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SECTOR 4:
CHAPTER 5
A DEADLY JULY -- PRISON POLITICS, STAFF REALITIES, AND THE LAW

In the summer of 1997, a crisis erupted at Kent Institution which led to the segregation of a large number of prisoners. A crisis provides an acid test of any organizationís mettle. For the CSC, it also tests the organizationís commitment to the Rule of Law. The Arbour Report had demonstrated that when a situation is characterized by the CSC as an emergency, that commitment can falter. In its place arises a default mode based on institutional customary practices designed to assert control and maintain order. Viewed as an epilogue to my analysis of the law and practice of segregation, the events at Kent invite reflection on the relationships between prison politics, staff realities, and the law. Taking place three months after the completion of the Task Force on Segregationís report, the events also provide a measure of the CSCís efforts to "enhance" the segregation process.

On Thursday, July 10, 1997, twenty-seven months after Gary Allen was carried from the inner courtyard at Kent Institution, another prisoner, Christian Grenier, lay dying in the outer exercise yard. The institution was locked down while the RCMP and correctional staff began their investigation. Kent did not, however, experience the unnatural quiet which often follows the death of a prisoner. On July 11, two prisoners from A unit, Kenny Makichuk and Neil Simpson, were taken to segregation after a review of the videotape of the incident and witness statements implicated them in the killing. In the following days, six more prisoners were segregated. The lock-down continued throughout the weekend and, as prisoner unrest mounted, objects were thrown out of cell windows, including a shirt that was set on fire and landed on the cellblock roof, causing several thousand dollars' worth of damage. On Monday evening, July 14, a group of prisoners in A unit began smashing their cells, setting fires, damaging sprinklers, and flooding the range. The glass and in some cases the frames were kicked out of the cell windows, leaving just concrete cylinders in the window openings. The decision was made to remove the disruptive prisoners from A unit to segregation, and the Emergency Response Team, led by Officer Mark Noon-Ward, was called in to effect the removal. Once the team appeared in the unit suited up in with shields and batons, the prisoners quieted down, and it was clear they were not going to fight all the way to segregation. Each prisoner was told to strip in his cell. They were taken naked except for their shoes to the common room at the end of the range, where they were searched, given coveralls, and then taken to J unit. There were no incidents during this operation. After the prisoners involved in the smash-up were taken out, a clean-up began that had not been completed by the time I arrived the next morning, July 15. There was still water and debris on the upper range. I inspected the cell belonging to the prisoner believed to have triggered the smash-up. The walls and the ceiling were fire-damaged, the sprinkler was smashed, and the window frame lay on the grass below the cell. The sink and toilet had not been damaged, but little else had withstood the trashing.

During the course of the day, I was given several accounts of what had led to the killing and the subsequent smash-up. According to Acting Unit Manager Mike Csoka, the previous summer a power struggle had begun between two rival factions on the general population side. He referred to the factions as the "French guys" and the "junkies." A struggle for power and drugs was at the centre. A series of incidents and consequent lock-downs late the previous summer and into the fall were all part of this conflict; they centred on A unit, where the junkies lived, and C unit, which housed most of the French-Canadian prisoners. Jean-Louis (Cacane) Tremblay was the acknowledged leader of C unit, and Jimmy Whitmore, of A unit. Both were former chairpersons of the Inmate Committee. A series of verbal confrontations occurring in early July in the courtyard finally erupted on July 10. A large amount of Valium had been smuggled into the institution by a visitor to a prisoner in A unit, and these pills were intended for a prisoner in C unit. However, instead of reaching their destination, most of the drugs were consumed or otherwise distributed. During a meeting in the C unit pool room between some A unit and C unit prisoners, an apparent resolution was reached. However, a few hours later there was a flurry of activity in the outside exercise yard involving a small group of prisoners from C unit and a larger group from A unit. At first confined to heated exchanges, this activity exploded into an armed battle. One prisoner from C unit, Christian Grenier, was stabbed to death, and another, Claude Forget, was dealt a severe blow to the head with a baseball bat.

Later in the day I spoke with Greg Hanson, the representative from B unit. (Mr. Hanson was one of the prisoners segregated at Matsqui as part of "Operation Big Scoop." A year later he escaped but was recaptured as he was attempting to leave the country. He was later sentenced to life imprisonment for second-degree murder and transferred to Kent in 1995.) Although he had not been in the exercise yard when the events went down, he gave me this scenario of the hours before the killing.

There was a lot of steel in the courtyard at lunch. A group of prisoners from A unit went down to C unit and walked in. The guards came over to see what was happening and the prisoners were told to leave. They went back to A unit and an hour later came back out in to the exercise yard and it was at this point that the fight broke out. (Interview with Greg Hanson, Kent Institute, July 15, 1997)

Mr. Hanson was surprised that the guards had not subjected all prisoners going into the exercise yard to a pat-down frisk given what had happened just an hour before. When I asked for his interpretation, he said the staff union was involved in contract negotiations with government representatives, and things were not going well in terms of the unionís demands. A major incident reinforcing the danger of working in maximum-security would strengthen the unionís bargaining position. In the last few days, he said, there had been signs of the guards exercising their muscle, kicking cell doors during the night, refusing to answer cell calls -- what he referred to as a general increase in the "aggravation factor." He had experienced this before at contract renewal time. (In historical perspective, the 1976 riot at the B.C. Penitentiary has been attributed in some quarters to restrictions placed on prisoners as a result of a hostile guard environment during contract negotiations.)

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