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Springhill -- Twisting and Torquing the Spirit and the Law

At Springhill the Task Force met with both the Inmate Committee and the Native Brotherhood. The primary complaint of the Inmate Committee was the way in which the CSC Drug Strategy was being implemented at Springhill. The Task Force was told that where a prisoner gave a "hot" urine sample he would immediately have his open visits or private family visits suspended and be placed on screened visits. This was a general policy and occurred without any personal hearing before the Visit Review Board. I advised the Committee that this was not authorised by law in so far as the suspension of visiting rights has to be related to a security or safety concern which has a rational connection to the visiting rights. Only if the institution can reasonably believe that the prisonerís drug use relates to his getting access to drugs through his visitor can a suspension of his visiting rights be justified. (The relationship between the drug strategy and visiting rights is the subject of a more detailed examination in Sector 5, Chapter 3). The zero tolerance practises at Springhill also had an impact on segregation policies. Prisoners charged with being under the influence of an intoxicant, as the result of a hot test, were often segregated. Since loss of a single cell was the normal result of being placed in segregation, this meant that a prisoner charged with an offence and segregated, even if found not guilty at the court hearing, would still be prejudiced as a result of his initial segregation, because when released back to the population he would be required to double-bunk.

After meeting with the Inmate Committee the Task Force met with the Native Brotherhood. The clear message the Brotherhood gave was that at Springhill Institution Aboriginal prisoners were treated as second or third class citizens and that there was no respect for Aboriginal spirituality or Aboriginal Elders. One Brotherhood member reported that he has been in segregation three times in the last year, the longest period being eight months. He was not allowed to have his medicine bundle nor have access to sweetgrass and did not see the Elder in all that time. Not having access to an Elder had been particularly difficult for him.

We look on the Elder differently from the way a non-Aboriginal prisoner looks on the chaplain. For us the Elder is not just a priest, he is more like our brother. For a native person not to have access to and guidance from the Elder, particularly when you are in segregation, is a greater deprivation because the Elder is of such significance in our lives.

Earlier in the day Dan Kane, when giving his initial briefing to the warden and staff, he had made the point that the accusation directed against the CSC by Madam Justice Arbour that the CSC did not respect the law was one that "twists and torques the spirit." The Inmate Committee and the Native Brotherhood left the Task Force in little doubt that the way in which the CSC had implemented the Drug Strategy at Springhill and interpreted the provisions of the CCRA regarding Aboriginal spirituality, in their view, "twisted and torqued both the spirit and the letter of the law."

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