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location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 3 / Chapter 3 The Disciplinary Process at Kent / November and December 1994: The Sweat Lodge Incident -- An Issue of Discipline or Reconciliation?

The last of the sweat lodge six to have their cases heard was Mr. Belluz. This hearing had been adjourned to January 17, 1995, the next day on which Officer Wilkinson was available to give evidence. At this point Mr. Belluz was less than a week away from his statutory release and informed the hearing officer that he was not going to attend the hearing.

In the meantime, Officer Wilkinson was called down to give his evidence for the sixth and final time. Mr. Fox instructed the duty officer to take a waiver form down to Mr. Belluz and give him notice that, if he maintained his position, the hearing would go ahead in his absence. Officer Wilkinson asked whether he should go back to his post until this was done but Mr. Fox said that he could start giving his evidence. If it turned out that Mr. Belluz changed his mind and came down to the hearing, then Officer Wilkinson could start over again. Officer Wilkinson at this point went into an extemporaneous statement of his frustration with the disciplinary process. It was off the record but according to my notes it went something like this. "Iíve charged my last guy, I donít need this aggravation. The frustrations are beyond my self-control. I go home and talk to myself about this and itís just not worth it."

Mr. Fox commented that Officer Wilkinson should remember that 90 per cent of the charges did result in convictions, and while in these particular cases the outcomes were obviously not to his liking, some of the prisoners had been convicted. Officer Wilkinsonís response was, "Even the guys who got convicted, nothing happened to them so whatís the point. Itís not just this case. The possibilities of what could have happened are beyond your imagination. Iím in charge of two populations here. If I piss off one side the other side could explode." Officer Wilkinson was referring to the fact that the delay caused by the sweat lodge prisoners refusing to go in for the noon count meant that exercise for the protective custody population prisoners was delayed by over half an hour and that this could (but did not) have led to an incident.

Mr. Belluz was due for statutory release on January 20 and Mr. Fox resolved this issue by adjourning Mr. Belluzís case until next weekís hearing, by which time Mr. Belluz would be released. This way Officer Wilkinson did not have to give his evidence yet again. The benefits of this were probably lost on Officer Wilkinson because it was equally clear that the result of the adjournment was that Mr. Belluz would not be convicted. Indeed, had the case gone ahead, the likelihood was that Mr. Belluz would have been acquitted anyway, because of his previous (and credible) evidence that, at the time Officer Wilkinson gave the order, he was many yards away tending the wounded duck.

This final frustrating round of the sweat lodge affair underscored the dysfunctional forum which the disciplinary process provided for the proper resolution of the issues involved. Officer Wilkinson had, as a result of his experiences, an understandable view that the disciplinary process was a farce. The result for the prisoners, even though two of them were acquitted, and the three that were convicted received only warnings, was not a resolution of their issues or any recognition of the significance of the symbolic spiritual nature of the position they had taken. These issues were only really grappled with at the meeting between the Brotherhood and the administration following the first hearing. Had this affair been handled within the context of a Talking Circle and within the framework of restorative justice, all of the perspectives and interests would have been presented, with a view to understanding both the dynamics of the dispute and also identifying a pathway to resolve the issue that accorded mutual respect for Aboriginal spirituality and the legitimate concerns of a maximum-security institution. Within such a framework, Officer Wilkinson would not only have had an opportunity to present the reasonable security concerns he had and the difficult position in which the prisonersí stance had put him, as someone trying to balance the interests of both sides of the population, but he would also have heard the prisonersí point of view. Such a process would have occupied far less time than the combined disciplinary hearings. Officer Wilkinson would not have been put to the aggravation of repeating his evidence on six separate occasions and, at the end of the day, the groundwork would have been laid for reconciliation, rather than the aftertaste of bitterness and frustration left by the disciplinary process.

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