Group calls for criminal probe after Edmonton Institution prisoners allegedly ‘cut off’ medications, thrown in solitary

Group calls for criminal probe after Edmonton Institution prisoners allegedly ‘cut off’ medications, thrown in solitary

Author of the article:

Jonny Wakefield

Edmonton Institution is a federal maximum security facility.
Edmonton Institution is a federal maximum security facility. Photo by File photo /Postmedia

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Edmonton police have been asked to investigate claims that inmates in the city’s maximum security prison are being denied medications and unlawfully placed in solitary confinement.

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On Wednesday, the John Howard Society of Canada penned a letter to police chief Dale McFee pressing for an investigation into conditions at Edmonton Institution, the maximum security men’s facility located in the city’s northeast.

The society’s executive director, Catherine Latimer, said they have received reports from inmates describing maltreatment in medical care and in the use of solitary confinement. She says police need to look into the allegations to determine if criminal charges are warranted against facility staff and management.

Latimer said it is common to hear complaints from prisoners who have been taken off previously prescribed medication. Sometimes this is done for cost reasons, or concerns that an inmate might be diverting the drugs for non-prescribed use.

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However, “in some cases it looks like (staff) would just do it as sort of an informal way of punishing the prisoners,” Latimer said in an interview. “That’s the one that concerns me the most.”

Edmonton Institution, a Correctional Service Canada (CSC) facility built to house around 300 prisoners, has long been the subject of complaints from both inmates and staff.

In 2017, federal corrections investigator Ivan Zinger criticized the facility’s “toxic” workplace, after employees made reports of bullying, abuse and sexual harassment at the hands of other staff members. Eleven staff quit, were fired or suspended in the wake of the revelations. A correctional officer was charged with sexually assaulting a colleague, though the charge was ultimately withdrawn.

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In 2019, Postmedia revealed the results of an internal workplace survey which found a total of 17 employees had allegedly been sexually assaulted by a co-worker. The following year, Zinger said the toxic workplace culture at the facility persisted despite CSC’s efforts to root out the problem.

In her Wednesday letter, Latimer said John Howard staff have spoken with inmates who claim they have been “cut off” from medications for serious health conditions “including, but not limited to, diabetes and asthma.” She said if proven, this could be a breach of the correctional service’s legal obligation to provide inmates with the necessaries of life.

One inmate for whom the John Howard Society have been advocating has since been restored his medication, Latimer said. She said it should not be a case that an inmate has to be a “squeaky wheel” to receive their medicine.

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Latimer also expressed concerns about Edmonton Institution’s use of solitary confinement, which the United Nations defines as confinement for at least 22 hours a day without “meaningful” human contact. Many prisoners in both the federal and provincial systems have experienced longer lockups during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CSC recently phased out solitary confinement, which it calls administrative segregation, in favour of “structured intervention units” (SIUs) designed to provide less time in cells and more human contact for problematic prisoners.

However, Latimer says Edmonton Max prisoners “have repeatedly asserted that officials are practising prolonged solitary confinement within the SIUs, providing prisoners with only 30 minutes outside of their cells each day for weeks on end.”

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The Criminal Code and international law consider this a form of torture, she said.

In a statement, CSC said they are reviewing the allegations. “The health and safety of inmates is a top priority for CSC and we take any allegation of mistreatment of inmates seriously,” said spokesperson Kelly Sumeraj. “CSC has a legislative mandate to provide every inmate with essential health care, including mental health care, in keeping with professionally accepted standards. We take this very seriously.”

Edmonton police spokeswoman Cheryl Sheppard said police have received the letter and are “looking into it.”

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