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.


Updates from No One Is Illegal – Montreal and links to corporate news articles

Mohawks gather near the Seaway International Bridge to protest the arming of border guards (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC)

Mohawks gather near the Seaway International Bridge to protest the arming of border guards (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC)

Update – 5:35am
Monday, June 1, 2009

— CBSA guards abandon posts
— Seaway International Bridge is blocked to vehicular traffic by police
— Protesters maintain presence at border crossing

Dawn is breaking on the Mohawk Territory of Akwesasne, where local residents have protested for months to oppose the arming of Canadian Borders Services Agency (CBSA) guards on their territory. More than 50 protesters are maintaining a presence near the Canadian customs building on Cornwall Island. There are at least five fires burning to keep demonstrators warm. Many more residents and supporters are expected to be on-site as the morning progresses.

According to residents of Akwesasne (as well as mainstream media reports), CBSA border agents abandoned their posts just before midnight, out of fear of reprisals from the community. CBSA agents were due to be armed at the Port of Cornwall crossing on June 1, a policy universally opposed and condemned by the Akwesasne Mohawk Community.

Vehicular traffic onto the Seaway International Bridge has been shut down by police on both sides of the border, although pedestrians are still being allowed to access the bridge.

The Mohawk territory of Akwesasne straddles the jurisdictions of Ontario, Quebec and New York State, and is a major international border crossing between Canada and the United States. CBSA guards began arming in 2007, and there are currently more than 800 armed CBSA guards across Canada. The entire CBSA aims to be armed, in stages, by 2016. The CBSA announced that their agents at the Port of Cornwall would be armed by June 1 of this year.

Springhill prison on lockdown
Guards leave building after bomb threat, return after deadline

Last Updated: Friday, May 29, 2009
CBC News [Nova Scotia]

Guards at a locked down federal prison in Springhill, N.S., are back on the job following a bomb scare.

Earlier this week, Correctional Service Canada was warned there could be an unauthorized device in the building. The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, which represents the guards, says it was a bomb threat.

The guards left the building after the lockdown was implemented, saying it was not safe for them to be the ones looking for any such device.

A note said the device was supposed to go off Thursday.

The regional president of the union, Paul Harrigan, said the guards returned Friday when the deadline passed without incident — though they’re still refusing to search for any suspicious devices.

Harrigan said the RCMP, military or Canada Border Services Agency is trained to find these kinds of devices, “as opposed to our organization which is trained to deal with people.”

In the meantime, the medium-security facility remains on lockdown.

Tension rising on the line
City strike turns ugly

By Trevor Wilhelm, The Windsor Star [Ontario]
May 22, 2009

Tempers are boiling over and nerves are wearing thin as the CUPE strike drags into week six, with the frustration manifesting itself in allegations of picket line fights, vandalism, threats and stolen garbage.

Papa Cheney’s owner Alissa Coutts said her business has been one of the most recent targets of striking city workers. She said her employees, who have been removing the bar’s garbage during the strike, are getting “harassed” by pickets.

“I definitely feel that some lines have been crossed,” Coutts said Thursday. “They started by harassing some employees who offered to help. They yelled derogatory comments at them. One comment was they hope maggots crawled in their mouth and out their — I won’t say the word.”

“Just screaming profanities at them. At that point, they told us we were in for it.”

About 1,800 of the city’s inside and outside workers went on strike in April. The long strike appears to be taking its toll, with reports of several incidents from mischief to fighting.

Staff Sgt. Daryl Hall said Thursday night police have been to a few calls, but nothing serious. Members of CUPE and the general public make different claims.

Mayor Eddie Francis said his chiropractor wife Michelle Prince received veiled threats against her business while working a home show booth in late April. Retired Star columnist Gord Henderson, who still contributes a weekly opinion piece to the paper, said his car was vandalized the day he wrote about taking trash to a private service.

There have been reports of people putting clothes hangers in tall grass at city parks to prevent it from being cut. Somebody put crazy glue in the locks of the washrooms outside The Bistro at Dieppe Park.

“That’s not our members,” said CUPE Local 543 president Jean Fox. “Our members have done nothing. We are peaceful. We’re walking pickets and that’s it.”

Rob Delicata, co-owner of the Pillette Transfer Station, said strikers have targeted him since he cleaned up a massive dump site outside the Central Avenue transfer station in April. He said people threw beer bottles at his truck. Last Friday, he said, someone spread a box of nails on the road leading to his waste disposal service.

On Wednesday, someone torched a luxury car in the parking lot of the CUPE building.

Fox said the allegations aren’t true.

“We have no reports of our picketers doing anything,” she said. “There have been no police reports, no charges laid. There has been no vandalism, no damage, no anything. We’ve been accused of bombing a car, which we have nothing to do with. The guy that shares the lot beside us parked his car there and God knows what happened.”

She said CUPE members have been the ones taking the brunt from residents.

“I know that our picketers are being harassed,” said Fox. “We have court injunctions that we are honouring. We are doing our best to inform the public of our position. It’s unfortunate that people treat each other the way they do.”

Last Friday, a striking outside employee said he suffered a broken ankle and cuts to his nose and face after a confrontation with a private contractor mowing grass on Kildare Road. Police said the CUPE member suffered the injuries after somebody threw a punch.

Other pickets have called police after people nudged them with their vehicles. A scuffle broke out Tuesday after a few pickets got hit by a slow-moving car while blocking the road into Dieppe Gardens. Someone apparently took the keys out of the car and a woman who had been riding in it put a picket in a headlock to get them back. No one was hurt.

Earlier this month, the union said a picket was the victim of a hit-and-run at City Hall Square, while other irate motorists shouted obscenities and drove aggressively without regard for the safety of those on the picket line.

Coutts said her employees have had a couple of run-ins with pickets. The bar has received phone calls from someone identifying themselves as a CUPE member.

“They said if we didn’t call them back by 5 p.m., we were going to get it,” said Coutts. “We finally did and no one would take responsibility for the phone call. When we finally did get through to someone, they just started screaming and didn’t want to hear anything about it.”

The day after that, bar employees continued cleaning up garbage. The strikers were back, she said.

“They once again tried to stop us,” said Coutts. “While we were out taking a load to WDS, maybe 15 to 20 of them showed up and took some of our garbage, and apparently took it back down to the waterfront. They were running. Our employees were chasing them down the road. We don’t know what happened with that garbage.”

Prison uprising halted

Peterborough Examiner [Ontario] ‎
May 22, 2009‎

Prison guards used gas and shotguns to contain an uprising at maximumsecurity Millhaven penitentiary.

The incident began Wednesday night and lasted roughly 16 1/2 hours, until noon yesterday, when the convicts agreed to return to their cells.

Corrections Canada says 48 prisoners remained in an outside recreation yard during the standoff. The inmates have made some complaints to prison managers.

“That’s still being investigated,” said Stephanie Fullerton, a Corrections spokeswoman at the regional headquarters.

“I know that there were some general issues about the institutional routine.”

The inmates refused orders at 7:30 p. m. Wednesday to leave the yard. They tried to break into an adjoining yard but were stopped by prison guards who fired shotguns and gas.

“We were lucky we were able to respond,” said union official Jason Godin, who was at the prison during the uprising.


Collins Bay penitentiary protest is over

The Kingston Whig-Standard [Ontario]‎
May 12, 2009‎

Convicts at medium-security Collins Bay penitentiary have abandoned a protest in which they refused to report to work or programs.

“It was a one-day protest just as a way to raise their issues with the management team,”said Holly Knowles, a spokeswoman for the Correctional Service at its regional headquarters in Kingston.

Yesterday, the prison’s 327 inmates refused to go to their prison jobs and activities because of concern about routines and social development issues.

Knowles said inmates were concerned they were being denied free time out of their cells because clocks in different parts of the institution weren’t in sync.

They also complained that the baseball diamond needed repair and they wanted the option of repairing or replacing appliances they use in their living units.

Knowles said prison managers are working with a committee that represents prisoners to address their concerns.

Work refusal leads to Matsqui lockdown

Christina Toth, The Abbotsford Times [British Columbia]
Published: Friday, May 22, 2009

Matsqui Institution inmates have been confined to their living units since May 19, in an effort by prison officials to douse potential unrest over new structured work schedules, and in response to threats of assault against some inmates.

Since March 30, inmates at the Abbotsford prison have refused to attend work or programs because they oppose the more stringent hours and restrictions to upper and lower exercise yards, said Gordon Tanner, an assistant warden at the facility.

Threats made by some inmates against other inmates who were willing to return prompted the lockdown.

Tanner said a prisoners’ committee was struck recently and its representatives have been in talks with prison administrators to resolve the situation.

As of April 1, Tanner said Correctional Service Canada began implementing a series of changes nationally that address five themes, including eliminating the presence of drugs in institutions and making inmates more accountable.

Inmates are encouraged to attend their work, classes and other programs during structured morning and afternoon hours, as they would have to do if they weren’t in prison.

“The structured work day is getting closer to the work day they would have in the community. We’re trying to get them accustomed to that,” in preparation for their release, Tanner said.

Until recently, inmates had access to large yards on the prison grounds, but these areas were also where outsiders would regularly toss drugs and cell phones over the fence.

In order to gain control over this entry method of contraband, the prison is changing the landscaping around the fence perimeters and boosting surveillance. Inmates can exercise in the gym or have monitored one-hour sessions in the large yards, said Tanner.

But prisoners want freer access to fresh air. Through negotiations, officials have agreed to give them access to a smaller ‘day yard,’ after staff erect an internal fence.

“I’m hoping that will be done in the next couple of weeks,” Tanner said last week. Talks between inmates and managers continue. No injuries to prison staff or inmates as a result of the work refusal have been reported. Regular scheduled visits and family visits to the facility continue as usual.

Cab drivers suspended following protest

David Hutton, The StarPhoenix [Saskatchewan]
Published: Friday, May 15, 2009

At least 25 taxi drivers have been suspended by United Cabs after raising allegations of racism and discrimination by their employer at a demonstration Wednesday.

The company denies the allegations and says it moved to lock out the employees for what it called a “wildcat strike.”

Around 50 drivers, mostly of Pakistani descent, gathered Wednesday night at a parking lot near the airport to raise concerns about alleged verbal abuse by company managers and to protest the firing of a co-worker.

Many drivers received messages during the demonstration telling them they were suspended, which was confirmed by United Cabs management on Thursday.

United Group general manager Scott Suppes arrived at the parking lot and tore signs off the windows of several cabs, he said in an interview.

“We have some cars that we own ourselves and I took signs off cars that were ours,” he said. “I think anybody reasonably would have done the same thing. If it was your car and they were putting signs on it claiming things they shouldn’t be claiming, you’d probably take them off, too.”

The drivers took to the streets again Thursday, eventually moving their protest inside the lobby of City Hall, where they stood waiting for several hours while demanding a meeting with Mayor Don Atchison.

“People decided to get together and demonstrate and get their voices heard so their rights wouldn’t be violated,” said Fawad Muzaffar, 33, a United driver who was suspended Thursday.

“This treatment of locking people out (for) making a legal demonstration is not fair,” he said. “We should be treated fairly. There should be a code (under) which people should be fired. . . . Right now, there is no ifs or buts about it.”

The cab drivers allege one of the company’s managers has verbally abused many of the Pakistani and other South Asian employees with racial slurs.

“We are suffering from discrimination and verbal violations,” said driver Sherjeel Butt. “We need justice here. That’s why we approached the mayor. We moved from all over Canada to come to Saskatoon. They fire people for no reason because there are lots of people moving from around Canada to Saskatoon (to do the job).”

Suppes said any comments perceived to be racist were the result of a “misunderstanding” from a manager who “may have said some things that (the Pakistani drivers) may have found offensive.

“She thought it was in good fun and obviously that didn’t happen. We’ve cautioned her and she won’t be doing it any longer.

“We are so far from racist here,” he said. “If we were, why would we hire these people in the first place? We have a multicultural organization here with people from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds. It’s absolutely not true.”

Suppes said the company “scrambled” to provide service on Wednesday night and again Thursday, but was meeting demand.

“The fortunate part is that we’re getting to a time of the year where it’s getting to be less busy,” he said.

“If we have to, we’ll get some new drivers.”

The drivers had a bevy of complaints ranging from how the taxi industry is regulated to hiring practices to being told to fill up with gas at United Group stations, which Suppes defended as “good business.”

Muzaffar called for a city-run taxi commission made up of company representatives, drivers and members of the public to deal with licensing and enforcement of the industry.