but then turn to their underlings to take up the question. That’s where ‘change’ gets shuffled into committee consideration, becomes an item on management agenda, and from there too often slid into a dead file, or given summary rejection. ‘Change’ championed from the outside is anathema, a challenge to authority.

Activist bodies and their supporters face a brick wall. Why do our governments become reactionary in the face of criticism? Why do their progressive policy announcements flag and fade? Why do our elected bodies and civil service never get ahead of the curve? Why do we have to push and drag these people to peer over the horizon, to embrace positive program reforms?

These are questions that impact more than just health care in our jails and prisons. These are far-reaching riddles we’ve examined in the past and to which we will return often.

As a first step to address health care, provincial and federal agencies overseeing jails and prisons must concede there are problems with accessibility. Intransigence, obstruction, denial, and feigned ignorance are out.

How many institutional health care units are staffed 24/7, and equipped to handle inevitable night and weekend emergencies? To that point, and given the delays EMS personnel face in reaching an inmate quickly, how many health care units can respond to emergencies at any time, and stabilize a patient waiting for an ambulance?

A long ago posting referenced a male nurse at Ontario’s old Toronto West Detention Centre telling one inmate that “medication is a privilege, not a right.” That is not policy anywhere, but it’s an experience that underscores the need for dedicated provincial inmate ombudsman’s offices that report directly to their respective legislatures, and not through ‘correctional’ ministries.

Canada’s federal Office of the Correctional Investigator must likewise be able to report directly to parliament, an important privilege it hasn’t had. And, federally and provincially, transparency becomes a new watchword. That, and collaborating with community resources to fill in the gaps can only improve outcomes.

Why is this important? It points to who we are as a people and a nation to begin with. But to be practical, prioritizing the health of prisoners, subjugating risk assessment to making an offender physically and mentally ‘whole’, goes a long way to lowering recidivism, reducing costs, and living in safe communities.


Canada’s provincial and federal penal systems spend tens of millions of dollars each year on health care, including funding for mental health services.

That’s how we began on April 15…….

Spokespeople for Correctional Service of Canada, and its counterparts in the provinces, have always insisted the men and women in their custody….and care….have the same access to the health care that is available to us all. What’s on paper tends to support the claim….practice and delivery say otherwise.

And, that’s how we left off last week.

So for example, how long do you wait to see your dentist when you need help? Would you be put off for more than a day? Would you be offered a speedy alternative if you couldn’t be accommodated immediately? Of course, that’s what you’d expect, and if it wasn’t forthcoming, one call and another dentist’s chair would be waiting, PDQ.

That’s how it is for us in the community, and that’s how it is for anyone and everyone who works in a jail or prison in Canada, and that’s how it is for anyone and everyone who works in a jail or prison health care unit in Canada.

That’s not how it is for inmates.

Inmates submit a request, a request that will pass through non-medical staff hands before it gets to the health care unit. Then, it’s a matter of waiting. Even ‘urgent’ requests can wait weeks for attention, if not longer.

As for dental maintenance programs which would lower costs to the system over time, is there any institution in the country that subscribes to such a service? We think not.

The attention here has focused on dental care because the discomfort of an aching tooth can easily be a worst-case scenario, aside from a life-threatening injury or medical emergency event.

Looking beyond, and to its credit, Correctional Service of Canada has seen improvements in the delivery of acceptable standards of care in some areas. This is in large part due to pressure and criticism from multiple community sources, and legal actions intended to bring practice in line with policy. Provincial agencies don’t get the same scrutiny, and a lot of work is waiting for dedicated advocates at that level.

Nonetheless, and despite changes, most federal inmates would testify that unless they are lying in a pool of their own blood, or in cardiac arrest, or showing obvious signs of severe medical distress, the mantra is……wait, wait, wait.

We like to cite the case of a long-time federal British Columbia inmate who was diagnosed with a cancer a few years ago and given an ominous prognosis, failing proper medical response. In the end, this inmate took CSC to court to access necessary surgery. He’s alive today and living in the community.

Solutions? Next week.


“……no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” NELSON MANDELA

Picking up from last week with the fate of terminally ill inmates, there is a provision in Section 121 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act permitting compassionate parole for the terminally ill.

Of the 542 federal prison deaths between 2007 and 2017, ill health killed 366.  These inmates might/could/should have qualified for release to community hospice care under the CCRA.  However, only four or five compassionate paroles are granted each year, and the rest died before parole boards processed decisions.  Really?  A terminally ill man or woman without palliative care, and Mickey Mouse pain management, must have a parole board decision?  (Research shows that 50 per cent of prisoners in chronic or acute pain are given nothing stronger than Tylenol 3s.)

As for MAID, Correctional Service of Canada may still not have an assisted death policy, and inmates could have to secure a compassionate parole, and then await transfer to the community before applying.  According to a CSC spokesperson last fall, there have been six requests, but only one inmate met the criteria and that prisoner was already in the community.  The inmate died before the hospital could provide the procedure.  We shouldn’t be surprised by that delay, and we shouldn’t be surprised that CSC health care would prefer that no inmate meets MAID criteria.

We should be concerned….alright, we should be outraged….that our domesticated animals have greater legal safeguards around death and dying than the men and women in our jails and prisons.

As it is, dying in prison today means dying alone, dying without best care, and dying with only a few strangers lingering in the distance.

Now, turning to health care issues for the living……..

Spokespeople for Correctional Service of Canada, and its counterparts in the provinces, have always insisted the men and women in their custody….and care….have the same access to health care that is available to us all.  What’s on paper tends to support the claim….practice and delivery say otherwise.

We’ll flesh this out next week.


Getting sick, getting old in our “prison industry.”

In a word, DON’T!

Canada’s provincial and federal penal systems spend tens of millions of dollars each year on health care, including funding for mental health services.

So why then do complaints about health care in our federal system, as an example, top the list of what comes to the attention of the Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada, the country’s ombudsman for offenders? There is no equivalent for our provincial jail inmates, no at-arms-length substantive recourse, and complainants who use what processes exist are basically left blowing in the wind.

The law in Canada says that although prisoners are deprived of liberty while they are incarcerated, all other human rights remain intact. Legally, mistreatment of any kind, or lack of proper treatment, is out, and that includes an entitlement to the same access to health care as the rest of us.

Available information from Correctional Service of Canada presents a best profile of conditions affecting the health and end of life issues for CSC’s roughly 14 to 15 thousand offenders. About a quarter, around 3,500, is over 50, and in the agency’s parlance they are ‘senior citizens.’ It admits a prison environment will knock up to 10 years off life expectancies, although inmate lifestyles are a contributing factor of some significance. It doesn’t add that the consequences of inmate poor health choices are exacerbated by the difficulties is accessing institutional health care.

Award winning author Sandra Miller wrote “Our aging prisoners deserve proper health care” for the Globe and Mail last October, noting she’d never considered the way prisoners die until she attended a conference on end of life issues last fall.

The number of older prisoners will rise with time and most who die in custody succumb to cancer, heart attacks or liver failure. She asks why we should care “if an inmate old enough to be somebody’s grandparent dies in a cell without adequate medical treatment, access to appropriate palliative care or medical assistance in dying? I think there are three reasons: compassion, equality and autonomy.”

…….continuing next week……….

“…..no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” NELSON MANDELA

Moral courage is a rarer commodity than physical courage

This is another narrative composed by Brennan Guigue while in the Toronto South Detention Centre in 2016. This was written in late February and early March, and underscores our folly in supporting a multi-billion dollar a year self-perpetuating and failed prison industry.

My life has been filled with pain, mistrust, and lies. Early on it was mostly ‘people’ offering me “things” for my own good with one hand…., and ‘slapping’ me with the other. I always fell for the ruse due to my need for acceptance and love/friendship. However, I soon developed a mistrust of authority and decided that I needed to look out for myself. My attitude was that most people just wanted whatever they could get from ‘you’, so why shouldn’t I?

I still felt the need for acceptance and all that, but it was significantly less of a feeling than before….actually, I’m not sure that’s true.

Even today it is still a very strong desire/need within myself. So much so that I often get into trouble because of it. I developed anger/behavioural problems early on as a result of being raped and forced to perform sexual acts by my biological father. I truly believe that had I been treated as a ‘sick’ child rather than a ‘bad’ child….I would NOT be where I am today.

The Crown Attorney talks about a Dangerous Offender application on the basis that……., there’s no place for someone who poses an undue risk like me in society. I ask you….how am I supposed to have the proper skills to function in any particular environment when I have NEVER truly felt a part of said ‘environment’?!

I cannot recall EVER not feeling like an outsider, always ‘looking in’. As a child, my favourite t.v. show was The Little House on the Prairie. Why…? Because, Mr. Ingalls was ALWAYS there for his children. He even took in a ‘wayward’ boy, and adopted him as his son…., was firm but loving.

Even at 10, 11, 12 years of age, I knew what was missing in my life. That knowledge did not help my outlook on life because I didn’t have the knowledge of how to fill that gap. I wanted a relationship with my dad SO bad that my mind repressed (overlooked) the abuse from my early years. The problem there was that he didn’t care about me enough to be around.

Of course that didn’t bother me whenever he did come around because I was so busy thinking how ‘cool’ he was – and how I desperately needed to prove that I was worthy of his love – that I forgot about all the rest. Not that I remembered the abuse at that age; that didn’t begin to come to light until my memories began unlocking themselves around age 21.

After he’d leave with promises to return, I’d be SO happy and proud to have him as my dad that my behaviour would excel. My grades/behaviour at school would drastically improve……, I was euphoric. Bliss.

But, time after time he’s let me down, and the anger would return and perhaps that’s why ‘those’ around me failed to see my pain. To think I was ‘bad’ rather than sick. Period of exceptional – gentlemanly – behaviour mixed with exemplary grades were not beyond my capabilities, and so no one bothered to acknowledge the need for therapy.

Of course, not having the trust in others nor the understanding of what was ‘wrong’ with me, coupled with my me-against-the-world attitude…., I could not ask for help. How could I….? From who….? Mom? She was a ROCK. STRONG. Sacrificing herself – while having issues of her own – in order to provide for three children could not have been easy for a single native woman on welfare.

However those same qualities that helped her – and by proxy, us – to survive prevented her from being the loving, cuddly mother who I could turn to. I now realize that she was my reference guide on how to survive-on-your-own. Her love – when it showed itself – was more like that love one shares with a good buddy.

The ONLY time I ever cried in front of her was whenever she was ‘tanning my behind’, which ceased when I was 12. I was too big (5’7”, 150lbs), it no longer had an effect on me anyway. The last time I was sent to my room for stealing a bag of weed and $40 from one of her friend’s house – to await my ‘whoopin’, – I ran away. At 12 years of age, I survived for 3½ weeks on the street before getting picked up by Hamilton cops and sent back home. That’s when my mom told me she wasn’t gonna bother with the strap anymore.

My father was still coming around every now and then, but was less and less because he was often involved with criminal endeavors which took him in and out of prison (dope selling and the violence associated). Whenever he did come around, he was distant and….., ‘overly generous’, would be the best way to describe him. I didn’t recognize his demeanor until well into adulthood (30s). It was his guilty conscience, the shame he felt about what he’d done to me….and the fear of confrontation which fuelled his generosity and buddy buddy attitude.

When he went to prison I was 15 (1985) and I became enraged at society, the cops, and anyone else in an authoritative capacity for ‘taking my dad away.’ In my sick, twisted sense of loyalty, I could not see that he never deserved such dedication from me….he hadn’t earned it as a father should.

In truth…., I had never ‘had’ him, to be taken away. As the dreams of my childhood drifted further and further away, I sought acceptance from any source I could. This often led me to hang out with older, more ‘seasoned’ bad kids…., even a few young adults. I began doing whatever they did, b & e’s, theft, drugs (did my first shot of cocaine with a needle at 16 with a 22 year-old junkie, Mario).

This was the end of my childhood….my innocence had been stolen loooong before. I just didn’t know it.

The only way to describe the next several years is to say that I drifted from place to place……from ‘being’ to being lost. I soon found myself in Toronto at age 18, again living with ‘unsavoury’ people. On the street doing dope – crack……, thinking I was ‘free’. This was clearly an illusion as I know now that I’ve always been in ‘prison’…, never truly ‘free’.

So I continued like this – becoming an addict, getting in wherever I could fit in, and living with an unconscious sense of self-loathing. One thing I do know is this…..nobody ever hurt me past the age of 12 more than I hurt myself.

When my father was sent to jail when I was 15 years old, I thought – in some maladaptive way – that it was somehow my fault. That, if I had been better behaved then he would have tried harder to be a better person….., a better father.

Yes, I was mad at the world, hated the ‘system’…., but, unwittingly the only one I could see to make suffer was myself. -Rewind-

I should point out some ‘truths’ as they are so that I don’t seem to be “self-pitying”. There were periods in my life where I may have been ‘saved’. From ages 13 to 16 there were a series of CAS interventions (if one can call them that), emotional treatment facilities, group homes, foster care placements, etc. In fact there was so much intervention from CAS through my entire life until the age of 17 that I had been to 18 different schools! In spite of that, I was only one year behind in my studies.

So, what went wrong you ask?

Well….., my anger issues were never properly addressed. Two of the five CAS/Family Court placements were mentally and physically abusive, and I witnessed emotional and sexual abuse. You must understand that it was the 80s. Many of the problems and deficiencies people recognize today were much more prevalent then….., and much less acknowledged back then.