location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 4 / Chapter 2 Administrative Segregation at Matsqui and Kent,1993-6: The Persistence of Customary Law / Donnie Oag -- Twenty Years after McCann

Mr. Oag and I both remembered Jacques Bellemaire, the prisoner who hanged himself in 1973 before he could become a plaintiff in the McCann case in 1973. Mr. Oag told me that the callous way in which Jacques Bellemaire’s body was dragged off that tier was only marginally more insensitive than what he recently had seen at Kent. In both cases, the dead man was a dead prisoner ; that distinction explained why callousness can be the response of even men and women who pride themselves on sensitivity in their normal relationships.

For Donnie Oag, the most significant change in the prison over two decades was the change in the attitudes of prisoners themselves. Twenty years earlier, prisoners had cared for each other, and what happened to one man left a deep impression on others. "Back then, there was a different class of prisoner in every way. Since the drugs came, that’s when things changed inside. For a lot of prisoners drugs are the priority, and people themselves don’t really matter any more." Mr. Oag also felt that the system of "carrots," such as transfers to lower security and earlier parole, had made prisoners more willing to sacrifice each other to advance their own interests.

Although many prisoners at Kent believed that Mr. Oag’s most recent segregation was related to the carrots system, he said, the reality was quite the opposite. In August 1992, he had become aware of an escape plan involving a helicopter, which would have been a repeat performance of an escape that had taken place at Kent two years earlier. Mr. Oag had no problem with prisoners wanting to escape -- "I wish them all the best and send me a postcard" -- but what concerned him was that the plan involved killing the helicopter pilot so there would be no witnesses. He made the decision to pass the information on to the authorities and asked for nothing in return beyond the assurance that his information would remain confidential. The institution’s response was to place the prisoners believed to be involved in segregation and to initiate their transfer to the Special Handling Unit; Mr. Oag was placed in isolation in the hospital area. Other prisoners put two and two together, and Mr. Oag was identified as an informer. As a result of providing information he felt would save an innocent person’s life, he was paying a terrible price. Despite everything, he still believed he had done the right thing.

From August 1992 until April 1993, Mr. Oag was kept isolated in the hospital at Kent, where due to the set-up he had no access to the exercise yard. In April 1993, he was transferred to the Regional Psychiatric Centre, but he was harassed by other prisoners there from the very first day. One prisoner flashed a knife at him. Rather than match force with force, something he had proved quite capable of earlier in his sentence, he chose to remain locked in his cell for two weeks. During this time he went on a hunger strike in an attempt to speed up his transfer. Later that month he was transferred back to Kent. He refused to be placed in K unit, the protective custody unit, because he believed that what he had done was right, and he did not deserve ostracism for the duration of his sentence. He was placed therefore in J unit, where he remained in segregation for eleven months, bearing the brunt of continual verbal abuse from general population prisoners. He also received hate mail from prisoners in other institutions.

February 1994 was the tenth month of Mr. Oag’s segregation. He had become physically ill and believed that foreign substances had been planted in his food, which was served to him by other prisoners. In March 1994 he was transferred to Mountain Institution. It was the first time he had moved below maximum security.

I was surprised and disappointed upon my arrival at Mountain Institution. When I was greeted at the gate by the Inmate Committee to inform me that they had written to Deputy Warden Boileau two months before, stating that the inmate population did not want me at Mountain Institution and that if I were to stay, I would be killed. I was very concerned and met with Deputy Warden Boileau who informed me I had nothing to worry about.

There were other difficulties with my medical canteen. I have a broken back in two places resulting from what the CSC refers to as a "suicide attempt" of jumping from a fifth floor window of a military hospital in Kingston. Due to those problems as well as injuries sustained in beatings by guards at Millhaven Maximum in the ‘70s which has rendered me deaf in one ear, I am on a medical disability play. Upon my arrival at Mountain, that medical canteen was denied and I sold some of my clothes for money. [Affidavit of Donnie Oag, 17 May 1995]

Mr. Oag agreed to a case management plan at Mountain Institution which included his participation in cognitive living skills, psychological intervention, and a substance abuse program. However, what remained of most importance to him was his relationship with his visitor. While at Kent he had applied for a private family visit with her, but this had not been approved. He had hoped, and indeed had been led to believe, that institutional approval at Mountain prison for this extended visit would be forthcoming. It was not. Mr. Oag lost confidence in his case management officer, although he did complete the cognitive living skills program.

On August 23, 1994, Mr. Oag’s brief respite from solitary confinement came to an end. He was placed in segregation at Mountain Institution, and a decision was made to transfer him back to Kent. Because the segregation unit at Kent was full, he was transferred instead to the segregation unit at Mission Institution. There he was held in the observation strip cell, subject to twenty-four-hour camera observation, and was allowed no visitors. He remained in segregation at Mission for three weeks, then was transferred back to Kent and held in an observation cell in the segregation unit.

The reasons given for his being placed in segregation at Mountain and for his transfer back to Kent, via Mission, were outlined in a progress summary served on him in support of the involuntary transfer.

This action resulted after it was noted that his cell has been stripped of all pictures, plants, etc., and these articles had either been given away or found already packed in his steel lockers under his bed. On discovering this, Mr. Oag was directed to the correctional supervisor’s office. It was at this point Mr. Oag was noted to appear to be under the influence of an unknown substance and refused to provide answers to questions with regard as to why his cell articles were packed away, to whom he had given his plants and some salamanders that he had acquired. When requested to provide a urine analysis or see health care staff he refused and was therefore placed into administrative segregation. (Progress Summary, Mountain Institution, August 25, 1994 at 2)

This same progress summary, in assessing Mr. Oag’s escape risk as high, went on to state:

Mr. Oag has a history of escape lawful custody, the most recent date being 1985. Even while in a maximum-security facility (Kent) Mr. Oag was actively involved in escape attempts, the latest resulting in his protective custody status.

The fact that his cell had been stripped, personals being packed away, and other items being given away, with a refusal to provide just cause for this action causes some concern. While the evidence is inconclusive, given his history, it would seem to indicate that Mr. Oag may very well have been involved in another escape attempt. This after being at Mountain Institution for only a short time. (at 5)

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Shower, Segregation Unit, Kent Institution