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Enforcing the "Bend Over" Rule

Although the CCR Regulations specifically provide that in the course of a strip search a prisoner "may be required to . . . bend over or otherwise enable a staff member to perform a visual inspection," it had not been the practice to make this demand of prisoners at Kent. Even the strip searches conducted in March 1998 by the ERT did not involve this procedure. However, following the filing of Greg Hanson's grievance and subsequent lawsuit, prisoners were increasingly asked to bend over as part of a strip search. Mr. Hanson had this demand made of him when he came out of the visiting area following an open visit. Although he did strip and comply with all other aspects of the search, he refused to bend over and so was charged with the minor disciplinary offence of refusing a direct order. Prisoners who complained about the procedure were told that they had Mr. Hanson to thank for the staff now applying strip-search requirements "to the letter of the law." From the prisoners' perspective, this was a clear message that challenging the administration involved some pay-back. The full measure of that pay-back became clear in October 1998.

On Monday, October 17, warden of Kent authorized an exceptional search involving a strip search of all GP prisoners together with a search of their cells. The order came following a series of drug overdoses, the seizure of several containers of home brew, and staff observations of a number of prisoners being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The search procedures adopted in October were modified to bring them into conformity with s. 46 of the CCR Regulations. Prisoners were required to strip and be searched in their cells, under the observation of two officers; they were then allowed to dress and were taken to the common room while their cells were searched. The strip-search procedure included a requirement that the prisoner bend over to permit a visual inspection of his rectum.

The search commenced in A unit. Officers completed the strip and cell searches of three ranges and began procedures on the fourth. Five of the six prisoners there complied with the strip-search procedures and were placed in the common room. The sixth prisoner, Jason Gallant, complied fully with the procedure until asked to bend over and touch his toes. He refused to do so. Officer Laurie, the officer supervising the search, showed Mr. Gallant a copy of the section of the CCR Regulations authorizing officers to make this demand. Mr. Gallant read the document, handed it back and stated, "Yeah, well, it doesn't make it right." He was advised that if he refused to comply, the officer would have to suspend the search of A unit. Mr. Gallant held firm. Officer Laurie then told the prisoners in the common room that the search was being suspended and they were placed back in their cells without those cells having been searched. Mr. Gallant requested that Officer Laurie move him to segregation so that his protest would not operate to the prejudice of other prisoners. Officer Laurie declined, on the basis that he did not feel Mr. Gallant presented a risk to staff, the institution, or himself. The general search continued over the weekend without incident until officers reached the cell of Darryl Bates in D unit. Mr. Bates also declined to bend over. He too was shown a copy of the CCR Regulations ; he responded that this procedure had never been part of the strip-search routine at Kent.

On October 19, three staff members arrived at Mr. Gallant's cell in A unit and advised him that he was going to segregation. He was not given any reason. Mr. Gallant was then handcuffed and escorted to J unit. Upon arrival, he was taken to the common area next to the control bubble, where he was asked to submit to the routine strip search required of all prisoners on admission to segregation. As he entered the common area, Mr. Gallant observed that a six-member squad of the ERT was standing fully suited behind the privacy curtain. The prisoner was placed behind the curtain in the presence of two officers. He was asked to strip; he complied. He was asked to open his mouth and extend his arms; he complied. He was told to run his fingers through his hair; he complied. He was asked to turn around and show the balls of his feet; he complied. He was asked to bend over; he refused. He was then asked whether this was going "to be the easy way or the hard way." He responded, "Let's try the hard way." At that point the correctional supervisor overseeing the search motioned to the ERT squad; the privacy curtain was lowered and the squad immediately moved towards Mr. Gallant and took him to the ground. He was handcuffed behind his back and his legs were forcibly pried apart. The videotape of the procedure did not show Mr. Gallant offering any resistance to the officers either physically or verbally. A member of the ERT holding Mr. Gallant to the ground is heard asking an ERT member kneeling between Mr. Gallant's legs, "Do you have a good visual?" "I am satisfied with the visual," the officer responded. Mr. Gallant was then allowed to get up. He was placed in a segregation cell and the handcuffs were removed.

Following the segregation and search of Mr. Gallant, the same three staff members went to Mr. Bates' cell and advised him that he was going to segregation. Mr. Bates was told this was because of his non-compliance with the search the day before. Once in the segregation unit, Mr. Bates was placed behind the privacy curtain and asked to strip. He complied with every demand until he was asked to bend over. At that point he refused and pulled his underwear back on. Again the correctional supervisor motioned to the ERT squad, who immediately overpowered Mr. Bates and took him to the ground. The videotape, in the brief seconds before the ERT's swarming of Mr. Bates, showed Mr. Bates facing towards them with a look of disbelief on his face. As Mr. Bates lay on the ground, he was handcuffed behind his back. One of the ERT officers then cut off his underwear and his legs were pried apart to permit a visual inspection. The videotape also showed that a metal detector was passed over Mr. Bates' buttocks. During this procedure, Mr. Bates was heard shouting at the officers, "You fucking skin hounds." He was obviously enraged, although he did not strike out against any officer. After Mr. Bates was assisted to his feet, the videotape clearly showed his features contorted with anger. There was blood on his face from a cut caused by contact with an ERT officer's shield. Mr. Bates was placed in a segregation cell and his handcuffs were removed.

Both Mr. Gallant and Mr. Bates were kept in segregation until their five-day review and then released. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Gallant filed a complaint, the first step in the grievance procedure. The text set out why he and other prisoners considered the "bend over" rule to be so deeply offensive.

Until some lawsuits were brought against Kent, arising from the strip searches that took place here last March, the general practice at Kent Institution when conducting strip searches was not to require prisoners to bend over, whatever might be written down in the CCRA. Clearly correctional supervisors and other staff members conducting searches did not believe that requiring prisoners to bend over so that staff could look up their asses was a necessary aspect (legal or otherwise) of skinning down the incarcerated. It would therefore appear that this added humiliation . . . is intended to send a signal that the CSC will not tolerate challenges to their power and authority over the prison population. This practice is calculated -- if not by intent, then certainly by consequence -- to humiliate, degrade, demean and dehumanize prisoners. Skin searches carried out in this manner are calculated to deny and to desensitize a captive population to its basic humanity and thus to "bend" both literally and symbolically to correctional authority's need to dominate and control . . .

When I was taken to segregation, I was again asked to submit to a strip search. I complied by removing my clothes but refused to bend over. The notice states "force was used to complete the search. You physically resisted staff while they conducted the search." This last allegation is unfounded. The Emergency Response Team descended upon me, forced me to the ground and forcibly spread my legs. I did not so much as raise a hand . . . I merely did not comply with the command that I bend over. The video will show that I offered no assaultive or resistant behaviour . . .

Since the "take down" I have been suffering from considerable neck and back pain and cannot maintain my spine in an upright position. What I need is access to a physiotherapist or a specialist of comparable skills to determine the extent of my neck injury and to ensure proper treatment.

Corrective Action Requested

1. That there be a National Review or Investigation of the need for prisoners to "bend over" and spread their ass cheeks, in light of the Mission Statement Core Value 1 that "we respect the dignity of individuals, the rights of all members of society and the potential for human growth and development" and in light of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international covenants to which Canada is a signatory. I believe this review is particularly appropriate in light of the fact that 1998 is the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration and that the CSC has now accepted the Yalden Report of the Working Group on Human Rights.

2. That I be permitted to see a physiotherapist or a specialist of comparable skills for the neck injury.

3. That I be permitted to pack my cell effects and be returned to segregation but without the need to comply with the bend over command. The explanation for this third request is that in segregation, the prisoner understands that he has no privileges and there is nothing to lose because quite simply he has nothing. In segregation it is understood that a prisoner is less than a human being and can therefore be locked up twenty-three hours a day in a cage. In general population, even in maximum security, there is a semblance of humanity, some rights and privileges and some respect for human dignity. However, if while in general population I must live with the ever present threat that, upon demand, I will bend over and, if I refuse, will be taken to segregation each time and violence will be done to me so that my legs can be pried apart and a guard can look up my rectum, I would prefer that I be placed in segregation where there is no pretence for respect for human rights. At least then I will have no sense of loss. (Complaint filed by Jason Gallant, Kent Institution, October 26, 1998)

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Jason Gallant, a portrait by Leslie Barnwell, part of her 1994 Fear in Fragment Exhibition