We’re abusing people in jail, and a Nova Scotia judge is taking note.
In June, I wrote about the terrible case of Thomas Downey, who had filed a habeas corpus with the court. Supreme Court Justice Christa Brothers ultimately rejected Downey’s application, but her decision underscored how Downey had suffered in custody:
Downey was jailed on Feb. 17, and convicted on March 13, sentenced to 165 days in jail, so will be released on Aug. 24, although with good behaviour could leave as early as today [June 30]. On the day he entered the jail he was 36 years old, 5 foot 4.5 inches tall, and weighed 135 pounds.
Downey has not violated any jail rules, but he’s been repeatedly confined to his cell for long periods — not because of any disciplinary record against him, but rather because the jail is short-staffed; without enough guards, it becomes a safety issue to have prisoners congregating together on the range.
As a result, Downey has had very little time in daylight, very limited social interaction with other prisoners, and hasn’t been able to telephone his lawyer. He additionally hasn’t been able to shower much, and often when he does, he has to put back on the same filthy clothes he was wearing before he showered.
“He is not being treated differently or more harshly than anyone else in custody at CNSCF,” notes Brothers. But, she continued:
Mr. Downey testified that he finds it difficult because he is not able to exercise. He said he is stressed because he cannot talk to his family, and he cannot contact or see a doctor. He has been attempting to see a healthcare professional but has never been seen. He testified that he feels that the lockdowns are almost every day, and the situation is very difficult on his mental health.
Downey himself testified that:
I’m 36 years old. I have never, ever in my life reached 200 pounds. Just sitting in the cell eating, laying down, eating, laying down, I weigh 210 pounds. That’s because I’m not exercising. I have never ever weighed 200 pounds or more.
Mark that: in four months, Downey has gained 75 pounds.
Although Mr. Downey’s application cannot succeed, it has given the court the opportunity to express its deep concern about the routine use of rotational lockdowns to respond to staffing challenges at CNSCF. I accept that these lockdowns are having a detrimental impact on the health and wellbeing of the people in custody. These individuals are being confined to their cells for reasons that are outside their control. They never know from one day to the next how much time they will get outside of their cells, as the decision is made each morning when the unit captains arrive for their shifts. There is nothing that a person in custody can do to earn more time outside of their cell. This situation adds an extra layer of stress and anxiety to the day-to-day experience of persons in custody and staff, and can increase tensions in the dayrooms, as reported by D/S Ross [Deputy Superintendent Brad Ross].
When courts sentence offenders to prison, they do so with the hope that those individuals can rehabilitate themselves and successfully reintegrate into the community. That is the premise of our criminal justice system. Confining persons in custody – many of whom may have pre-existing mental health issues – to their cells for exorbitant periods of time does nothing to assist and support their rehabilitation. Mr. Downey provided persuasive evidence of the toll this is taking on his mental and physical health. Even a person with robust mental health would find it challenging to be regularly confined to a cell, often for more than 20 hours per day, with little notice and no ability to earn more time out. This practice is dehumanizing, and it is setting these individuals up to fail. They deserve better.
Staffing issues at CNSCF have been ongoing for over three years. I was provided with very limited information on this application concerning concrete steps being taken to alleviate the staffing shortage. While I accept that administrators like D/S Ross are doing the best they can with the available staff, this is cold comfort to Mr. Downey and others who have recently filed habeas corpus applications in relation to the rotational lockdowns at CNSCF. Nor will they find comfort in the fact that their onerous conditions of confinement are no more restrictive than those faced by their peers in protective custody and general population.
The court has no power on this application to order the government to increase its efforts to hire and retain more staff. That said, there are striking similarities between the conditions of confinement at CNSCF during rotational lockdowns and those that were held to constitute cruel and unusual treatment in Trang, supra [an Alberta case that found the extended use of close confinement had severe mental health effects on prisoners]. If creative and effective measures to hire and retain staff are not pursued, there may come a day when, in a suitable procedural context, the court can provide some form of remedy.
That was four months ago. Last week, Brothers ruled on another habeas application, this one submitted by a prisoner named Anthony Scott Haynes.
Haynes had filed his petition himself, scratching it with pencil on paper, but was eventually represented by lawyers Leslie Hogg and Harry Critchley. Such is the byzantine system of incarceration in Nova Scotia that the lawyers weren’t able to find, much less communicate with, their client for several months, but the case did eventually find its way to Justice Brothers.
And once again, Brothers ruled that because he wasn’t being treated any differently than the rest of the prisoners in the jail, there was no relief she could grant Haynes.
Brothers reviewed Haynes’ situation:
Haynes is on remand at the CNSCF [Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, i.e., the Burnside jail]. He was admitted to the facility on December 31, 2021. He is currently housed in West 2, an open protective custody dayroom. There are 32 cells in West 2. Fourteen of those cells, including Haynes’s cell, have the capacity to hold 2 people. The maximum capacity is 46 people and there were 46 people housed in the unit at the time of this application.
Haynes filed an application for habeas corpus on May 8, 2023, alleging that he is being deprived of his liberty by CNSCF’s frequent use of rotational lockdowns. Haynes testified that rotational lockdowns began in the summer of 2022, and carried on into 2023, starting in April. He said there have been a total of 89 days since December 31, 2021, where he has had less than two hours outside the cell, and that there have been days where he has not been let out at all. Haynes testified that he was expecting another summer of lockdowns.
Additionally, Haynes alleged that he is not being offered time in the airing court.
In the Notice, Haynes sought “punitive damages”, and to “make change so others don’t have to suffer, such as I”. It was explained to Mr. Haynes that the only remedy available on an application for habeas corpus is an order that he be released from the conditions of confinement referred to in the Notice if the AGNS could not justify any impact on his residual liberties.
CNSCF’s use of rotational lockdowns in the face of staffing shortages was a recurring theme in Crownside habeas corpus applications in May and June 2023. The use of these rotational lockdowns and their impact on those in custody have now been addressed by this court on numerous occasions.
The jail doesn’t dispute any of the allegations Haynes made. Deputy Superintendent Rachel Critchley — no relation, so far as I know, to Haynes’ lawyer Harry Critchley — testified that ideally prisoners would be let out of their cells and into the common ranges for a total of 12 hours per day — from 7am to noon, from 1:30pm to 5:30pm, and again from 7pm to 10pm — but staff shortages have caused management to implement rotating lockdowns throughout the jail.
DS Critchley testified that rotational lockdowns are implemented throughout the facility in response to inadequate staffing. The unit captains start their shifts at 6:00 am and learn what the staffing complement will be for the day…
DS Critchley added that it is more difficult to have sufficient staffing numbers from Monday to Friday because staff are required for court appearances, programs, medical clinics, and so on. She said they cannot pull resources away from those areas to move staff to the units to unlock. On days where there is insufficient staffing to unlock the units, CNSCF implements rolling rotations or unlocks. These rotational lockdowns are not designed as punishment and have no disciplinary purpose. The goal is to implement the least restrictive lockdown possible while maintaining the safety and security of inmates and staff…
There was not much evidence provided in terms of what is being done to alleviate the staffing issues. DS Critchley testified that new staff were scheduled to start within the next two weeks. She said it was possible that West 2 would be fully unlocked that week, adding that it had been fully unlocked at times during the previous week. She conceded, however, that staffing is more difficult in the summer due to staff vacations.
On cross-examination, DS Critchley acknowledged that there have been days where inmates have been given less than two hours outside their cell. She further agreed that there have been days where inmates have gotten no time outside of their cells, but she added that it is an uncommon occurrence.
DS Critchley acknowledged that rotational lockdowns impose additional stress on individuals in custody, as well as on staff members. She stated that any time that individuals are forced to spend extra time in their cells, confined with another person not of their choosing, it can lead to tension growing in the dayroom. According to DS Critchley, it is never their desire to put people in confinement for longer than necessary. The staff are trying to manage the facility as best they can with the staff that they have.
I should add that being released from their cells into the common day room isn’t much of an improvement. I was given a tour of the new North Unit day room before it opened and so got a sense for just how confining it is.
Prisoners — about half of whom are awaiting trial, which is to say they aren’t guilty of anything — can sit together and play games or watch TV. There are four phones on the wall so prisoners can call loved ones (who pay exorbitantly for the calls). And that’s about it.
Oh, the “airing court”? Give up all notions of the “yard” that you see in prisoner movies, the giant expanse where prisoners walk around together and play basketball, bordered by wide steps where cigarette deals are made. The airing court is a irregular quadrilateral patch of grass about the size of one end of a basketball court. It is completely surrounded by two-storey stone walls, and is topped with wire fencing as a roof. My understanding is that on the best of days, two people are allowed out at once for an hour, but typically, the prisoner is by himself. All they’re doing is getting a bit of natural sunlight.
Which is to say, even the best conditions at the jail are terrible. But confined to their cells for days at a time is particularly torturous, stuck with someone you probably don’t like, with little room to even pace back and forth, a stinking shared toilet, no natural light, no distractions of any kind.
“The most I can do in this matter is to, once again, express my deep concern about the frequent use of rotational to deal with staffing issues at CNSCF,” wrote Brothers. “The rotational lockdowns are obviously having an impact on the health and wellbeing of people in custody.”
Ostensibly, some reasonable steps are being taken by administrators of the CNSCF to respond to staffing issues. It is clear that they are doing the best they can with the amount of staff they are given. But, this is really not good enough. People are suffering more restrictive conditions of confinement which are unrelated to their own conduct. Each day, those in custody do not know how much time they will be getting out of their cell, if any. It is all dependent on staffing levels. There are requirements for how we treat people in custody, and subjecting them to lockdowns for reasons that are out of their control is quite concerning, and not reflective of how those in custody be treated.
This was the situation at the jail when I reported on Oct. 23 that a prisoner had died at the jail. A Department of Justice spokesperson informed me that:
We can confirm that an individual in custody at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth was found unresponsive in their cell early Monday morning. First aid was immediately rendered but unfortunately the individual had passed.
Imagine being confined to your cell, not being allowed into the day room, and your cellmate dies next to you. There is no doubt that the other prisoner will be scarred mentally.
I’m still trying to learn more about the circumstances around that death and issues related to it. Suffice it to say that the Department of Justice has told me that multiple reports I’ve heard about the situation are not true. I’ll keep on it.
And what of staffing levels?
Burnside is just one of the province’s jails. Another large jail is the Northeast Correctional Facility in Pictou. And over the last few days, 10 prisoners at that jail have filed habeas corpus petitions. As Pictou is outside of the Halifax Supreme Court’s administrative area, it’s more difficult for me to get access to those petitions, so I haven’t yet read them. But typically when a large number of prisoners file habeas petitions all at once, it reflects system-wide lockdowns of the sort that Justice Brothers has been commenting on at Burnside.
Let’s review: Through no fault of their own, prisoners are being locked into their cells, with little to no ability to speak or socialize with other prisoners, phone their families, or connect with lawyers. They have very little access to direct sunlight, and limited use of showers. They’re unwell both physically and mentally, and their conditions worsen the longer they’re locked into their cells. There’s no hope that even being a “model prisoner” will lead to any improvement.
A Supreme Court judge repeatedly notices the situation and decries it in the only way she can, via published decisions that are largely unreported and otherwise ignored. And into that unrelenting atmosphere of despair and hopelessness, a prisoner actually drops dead. Yet even then, the death itself isn’t even reported outside of this publication, nothing changes, and prisoners continue to cry out in pain.
What the hell kind of society are we?
Forget justice. Justice was left by the side of the road aeons ago. It’s clear that collectively we’re perfectly OK with abusing prisoners.
But what do we expect will become of these men, the ones that don’t die in custody? They’ll return to the community one day, broken mentally and physically, having learned hopelessness. There will be no path to normalcy, much less healing.
Should we at all be surprised if at least some of them bring dysfunction to their families and communities, and become the nexus for continually spreading harm?
2. Bill 329
Tim Houston’s government was elected in the summer of 2021 on a promise to fix health care, fix health care, fix health care. Remember? Health care was going to be Job 1 all the time for all time until it was fixed. (We could — but won’t — consider today just how well that file has gone for the Houston Tories.)
Instead, some more context for Bill 329. The PCs were still celebrating their election day victory when Halifax police violently moved in on a downtown Halifax homeless encampment, instantly forcing the issue of affordable housing onto the provincial agenda. Ever since, Houston’s government has been playing catchup on an issue it had barely campaigned on or thought much about.
One more thing. Despite winning a majority in the provincial House of Assembly, the reality is that the PCs did not win a single seat in metro Halifax in the 2021 general election.
Metro Halifax, of course, is where the housing crisis is most acute.
And Halifax is where the provincial government decided to insert itself, unasked and unwelcome, by introducing this sweeping legislative power grab.
This item is written by Suzanne Rent.
Health care administrative professionals in Nova Scotia have a new contract.
According to a press release from the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union (NSGEU) on Friday, 77% of administrative professionals voted in favour of the contract.
The new contract includes cumulative wage increases totaling between 15.15 to 22.75% over five years, wage adjustments of 6.5% over the first three years of the agreement, and increased premiums for shift and weekend work.
“It is important to note, however, that even with the significant financial gains achieved here, there are members of this bargaining unit who will still be earning less than what is considered to be a living wage, and we will be looking to rectify that during the next round of bargaining,” the NSGEU news release said.
The 5,000 health care administrative professionals had been without a contract since Oct. 31, 2020. They rejected a tentative agreement in April and in June voted to strike.
The workers held rallies across Nova Scotia in September. Unions were called back to the bargaining table on Oct. 11.
In September, NSGEU president Sandra Mullen told the Examiner some of the workers were making as little as $18 per hour, and many workers had second jobs.
“You don’t have to go far to see what’s happening with housing here. So how do you come to these jobs with the wage that they’ve been offered and with the cost of living here in Halifax?
“The Bayers Lake Outpatient Community Centre is scheduled to open November 20,” reports Jennifer Henderson:
The McNeil government came under fire in 2017 when the government paid $7.5 million, well above market value, to purchase the Bayers Lake land from Banc Developments, owned by Basim Halef.
(Sound familiar? In 2022, the Houston government paid $34 million for a half-finished West Bedford hotel on Hogan Court that is being renovated to house patients occupying hospital beds while waiting for long-term or alternative care. Lindsay Construction has been hired to oversee that renovation for a management fee of $67,300 a month plus HST. It’s expected to open early in 2024)
5. Highway tragedy
An RCMP release:
Cumberland County District RCMP is investigating a fatal collision that occurred on Hwy. 2 in Fort Lawrence.
On October 21, 2023, at approximately 10:05 p.m., Cumberland County District RCMP, fire and EHS, responded to a report of a two-vehicle collision on Hwy. 2 in Fort Lawrence. RCMP officers learned that an SUV and a car had been travelling on Hwy. 2 when they collided. The SUV came to rest on its side and the car came to rest in the road.
There were four people in the SUV at the time of the collision, a 21-year-old woman, a 26-year-old man, a 43-year-old woman and a 2-month old infant. The infant, man and 43-year-old woman were all pronounced deceased at the scene. The 21-year-old woman suffered serious injuries and was transported to hospital by ambulance.
There were two people in the car at the time of the collision, a 19-year-old woman and a 24-year-old man. The woman suffered serious injuries and the man suffered minor injuries. Both transported to hospital by ambulance.
Executive Standing Committee (Monday, 10am, City Hall and online) — agenda
Law Amendments (Monday, 12pm, One Government Place and online)— more info here
Legislature sits — 1pm
Brass and Percussion Noon Hour (Monday, 11:45am, Joseph Strug Concert Hall) — free performance by students of the Fountain School of Performing Arts
Zazen: Instruction and Practice (Monday, 7pm, King’s College Chapel) — more info here
I3V Seminar Series (Tuesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — Dr. Stuart Turvey from the University of British Columbia will talk
2023 Stanfield Conversation: “Can democracies meet the challenge of climate change?”
(Tuesday 7pm, Joseph Strug Concert Hall) — With featured speakers Megan Leslie, Naheed Nenshi, and Mark Jaccard will talk about Megan Leslie, Naheed Nenshi. More info here
In the harbour
06:00: Caribbean Princess, cruise ship with up to 3,756 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Quebec City, on a 12-day cruise from Quebec City to Fort Lauderdale
07:30: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
08:00: Pacific Fortitude, cargo ship, sail from Pier 9 for Fort Lauderdale
08:00: GPO Emerald, heavy lifter, sails from IEL for sea
09:00: Insignia, cruise ship with up to 800 passengers, arrives at Pier 20 from Saint John, on an 11-day cruise from Boston to Montreal
09:00: One Crane, container ship (144,285 tonnes), arrives at Pier 41 from Norfolk
09:00: Atlantic Swordfish, barge, moves from IEL to Imperial Oil
10:00: Orion, crane ship, sails from IEL for sea
12:00: AlgoBerta, oil tanker, moves from Imperial Oil to anchorage
14:00: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Philipsburg, St. Croix
14:30: Caribbean Princess sails for Portland
15:30: Atlantic Sky sails for New York
17:45: Insignia sails for Sydney
23:00: Gotland, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 27 from Moa, Cuba
23:00: NYK Constellation, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint John
05:00: Phoenix Admiral, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for New York
06:00: NordLotus, oil tanker, arrives at EverWind from Tees, England
17:00: Bahama Spirit, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea
I’m not sure when Justice Arnold will issue his decision with regard to the publication ban. I don’t expect it to take long, tho.