I have just read about how Terri-Lynne McClintic, the murderer and accomplice to the rape – the rape! – of eight-year old Tori Stafford – has been transferred to a low-security “healing lodge” where, it is assumed by Correctional Services Canada, she will receive better “aboriginal” treatment and rehabilitation/healing than in a regular prison.
This blog is excerpted from Chapter Twelve of my book The Trouble With Canada … Still! (2010), and is sub-titled: “Hug-a-Thug, and Justice Be Damned.”
Sadly, nothing much has changed since then. The scandal of so-called “Restorative Justice” and Native “healing” is described only briefly here. But In a future blog I may expand on both.
This part of the chapter is adapted, from Michael Harris’s book Con Game (2003), a must read for anyone concerned for what he says is “the Truth About Canada’s Prisons.”
In his book, Michael wrote: “Canada’s prison system is a place where criminal behaviour is rarely altered, true recidivism rates are hidden from the public, and the so-called “restorative justice model” is embraced with all the fanaticism of a cult so sure of its philosophy that it is openly hostile to criticism and reform.”
Michael currently holds the Irving Chair of Journalism at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick.
On average, Canadian criminals serve 32% of their sentence before day parole, and just under 40% before full parole. Non-violent federal offenders who qualify for “accelerated parole review” may be paroled after serving only one-sixth of their sentence. For most of us who assumed that a sentence was handed down because it was deserved, the reality seems to be – justice defeated.
Some 64% of prisoners have not finished high school, 30% did not complete grade 8, and on standard literacy tests, the average prisoner scores at grade 7.5 level. Inmates retain all the rights of ordinary citizens (why, is a mystery, as they have by their actions attacked society). At institutions like Fenbrook, in Gravenhurst Ontario, inmates can buy their own TVs and for a small fee can watch restricted movies on HBO or Cinemac. They can also subscribe to over 15 pornographic magazines. In 2000, 528 inmates at a Saskatchewan penitentiary were treated to a New Year’s “pizza and porn” party organized by the unit managers, who organized the food and piped the porn over the prison’s closed circuit T.V. There were 128 sex offenders in that prison enjoying all this. In 2002 the Sun newspaper chain reported a prison party which included tree-climbing and swimming naked while other inmates BBQed the filet mignon steaks.
All Canadian prisons have a very serious drug problem, and 80% of the drugs are taken “in the front door” by visitors, who due to Charter restrictions are difficult to search properly. A 2000 Warden’s memo recommended searching visitors in “a non-intrusive way.” But drugs are smuggled in any available body cavity, even baby diapers (children are never searched). One favorite is swallowing a condom filled with cocaine, tied with dental floss to a tooth. During the visit, it is pulled up and delivered. In 1999 guards seized 2.2 kilograms of cocaine, 164 grams of opiates, 5.4 kilograms of cannabis, and 1,916 gallons of “brew” (home-made alcohol). Visitors sue prisons at the first opportunity for personal search infringements, and if from a minority race, they sue for racial insult, too. One visitor was arrested for trying to smuggle in $51,000 worth of pain killers.
Due to such Charter blockades, many drug dealers say they make more inside the prisons than outside. At Joyceville prison, 24% were intravenous drug users, and a quarter of those started their drug habit in prison (guards are often pricked by infectious needles). Although official policy is zero tolerance for drugs – and sex – in Canada’s prisons, Harris’s book mentions many prison memos alerting inmates to the dangers of drugs, or that a cyanide-laced drug may be circulating, and about clean needle policy. Prisons also distribute condoms and safe-sex guides (HIV/AIDS levels in prison are ten times those outside), clean needles, and bleach kits. Two thirds don’t use condoms, and many share needles. If the drug use to which inmates are accustomed is threatened at all, they react with threats of major riots. One guard said that notwithstanding official policy, the real policy on drugs and alcohol is “tolerance and appeasement.” In blind inmate surveys, 40% admitted having used drugs in prison. [in 2009, violent offender Wade Gunoff, who was jailed for three years for beating and permanently disabling a 61 year-old man, and who had already tested positive for drugs five times while in prison, told the Parole Board that he “won’t quit smoking marijuana until he is freed from jail” National Post, Dec. 11, 2009].
As for aboriginal offenders? The story is horrendous, as mentioned. Canada’s justice system has responded to the aboriginal penal disaster by going aboriginal itself: there is now something akin to a separate system of justice for aboriginals in Canada, that “ensures spiritual and cultural needs are addressed” during the criminal’s “healing journey,” [which is accomplished by means of the “Restorative Justice,” or RJ methods I will describe in a future blog]. Harris opines that Canada has never had a unified “aboriginal culture,” so the correctional cocktail of native spirituality and customs actually “has corrupted native tribal traditions rather than incorporated them into correctional programs.”
At any rate, along with all this special attention to presumed cultural roots (we really have no idea how genuine or nominal the “spirituality” of the average aboriginal is), there are infuriating instances of racial bias trickling down from the top: in April of 1999 Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that a lower court had not paid sufficient attention to the “nativeness” of killer Jamie Gladue, and suggested that natives should be judged in different ways from the rest of us. Result? Jamie served only six months for manslaughter. This has resulted in what Harris rightly calls “a racially based, two-tier justice system” [it’s an extension of Canada’s aboriginal apartheid/reserve system]. Some native reserves now sign custody contracts with CSC and take their criminals – even their first degree murderers – home, even when they have first been sent to the white man’s prison without any right of parole. In 1994, native offender Susanne Riley got herself into a healing circle and never served a single day in prison for murdering her common-law husband.
As for that other special class of criminals – Women? There are just under 500 women in federal prisons, and just over 500 serving time in the community. About 28% of female prisoners are serving sentences for murder. Harris reports that for the most part they are treated not as criminals, but as “social victims.” The trend has been to get women out of prison and into the community insofar as safely possible. Short of that, we have built them very expensive community-style minimum security “living-unit” prisons where they enjoy group housing in cottages (where they are called “clients” rather than prisoners) and do their own shopping, cooking, learning and laundry, etc. and more or less decide on how their lives will be run while serving time. Karla Homolka cooked her own food, wore the clothes she liked (it is hard to tell guards, who do not wear uniforms at such prisons, from prisoners) wandered the grounds of her “prison” freely, and participated in fun-loving birthday parties. (When being transferred she was flown more than once on private RCMP planes at a tag of $20,000 per flight). This RJ approach – where the emphasis is on rehabilitation and “healing” rather than on punishment – was a fiasco at the new Edmonton Institution for Women where, in the first six months, there were assaults on staff, one inmate was murdered by another, suicide attempts, “and seven escapes of medium and maximum security inmates within eighteen days.” Drug use and needle-sharing is rampant at Edmonton. In 2001 twelve of 68 inmates tested positive for HIV/AIDS, and fifty for Hepatitis C (as deadly).
As for human rights? They apply rigidly to all prisoners, under something called the U.N.’s “Tokyo Rules” that mandate member nations to give prisoners all normal human rights. In 2002 Canada’s Supreme Court, without authority of Parliament, granted prisoners the right to vote in federal elections, but as Harris points out, the judges “saw no contradiction in allowing the people who break the country’s most serious laws to have a say in electing those who make them.” Guards are another story. Their rights seem wholly ignored. They are routinely physically and verbally attacked and threatened. Inmates get away with a myriad of crimes against each other and against guards which, Harris writes, “would be the subject of civil and criminal proceedings” if they happened anywhere else. So much for the “Con Game.”