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June 1998: Kent Institution -- A Level of Disrespect

The last period of my observations of the disciplinary process at Kent took place in the summer and fall of 1998, five years after I had begun my research at Matsqui. Earlier in the year Dean Fox, after taking a leave of absence, decided to resign from his position as Independent Chairperson of Kent, ending a tenure of almost ten years. Pending a new appointment, Keith Routley, therefore, continued to chair both the Kent and Matsqui Disciplinary Boards, in addition to discharging his responsibilities as Senior Independent Chairperson for the Pacific Region. In reviewing the court dockets for May and June, 1998, I observed that they were much smaller than the ones to which I had become accustomed over the past several years. When I explored this with Mr. Ferguson, the Co-ordinator for Correctional Operations at Kent, he acknowledged that this was because a determination had been made to designate many more charges as minor ones. Further probing revealed that this was because of the staff perception that it was difficult to obtain a conviction before Mr. Routley and that minor court proceedings, with their much higher rate of conviction, were a more effective form of discipline. This was a replication of the same institutional strategy that I had observed at Matsqui in 1993 at the beginning of my research. In discussing this with Mr. Routley, he was aware that he was presiding over shrinking dockets, but was quick to point out that a good number of the acquittals which he had rendered in recent months were attributable to the institution's failure to produce witnesses on the day scheduled for the hearing; therefore any perceived ineffectiveness in the court process was largely a function of systemic inefficiencies that were entirely within the institution's control.

The court docket scheduled for June 24, 1998, certainly bore out Mr. Routley's assessment. He dismissed four cases where the institution failed to produce its witnesses. Two of the cases had been set for hearing the week before on June 17, and Mr. Routley had made the cases pre-emptory on the institution because there had already been two prior adjournments. Mr. Routley had not been told when these hearings were set down that on June 17 a number of staff would be involved in staff training and would not therefore be available to testify. Without obtaining Mr. Routley's consent, the institution cancelled court on June 17 and instead had the cases set down for the June 24. There were also two other cases scheduled for hearing on June 17. Although these were not pre-emptory on the institution, they also were re-assigned to the docket on the 24th of June. Mr. Routley dismissed the two cases that were pre-emptory on the grounds that the cancellation of court by the institution for staff training, without consultation with the Independent Chairperson, was not a valid reason for avoiding the ordinary consequences of failing to produce witnesses on a pre-emptory date. As to the two cases which had been scheduled but were not pre-emptory, when these cases were called on the 24th the institutional advisor informed Mr. Routley that the officers were not available and requested a further adjournment. Mr. Routley dismissed these cases on the grounds that the institution, having unilaterally cancelled court on the appointed hearing date, had an obligation to ensure that its witnesses were present on the next available court date.

In a later discussion with Mr. Routley about these dismissals, he suggested that the institution's conduct suggested at worst a level of disrespect for the independence of the court process; at best, a casual approach to discipline with a corresponding low priority in the allocation of staff resources.

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