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Friday, August 27 - The Scoop

On Friday, August 27, when I arrived at Matsqui at 8:20 a.m., the institution was in a lock-down position. I went to the correctional operations building for a briefing and was told that the segregation of prisoners was just beginning. The boardroom in the operations building had been set aside as the command centre, and I was told that only designated individuals were to be admitted; the warden had named me as one of those select few. I was advised that the exercise had been assigned the code name "Operation Big Scoop." I asked whether the list of prisoners to be segregated had changed since yesterday. I was told that the unit managers and the IPSOs had met the previous evening and revised the list. Three men had been taken off the list on the basis that there was no information to justify their segregation. However, one of them had subsequently been restored to the list when the IPSOs provided new information. Three other men were added to the list on the basis of this further discussion, resulting in a final list of twelve prisoners. The beginning of the operation had also been pushed forward, from noon to 8:30 a.m.

Squads had been formed to remove the prisoners from the living unit to segregation. Each squad had a video camera operator, and tear gas, which was under the exclusive control of the squad leader, had been issued. All prisoners were to remain locked in their cells until the operation was completed, which meant no breakfast. The operation was carried out in a military fashion; as each prisoner was taken to segregation, a message was radioed to the command centre that the prisoner had been removed. Darryl Ghostkeeper was the first person taken, followed by Ron Tessier. Mike Csoka, who was in command of one of the squads, came in during the operation and reported that the living unit was quiet; there had been no cat-calling, and it was clear that the population knew what was happening. The only problem occurred when Mr. Hurst, who was one of the ten prisoners originally designated by the IPSOs but was not on the final list, had mouthed off at the guards and said that he would get "the institution rocking." He was also taken to segregation. The whole operation took from about 8:30 to 10:00.

At the completion of the operation, there was a meeting in the warden's office. The warden announced that he wanted to restore the institution to normal as soon as possible. Staff should be talking to prisoners, smiling, asking them how they were doing, because, in his experience, prisoners took their cues from the staff, and if staff acted as if everything was back to normal, prisoners would follow suit. However, if the staff withdrew or demonstrated that they were apprehensive and fearful, this would quickly spread to the population. The warden also announced that he was going to meet with a small group of selected prisoners to explain to them what he had done. He had prepared a letter to be distributed to all prisoners and staff, setting out the reasons for his actions and his expectations for the future.

The warden then held a briefing meeting with a number of staff to thank them for their successful completion of the operation. Shortly thereafter, he convened the meeting with the selected prisoners. He briefly explained that his pre-emptive move had been made to reduce tension before matters got out of hand. Prisoner Tom Elton asked some very pointed questions of Warden Brock:

I can understand what's happened as a power thing. You've got to show that this is your prison and you're in control and we're just doing time here, but what I don't understand is why you had to use segregation. You said that you're going to do an investigation on these guys in the next week before you decide what you're going to do with them. My question is why you couldn't do that investigation first and then segregate them afterwards. I didn't think that you could use segregation unless guys had done something which represented an immediate threat, and it doesn't seem that these guys do.

The warden responded that this was a judgement call on his part and that he had no intention of keeping prisoners in segregation indefinitely. He stated that the IPSOs and the case management people would be reviewing the cases of all of these men individually, starting the following Monday.

During the course of the day, I made several observations that underlined the arbitrariness of the selection process for the prisoners who had been segregated. Art Winters, who had been identified by some staff members as the most influential of the Edmonton group, and therefore a troublemaker in waiting, was one of the prisoners selected to meet with the warden regarding the purpose of Operation Big Scoop. Rick Ambrose had been on the list of prisoners to be segregated at the conclusion of the tracking meeting, but after further discussions among the unit managers, his name was taken off the list. Mr. Ambrose was one of several prisoners brought down from the living unit before the general release of the population to start stocking up the canteen items in the Lifers' store. I saw him chatting amiably with the warden in the walkway; twelve hours before he had been designated a prime candidate for Operation Big Scoop.

Once the prisoners from the general population had been released from the living unit, it was clear their concerns were not limited to ensuring they could find supplies at the Lifers' store. As I moved along walkways and stopped to talk to prisoners, the primary question asked of me was whether what had been done was lawful. People told me that telephone calls had been made to Prisoners' Legal Services to secure the release of the men taken to segregation. The first challenge to the process came later in the afternoon when Beth Parkinson, a paralegal worker from Prisoners' Legal Services, phoned the warden, questioning the sufficiency of the notices of segregation served on the prisoners. Earlier in the day, when I was observing the implementation of Operation Big Scoop from the administration building, the question had arisen as to who would prepare the segregation notices to be served on the prisoners. Kevin Morgan, the acting unit manager for the segregation unit, was designated to do this. Another senior officer offered to help because he knew how to write these forms "creatively."

Initially, all the segregation notices gave the same reason for segregation: "You have been placed in segregation pending an investigation of inappropriate activity/behaviour within Matsqui Institution." When these notices were shown to the warden, he sent them back, saying that they did not contain enough detail. Revised notices were written, with added wording that varied from prisoner to prisoner. About half the notices were amended to read as follows: "You have been placed in segregation pending an investigation of inappropriate activity/behaviour within Matsqui Institution and your involvement in illegal drugs." Other notices also bore the words "and/or extortion."

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Segregation Cells, Matsqui Institution