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A third case I observed provides an opportunity to consider the extent to which the rationale of segregation pending resolution of charges is applied on a principled basis. In case C, Prisoner X was charged with attempted escape from Kent in January 1981. He and another prisoner had been apprehended as they came out of a cell window, the bars of which had been cut. There was no violence and no threat to any security officers. Both prisoners had been placed in H unit immediately upon their apprehension and were subsequently charged with attempted escape. The second prisoner was released from segregation on 4 February. Prisoner X was still in segregation one month later. He asked the review board why this was so. The board was unable, either in the presence of the prisoner or in deliberations afterward, to discern any distinguishing features between the cases of the two men in the degree of their involvement in the escape or in their behaviour while in H unit. The board recommended that Prisoner X be released from segregation, and this recommendation was acted upon by the warden. The fact remains, however, that a man was segregated without just cause for a month longer than his co-accused. The review board would be hard put to convince Prisoner X that its review mechanisms protect against arbitrary decision-making.

The regime in H unit at Kent has been of central concern to prisoners since the opening of the institution. Successive prisoner committees have tried to raise the issue with the prison administration. In February 1981, H unit was the subject of an extensive letter-writing campaign by prisoners aimed at bringing the situation to the attention of people on the outside. It was hoped that this strategy would open negotiations with the prison administration. I was one of the people who received copies of the letters.

The letters, parts of which I have already quoted, set out the prisoners’ descriptions of the regime and their criticisms and proposals for change in H unit, and gave clear warning of the implications of ignoring the lawful effort of prisoners to improve what they regarded as oppressive and unlawful conditions.

Canada over the past few years has seen fit to build several new penitentiaries, but this country has yet to take any progressive steps which would leave the crude and destructive past practices behind. Kent, at one time christened by our Solicitor General as ‘the cadillac of prisons’ has turned out to be nothing more than a cosmetic correction, and its construction has done little to remedy any of the penitentiaries system’s true afflictions ...The fact that the concept of segregation and solitary confinement has not taken a radical turn, is inexcusable, the tomb within a tomb, in essence, has remained as barbaric as ever. 169

Many horror tales have been told about this Unit, most of them are loathing in nature and border on madness. It’s true that the bulk of our information is undocumented in the traditional sense; however, we have listened carefully over the months to what has been said and we do believe that the information is factual. Our ears do not deceive us, nor do our brothers who have personally experienced these tragedies.

We find it extremely ironic that Canadians can condemn others in other countries for inflicting pain and damage to their peoples when these same practices exist within this country in the full view of the government.

We would ask that this Unit be thoroughly investigated immediately before any further damage is done to those who are presently encaged there. We would ask that the investigation be open and that the findings be made public. If this request is granted then we firmly believe that H Unit will become another object of horror dedicated to Canadian history. 170

In every prison riot in recent years, and in the past as well, inmates have pleaded for the right not to be treated as animals. They have begged to be treated as men and women with reasonable attention to basic human needs. Because these needs have not been met, inmates have in desperation taken their case to the public. They have struck, rioted and burned, and taken hostages (always at great cost to themselves) - all to bring public attention to their situation.

This again is yet another plea -a plea for a complete inquiry into the unfair methods with which prison justice is dispensed; and a tormented cry for help in abolishing some of those practices which are not only cruel but irreversibly mind-destroying as well. 171

Attached with this statement are some letters in regards to [H unit] written by those prisoners within his institution that are more articulate than others. Hopefully, by approaching our dilemma in this way, you will take it upon yourself to help us continue meaningful negotiations with the Kent administration. It is important that we are able to talk and work out our problems in this way. For when the talking stops the trouble soon begins. And whether anyone realizes it or not people in here are talking less and less these days. 172

By letting the public know our problems we hope we will have your support in our cause. The last thing we can do is have a peaceful demonstration in order to help those who can’t help themselves in H Unit. The prison population has exhausted every possible peaceful means of communication with this administration to the point of frustration. 173

If this place blows up [H unit] will be the main reason. 174

On 7 June 1981, a few hours after two prisoners were ‘scooped’ and taken to H unit, there was a riot at Kent Institution. I have spoken about the events of that day to a number of prisoners, including the members of the Inmate Committee, who told me that two of the underlying causes of those events were the lawlessness they saw being practised daily in H unit and the intransigence of the administration. Committee meetings, letters to the outside, the intervention of lawyers, the McCann case, the judgment of the chief justice of the British Columbia Supreme Court in Oswald and Cardinal - all seemed to no avail. What happened on 7 June was, as the letters quoted above show, a predictable and indeed inevitable result of the lawlessness of carceral authority. 175

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