Matsqui prisoners transferred days before they were to air complaints in court
By Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver Sun [British Columbia]
June 4, 2009
Fourteen Matsqui prisoners — including two who filed a petition against the prison over inhuman living conditions — have been transferred to other institutions, just days before they were to get their day in court.
Prison rights lawyer John Conroy said the 14 prisoners had acted as representatives for 220 Matsqui inmates, who have been locked in their cells for 23 hours a day since May 11.
Those transferred include Jean Paul Aube and Stephane Turcotte, who claimed in court documents that inmates have been given limited access to food and bathroom facilities since staging a work stoppage nine weeks ago to protest an increase in work hours.
Conroy and lawyer Donna Turko plan said they intend to take the prison warden to B.C. Supreme Court on Monday.
“The people who were talking to everybody and keeping them cool … [the prison] is shipping out,” Conroy said.
He said the prison argues that the prisoner representatives had been stopping inmates from going to work but that in fact, 97 per cent of the inmates supported the work stoppage, which has been peaceful with no signs of violence.
Aube is now at Mountain Institution and Turcotte at Mission Prison, Conroy said, while three others have been transferred to maximum security at Kent. He didn’t say where the other nine were sent.
Conroy and Turko spent Thursday collecting affidavits from 50 inmates affected by the work stoppage.
In court documents, Turcotte and Aube said that for the first six weeks of the stoppage, the inmates were allowed to eat regular meals in the dining hall. But since May 11, they have been kept in their cells for 23 hours and are having to wait hours to use bathroom on each floor, which they say is inhumane, they say. Some are defecating in their cells and throwing the waste out the window.
“It’s not a healthy situation for them; they don’t even have any toilet paper or anything to clean themselves with,” Conroy said.
Turcotte and Aube also claim prisoners aren’t getting enough food, have limited access to call family or lawyers, and that the situation has affected prison transfers and unescorted temporary absences to visit dying relatives.
Alain Charette, spokesman for the Correctional Service of Canada’s Pacific region, insisted the inmates were not in a lockdown situation but noted “there are some restrictions.”
The issue arose after CSC decided to implement a more structured work day, in which prisoners were required to be involved in work and scheduled activities — including counselling and schooling — for 12 hours a day instead of eight.
Matsqui is the first prison in the Pacific region to implement the new policy, which is aimed at preparing inmates for reintegration into society, Charette said.
He wouldn’t say if the prisoner transfers were related to the work stoppage.
“I’d rather stay away [from that issue],” he said. “If [the lawyers] see a link, that becomes an issue for the judge to decide. It’s too close for me to say it’s not linked or not going to be linked.”
Charette refused to comment further, saying the matter is headed to court.
“We’re still working on coming back to a normal situation in a new structured 12-hour day,” he said.
But Conroy said if the prison wants to implement community standards, it should be improving basic living conditions, such as providing toilets and sinks in cells.
The prisoners say previous jobs held by inmates have been cancelled and now everyone must fill out applications for new jobs, which has the potential to cause serious conflict among inmates.