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The Worst of Times -- Christmas in Segregation

Almost twenty years after Robert Martineau was placed in segregation at Matsqui Institution -- under circumstances that resulted in the landmark judgement of the Supreme Court of Canada, in Martineau (No. 2), that the duty to act fairly applied to prison administrators -- Mr. Martineau was placed in segregation at Kent Institution. Although no Martineau (No. 3) resulted from this placement, the case illustrates many of the systemic problems which still pervade the use of segregation.

In 1994, Robert Martineau was elected President of the Native Brotherhood of the PC population at Kent. Mr. Martineau is a vigorous long-time advocate not only of prisonersí rights but of the rights of Aboriginal prisoners to practise their spirituality. Although this right is recognized in the CCRA, there continues to be at Kent, as in many other institutions, an ongoing struggle to translate it into a culture of respect for Aboriginal spirituality. In the fall and early winter of 1994, a series of incidents highlighted the tension between Aboriginal perspectives on the Red Road and institutional demands for control of institutional programs. The issue came to a head at a meeting on November 25, 1994, when members of the Brotherhood attended a meeting with Theresa Nahanee, at that time Director of the Aboriginal Offenders Program at National Headquarters. Also at the meeting were members of the National and Regional Aboriginal Advisory Committees of the CSC, together with a number of Aboriginal people involved in the managing of halfway houses and drug and alcohol counselling programs. The meeting was held as a forum for Aboriginal prisoners to identify the problems they faced in the prison system and in their efforts at reintegration upon release. In his presentation, Robert Martineau was highly critical of the manner in which the CCRA had been implemented at Kent. Although there was a regional budget for Aboriginal programming, a portion of which was allocated to Kent Institution, the Brotherhood had experienced great difficulty in accessing those monies. Mr. Martineau compared the process of getting approval for a project to that which prevailed under the old Indian Agent System, in which to get anything done on a reserve the Chief and council had to obtain a permit from the Indian Agent.

Mr. Martineau gave two recent examples of this "Indian Agent" mentality. The Brotherhood had drawn up two proposals to be funded out of the budget allocated for Aboriginal programs. One involved making gingerbread houses in the shape of West Coast longhouses to be given away as Christmas gifts to needy children through Indian Friendship Centres; the other involved bringing in an Elder to teach drumming and singing. Both proposals had initially been rejected by the unit manager on the grounds that they did not have a sufficiently distinctive Aboriginal focus. In response, the institutional Elder had explained that "give-aways" were an important part of Aboriginal cultural traditions, and that this particular give-away would allow the Brothers to reach out to children, the most vulnerable members of their communities. As for the singing and drumming, she explained that they were part of helping the Brothers to re-establish their spiritual and cultural connection to the Red Road, through a shared experience which wove together songs and dances of many different Aboriginal nations. However, even with these explanations, there had developed an impasse in accessing the money to bring the gingerbread house ingredients into Kent.

Mr. Martineau also itemized other problems, such as lengthy delays in providing honorariums and travel expenses for Elders coming into the institution and the Brotherhood executiveís lack of access to segregated Aboriginal prisoners. In his usual way, he was outspoken in his comments, and there was little doubt that the Kent representatives were discomfited by being so openly criticized in front of regional and national Aboriginal representatives, particularly since Ms. Nahanee confirmed that she had heard many of these criticisms from other Brotherhoods across the country and that they demonstrated systemic problems in the implementation of the CCRA. By the end of the meeting, Mr. Martineauís criticisms of Kent had been given not only a larger circulation but a new degree of legitimacy.

In the weeks following this meeting, Mr. Martineau, together with the institutional Elder and the liaison worker, struggled to bring the gingerbread project to realization in time for Christmas; it was only after a direct appeal to the deputy warden and the warden that the impasse was broken and the Brothers could begin working on their give-away.

On December 9, 1994, Lorne Flamond, an Aboriginal prisoner at Kent, was knifed and taken to hospital. The PC population was locked down and remained in that status until December 13, while the RCMP were called in and, together with the IPSOs, conducted an investigation into what was believed to be a conspiracy to murder Mr. Flamond. Mr. Sherratt, the prisoner believed to be the assailant, and two other prisoners were placed in segregation; on December 15, Paul Brown, a close associate of Mr. Martineau and a member of the Brotherhood, was also placed in segregation. When Mr. Martineau questioned the PC unit manager about the reasons for Mr. Brownís segregation, he was told, "Weíre conducting an investigation and it takes many turns; as we make these turns, weíre grabbing people." Mr. Martineau challenged the legitimacy of the segregation in light of the fact that Mr. Brown, like Mr. Martineau, was a close friend of Mr. Flamond and would be the last one to be involved in a conspiracy to harm him.

The Christmas social for the PC population was scheduled for Saturday, December 17. Mr. Martineauís wife was driving the 800 miles from Prince George to participate and intended to stay on for a three-day private family visit with her husband arranged for December 28, 29, and 30. From the time the lock-down ended on December 13, the Brothers worked long hours to complete the gingerbread houses, and by Saturday morning the work was finished. But at around 11:00 a.m., Robert Martineauís expectation that he would be spending the rest of the day with his family and friends at the social was dashed. As he described:

My door opened and Correctional Supervisor Greer was there with seven other staff members and they told me, "We have orders to take you to segregation for the investigation of the stabbing of Flamond." They got this spray with them and the camera and they looked like they were expecting a problem, so I thought it was a little insignificant to raise the issue of my guilt or innocence with them. It was going to happen one way or the other so I went along with them. I went down to segregation. I was demanding from the time they came to my cell until they locked me up, "What am I doing down here?" They were just saying an investigation. I immediately got hold of the keeper and told him to ask Mr. Cawsey if I could at least see my wife for half an hour on a screened visit to let her know why Iím in segregation. She drove all this way and itís Christmastime. At least let her know why she canít come in and why Iím in segregation. I wasnít allowed any visit. (Interview with Robert Martineau, January 6, 1995, Kent Institution)

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Bob (Chico) Martineau, a portrait by Leslie Barnwell, part of her 1994 Fear in Fragment exhibition