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July 1993: Mr. Routley's Court

Mr. Keith Routley has been the Independent Chairperson at Matsqui Institution since 1988. In 1994 he was appointed the Senior Independent Chairperson for the Pacific Region. For many years Mr. Routley maintained his own law practice, which included criminal defence work. He then left the practice of law to assume executive responsibilities in the aviation industry. During the course of my research, in his capacity as the Senior Independent Chairperson, Mr. Routley organized meetings with other Independent Chairpersons in the region, and with Senior Chairpersons from other regions to address issues of common concern, particularly achieving consistency in the interpretation of the law and in procedure.

Disciplinary hearings at Matsqui were generally held once a week in one of the two boardrooms in the visiting area. The room is also used for meetings of the Segregation Review Board. Mr. Routley sat on one side of a square table with the court clerk to his left. The institutional advisor sat on the right side of the table, and on the opposite side sat any witnesses who testified, be they institutional staff or other prisoners. There were usually one or two officers in the room who served as sheriffs, co-ordinating the appearance of prisoners and escorting them into the hearing room. The accused prisoner sat at the other side of the table, facing the Independent Chairperson and the court clerk. There was no Canadian flag, raised dais, or other symbolic indicator of a courtroom.

On my first day of observation, July 14, 1993, the court docket included the most serious charge in the disciplinary code -- assault on a staff member. The accused prisoner, Mr. Wagner, responded with "Not really" when asked whether he understood the charge. He explained that a number of different charges had been laid and he was not sure which one he was now facing. Mr. Routley read out some details of the incident from the officers' reports and asked the prisoner whether he had seen these reports. Mr. Wagner replied that he had not, although he had asked for them. In response, Mr. Routley stated that he was going to put the matter over to the next court session and asked the clerk to make sure Mr. Wagner got copies of all incident reports attached to the charge before then. Mr. Wagner said he wanted to get the hearing over with as soon as possible and asked, "If I plead guilty, what will I be looking at? I've never been convicted of assaulting anyone before." Mr. Routley replied, "I won't entertain that," and adjourned the case to the next court day, telling Mr. Wagner that once he had read the incident reports, he should consider his position and, if necessary, get legal advice; he should then come to the next hearing prepared with whatever he wanted to say. Mr. Wagner replied, "It doesn't matter what I say. It won't make any difference."

Mr. Routley's adjournment of the case to ensure that Mr. Wagner received full disclosure of the officers' incident reports marked a significant change from the days of warden's court where the notice requirements were regularly ignored. This proved to be Mr. Routley's consistent practice (along with that of the other Independent Chairpersons I observed), demonstrating a concern for compliance with the procedural requirements of the law.

There was no court session on either July 21 or July 28, and there were only two cases on the docket on August 11. This did not signify that the prisoner body had gone on a summer good-behaviour vacation; rather, it reflected an institutional decision to classify most charges as minor ones, so that their adjudication would come before "minor courts" presided over by Correctional Supervisors and not the Independent Chairperson. With what results, we will see shortly.

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Keith Routley