location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 5 / Chapter 4 The Power to Search and the Protection of Privacy / The Strip Searches at Kent

The next day, Friday, March 20, the strip-search operation for the rest of the PC population continued. This time, the searches were carried out by regular line staff under the direction of correctional supervisors. Because the ERT operation had proceeded so smoothly, the correctional supervisor in charge of the search, Officer Cole, determined that the same procedures should be followed, with one important modification: as a range was searched, two officers would be assigned to stand in front of each cell to ensure that prisoners did not dispose of items while other prisoners were being searched. This modification meant that prisoners being escorted naked down the range to the common area walked past other correctional officers. By the end of the weekend, all PC prisoners had been strip searched without discovery of the gun or ammunition. However, some other weapons, drugs and drug paraphernalia were recovered.

On Monday, March 23, the search moved to the GP ranges. In B unit, for the first time the staff encountered a challenge to their procedures from prisoner Greg Hanson, a challenge that would lead to both an internal grievance and a lawsuit. In a later interview, Mr. Hanson, one of the prisoners also segregated at matsqui in Operation Big Scoop, gave me this account of his experience with the strip search:

On Thursday night [March 19] we were locked down. The administration worked really well to start with, using a new process we had negotiated in which they issue a written communiqué why we are locked down. That written communiqué was slipped under our doors and said that they were looking for dangerous contraband. So right away we know that they are looking for a gun or a bomb and we knew that this was going to be a long lock-down. So we hunkered in. On Friday they came back with another communiqué that we were going to be allowed out for showers, six prisoners at a time. So we were getting the feeling that this may be an emergency but it's not one of gargantuan proportions. On Saturday we were allowed out of our cells, and Sunday we were allowed out twelve at a time to go to the common room, so again it does not seem to be that big of an emergency.

On Monday morning my door cracks at eight o'clock. I've got four guards standing in my doorway. Mr. Nelson told me that there was a search of the institution to locate contraband and told me to strip down, balls-naked, and to walk down the hallway to the common area with my clothes in my hand. I said, "Ain't happening, boys." I don't even know that once I step out of the cell, there's a gauntlet of twenty guards lined up down the hall that I'm about to walk through. But while I don't know this, I do know enough about the law to know that a strip search has to be conducted by two staff members in a private area, no female staff allowed, etc. And what they are asking me to do is completely against the law. But I've got four staff standing in my doorway who were physically able to cause me some pretty good grief, so I asked them to call down the keeper. Correctional Supervisor Kevin Cole came down and repeated the order and said, "Listen, Greg, it has to happen this way." I said, "This is bullshit, Kevin, this is against the CCRA. Who ordered this? Are there any women out there?" I'm asking these questions because I'm scrambling to try and find a reason to not to have to go through this embarrassing indignity. Now I'm really raging and all the blood's now in my muscles, my brain, and I'm pumping and I'm naked. I'm embarrassed, and it was a really humiliating thing to have to go through even having these four guys in my doorway. Now I pick up my clothes and I step into the hallway and there is literally a gauntlet lined up along the right side of the wall of about twenty staff, all looking at me in my total state of nakedness and embarrassment. And I know this is illegal, smacks of P4W all over again. I was so mad all I wanted to do was kill and, having killed before, I know that feeling. It was an over-the-top feeling of rage, where you've made the decision that this person is about to die, damn the consequences. Now that's right-brain thinking. My left brain was going, "Greg, shut up. You've worked so hard for four years to get where you are, don't give it up, don't give it to them. You punch them out, you're giving in. They know how to deal with that and now you're going them a reason to deal with you in that way." But I couldn't shut up. As I was walking along I was swearing and I don't usually swear. But I was so mad, I was breathing threats.

After I passed the line of officers and I was in the common area, there were eight staff members all standing there looking at me. I see another prisoner come down the gauntlet on the other side of the tier and he's covering his private parts and trying to be discreet. It looks like they're herding us like cattle. One of the staff members says, "Over here, drop your clothes." He waves the scanner over my body and down around my private area. Then he starts searching my clothes. He picks up one shoe and I shout, "Listen, do my underwear," and I threw them right in his face and now he's really angry and I'm really raging. The keeper says, "Calm down, calm down, everybody." He's trying to keep the situation under control. The officer then did my underwear and I put them on. I was given back my clothes and told to proceed to the gymnasium and outside yard. When I got outside it was cold and it was raining, but I was so hot that I didn't even feel the rain. I was so mad I hadn't even grabbed warm clothing, and I was just in my shorts and a pair of shoes. As I walked to the gymnasium, I was so angry I drove the window of the door opposite the gym with all I had and I didn't even feel it. I was so angry I couldn't talk any more. I went outside in the yard and there was a big blue garbage can that's like half a barrel, weighs about thirty pounds, and I kicked it all the way around a half-a-mile field. I felt total, uncontrollable hatred for them, and this is something that I have really worked hard over the past four years to try and control. I didn't do a very good job of it that day. But I didn't fight that day, because of the dignity that I raised in myself in the past four years. I have learned how to deal with things not in a violent manner. Is that my left brain thinking? I don't know. But it took over and I didn't embarrass myself that day. (Interview with Greg Hanson, Kent Institution, April 14, 1998)

Mr. Hanson filed a grievance and then a lawsuit, today still in the pre-trial process, in which he sued for damages for the "humiliating, degrading, illegal and immoral" treatment involved in the strip search. A month earlier, there had been an announcement by the Solicitor General that each of the women who had been illegally searched and segregated at the Prison for Women would be receiving $50,000. Many of the staff at Kent believed that Mr. Hanson's lawsuit was an attempt to get a similar settlement for himself and doubted his professed feelings of degradation and humiliation. Based on our interview, I had no doubt about the depth of his feelings. However, he had also explained to me a larger reason for the lawsuit.

This is why I have to do this. We live in a country governed by the Rule of Law. I have been encouraged to participate in a society governed by the Rule of Law. I have to win this by law. If I don't, there will be a tremendous feeling inside of me that this is all bullshit. I already have that feeling. I grew up with that feeling. I never did believe in the law, in the government, or in state-sponsored sanctions. I always thought it was bullshit. I'm trying to convince myself now that the law is a means to an end. The end being a happier life. I have to convince myself by the Rule of Law. Someone, somewhere has to say that this was wrong. Someone in authority has to say that this was wrong. I'll accept that. Internally I'll accept that. I'm paying the price for my breaches of the law, somebody has to, to build up my confidence in the system.

Because this is how it works in my world: you screw me like that, I put you in a trunk and sink the car. I don't want to live like that any more. But believe me, that solved the problem before. Nobody ever screwed me around again. I have to assure myself that the law is at least as powerful, that no one will ever screw with me in that manner again. That's why it's so important.

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Greg Hanson