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The Schiere Case

The involuntary transfer of Dick Schiere and two other prisoners from Matsqui to Kent Institution in 1984 vividly illustrates the interests at stake in transfers from medium to maximum security, the balance drawn by prison administrators between crime control and due process values, and the impact this has on prisoners' perception of prison justice. The facts and documents referred to in this case study are taken from the affidavit material in a 1986 Federal Court action, filed after the prisoners involved had exhausted the internal grievance procedure ( Schiere et al. v. The Commissioner of Penitentiaries (F.C.T.D. No. 735 - 86).

In February 1984, John Paul Belliveau, a prisoner in Matsqui Institution, was murdered. Six weeks later, on April 5, three prisoners -- Dick Schiere, Robert Pelletier and Mike Angus -- were informed by the administration that, as a result of new information, they were being reclassified from the S5 medium security level to an S6 maximum security level, and hence being transferred to Kent Institution. They were placed in restraint equipment (handcuffs and leg irons), and each of them was handed a memorandum stating that he was being transferred to Kent "for the good order of Matsqui Institution." They were given neither the 48 hours' notice of the intention to transfer nor the opportunity to present reasons for reconsideration of that decision, as required by the Commissioner's Directive in force at the time.

On April 7 at Kent Institution, the three men were told verbally that their transfers had to do with an ongoing investigation by Matsqui police into Belliveau's murder. Prior to the transfer, none of the three had been questioned by Matsqui police or any institutional staff regarding Belliveau's death. On April 14, each of them filed an inmate complaint form, the first step in the Correctional Service's grievance procedure, in which they denied involvement in Belliveau's death and requested, first, that they be transferred back to Matsqui while the investigation continued and, second, that they be given substantial and specific reasons for the transfer. On April 26, they received this answer from the assistant warden at Kent:

The Regional Classification Board advises that you have been reclassified to S6 level security -- Kent Institution. I am not at liberty to release the reasons for your reclassification to you until the Regional Classification Board forward their written comments to us. You can review the written comments with your Living Unit Development Officer when they arrive at the institution. If you wish to directly contact the Regional Classification Board for an explanation, please feel free to do so.

On May 10, the three prisoners sent a letter to the Regional Classification Board requesting specific reasons for their reclassification to maximum security. The answer they received from the Regional Transfer Officer, dated May 23, stated:

You are involved in an investigation by Matsqui police into the murder of inmate Belliveau, John Paul, at Matsqui Institution. Because of this suspected involvement, your security classification was reviewed and resulted in a reclassification to S6.

In a letter dated August 9, Mr. Schiere presented his view on the adequacy of this response: I can easily understand the need for an investigation, and how this would take time, but I fail to see any ethical, moral or legal justice in how my "involvement" has been automatically taken for granted. The administration, while the investigation remains open and incomplete, has judged me guilty and is treating me as such. In effect, the administration has arrested and jailed me on the basis of suspicion, hoping that eventually (more than four months have already passed) something might turn up to support the case it wishes to make. My rights, legal or otherwise, are being trampled in the meantime. If my present situation can be seen as an indication of what to expect, the degree of justice I can look forward to, then the future looks pretty grim to me. What will happen if this matter is never resolved? If the administration fails to find anyone else to blame, do I then remain an administrative next-best-bet for them?

This resulted in a further response from the Regional Transfer Officer:

I regret to inform you that you will not be considered eligible for transfer to lower security until the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death at Matsqui Institution of inmate John Paul Belliveau is complete. As soon as this office receives information from Matsqui Police Department that they have concluded their investigation, your case management team will be informed.

On August 20, the prisoners filed an inmate grievance with the warden of Kent. They reiterated that they were being deemed guilty of involvement in the Belliveau murder without a hearing, prior to the completion of an investigation, and requested that they be returned to medium security. In denying the grievance, the warden stated:

(a) The Administration at Matsqui Institution deemed it appropriate to transfer you to increased security while the investigation was under way. I am not in a position to explain the rationale.

(b) Information concerning the entire case is being reviewed -- some of which may or may not be substantiative [sic]. Until such time as the case has been concluded, I would expect that you would remain at Kent Institution.

(c) I cannot foresee your former security status being reinstated at this point. I am sure you will have the opportunity to defend yourself against specific allegations if they are made.

The prisoners then moved to the second level of the grievance process, appealing to the Regional Director General. His response, dated September 6, was:

Your grievance has been thoroughly reviewed at the second level. The responses you received at the complaint stage and grievance level one adequately answered your questions. Matsqui Municipal Police are still investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of an inmate in Matsqui Institution. When their investigations are completed your case will be thoroughly reviewed by your case management team.

The prisoners then appealed to the third and final level of the grievance procedure, the Commissioner of Corrections in Ottawa. On November 10, Mr. Schiere and Mr. Angus received the following response:

As you were advised at previous levels, you were transferred to higher security for the good order of Matsqui Institution pending the completion of a police investigation into the murder of an inmate. As this police investigation is not yet complete, no decision can yet be taken on your request to be returned to lesser security. I regret that my response cannot be more definitive at this time. As you are probably aware, the Correctional Service of Canada has no control or authority over police investigations. The authorities therefore had two choices while awaiting the results of the police investigation. They could transfer you to an institution of a higher security level or segregate you. They chose the first alternative, which I believe was in your best interest.

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