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The Segregation Unit at the P4W, April 22-26, 1994

The Arbour Report recounts developments at the P4W in the aftermath of the attack on staff.

The April 22nd incident was seen as an unprecedented assault on staff. It produced tremendous hostility, resentment and fear among members of the staff at the Prison for Women. The staff response was itself unprecedented, and included an unwillingness to act upon the warden’s order to unlock the ranges, and the holding of a demonstration demanding the transfer of the women involved in the incident out of the Prison for Women and into a special handling unit . . . While some steps were taken to try to reduce the level of trauma -- debriefings, further meetings with staff, sick leave for those most affected -- it is clear that those reactions persisted among staff in the days and weeks that followed . . .

It is also evident that for the inmates involved, there were not the comparable opportunities to reduce the emotional stress of the events which were available to the staff who had debriefings, informal social gatherings, and the opportunity to leave the institution to go home. On the contrary, the inmates were placed in constant contact with the other inmates involved in the incidents (together with a small number of other inmates already in the unit by reason of individual personal crises), thereby making it impossible to distance themselves from the events, and producing an inevitable solidarity among them.

From the evening of April 22nd to the evening of April 26th, there were extraordinary levels of unrest in the Segregation Unit. There were also periods, sometimes whole shifts, that were quiet or normal . . .

From the beginning of these events, there were periods in which the inmates were acting out, and engaging in verbal abuse ranging from demands (for amenities or rights to which they thought they were entitled and which were being denied), through insults, and threats. Sometimes the noise level was so high that the entire unit seemed to vibrate . . .

Commencing on April 25th, the periods of acting out in the Segregation Unit included, on occasion, the setting of small fires.

On the afternoon of April 26th, Dr. Robert Bater, the Chair of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee, visited in the Segregation Unit and talked to a number of the inmates. He testified that he did not feel threatened and was made to feel welcome by the inmates. Later, on the afternoon of April 26th, Officer Ostrom, while patrolling the unit alone, was confined at the end of the upper range by threats, apparently accompanied by the swinging of items thought to be weapons. She was escorted from the range by Correctional Supervisor Warnell, who was armed with a mace can.

One question raised by the evidence is whether or not the collective behaviour of the inmates was of a scale so unprecedented as to be unmanageable, and in my opinion the answer to that is no. Each inmate was lodged individually in a segregation cell, and although at times their collective behaviour was highly disruptive and, in some cases, assaultive to persons who approached their cells, it is inconceivable to suggest that between the evening of April 22 up until the evening of April 26, when the IERT was called in to intervene, nothing could have been done to bring the situation in that unit under control. (Arbour at 36-38)

In addressing the segregation of the prisoners from April 22nd to 26th, Madam Justice Arbour found that there were serial violations of basic legal rights. The first violation was in relation to a prisoner’s right to counsel when placed in administrative segregation.

Throughout the period April 22nd to April 26th, inmates were neither advised of their right to counsel, nor given access to counsel. Inmates’ specific and repeated requests for lawyers were denied. Indeed, this denial continued until April 29th. (Arbour at 41)

Madam Justice Arbour found that the legal obligation set out by the CCR Regulations to "ensure that every inmate is given a reasonable opportunity to retain and instruct legal counsel without delay and that every inmate is informed of the inmate’s right to legal counsel where the inmate (a) is placed in administrative segregation" ( CCR Regulations 97(2)) was largely unknown to the staff at the P4W. When this legal right was brought to staff’s attention during the inquiry, they failed to appreciate the purpose of such legal entitlement or the need to comply with it. The other violation of the law found by Madam Justice Arbour was the denial of daily exercise for over a month, from April 22 until May 24, 1994. The CCR Regulations provide that "the Service shall take all reasonable steps . . . to ensure . . . that every inmate is (d) given the opportunity exercise for at least one hour every day outdoors, weather permitting, or indoors where the weather does not permit exercising outdoors."

The prolonged deprivation of daily exercise to inmates in segregation was in serious contravention of the Regulations and, I would have thought, was a serious departure from Correctional Service policy. I hesitate in the latter conclusion because of the suggestion, in the evidence of many Correctional Service witnesses, that the operational policy of the Service is that daily exercise is always subject to security concerns, and that the security concerns perceived to exist in this case justified the denial of exercise. Indeed, in written submissions, the Correctional Service puts forward the following proposition:

An interpretation of "recreational activities" that requires exercise to be given irrespective of security requirements is absurd and would exceed the "all reasonable steps" requirement of the Regulations.

In response to that position, I can only say that I do not think it is absurd to suggest that a person should not be kept locked up in a small cell 24 hours a day, and that if there were security concerns, they should be dealt with otherwise than by simply denying an inmate an opportunity to step out of her cell. Moreover, if security considerations were to prevent the removal of a segregated inmate from his or her cell for one hour on a given day, I see no basis for that ever to be more than occasional. In any event, I find nothing in this case to suggest that there were ever security concerns of such magnitude that exercise should have been denied on any single day, to all segregated inmates . . .

Once again it seems that even if the law is known, there is a general perception that it can always be departed from for a valid reason, and that, in any event compliance with prisoners’ rights is not a priority. At best, denial of exercise can be attributed here to inadequate staffing. More realistically, it was part of a general punitive attitude which required inmates to earn entitlements to everything perceived as a privilege, rather than a right. (Arbour at 46-47)

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Segregation Cell, P4W