By Blog of Lists - Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - 0 Comments
It opened in 1835, and though it was men-only in recent years, it used to have women and even child inmates. The prison is slated to close by 2015.
1. Grace Marks: Employed as a maid, 16-year-old Marks was convicted in 1843 of murdering her boss Thomas Kinnear and his pregnant housekeeper, who was also his mistress. Because of her age and gender, Marks was sentenced to life behind bars, while her accomplice, stable hand James McDermott, was hanged. She was pardoned in 1873 and moved to New York state. Her life was the inspiration for Margaret Atwood’s 1996 novel, Alias Grace.
2. Marie-Anne Houde: In 1920, Houde and her husband were arrested after an autopsy on the body of her 11-year-old stepdaughter, Aurore Gagnon, revealed 54 wounds that “could only have been the result of the blows to the child’s body.” Rumours swirled that Houde was also involved in the death of Aurore’s younger brother and mother, since she had been living in the house at the time and married the father a week after his wife’s passing. Houde was sentenced to hang, but the execution was delayed so she could give birth. On July 8, she gave birth to twins. A wave of public pity coupled with a clemency campaign paid off two days before she was scheduled to die in Quebec City, when her sentence was reduced to life in prison and she was sent to Kingston. Today, Aurore Gagnon, known as “Aurore the martyred child,” remains a popular icon in Quebec.
3. Norman ‘Red’ Ryan: Also known as “Canada’s Jessie James,” Ryan was a career criminal, first charged with theft at the age of 12 in 1907. By 17, he was serving his first of many stints in Kingston for “shooting with intent.” At the outbreak of the First World War, he enlisted rather than face decades in prison but soon returned to his old ways. By the early 1920s he was an enthusiastic bank robber. Along with a gang of prisoners, he escaped from the pen and went on a crime spree that ended in Minneapolis. After returning to the pen, he became a model prisoner, and with the support of prime minister R.B Bennett and MP Agnes Macphail, Ryan was paroled in 1935. After his release he hosted a radio show denouncing crime and advocating prison reform. In 1936, he was killed outside a liquor store in Sarnia, Ont., after a botched armed robbery attempt.
4. Tim Buck: As the general secretary of the Communist Party of Canada, he was convicted of “Communist agitation” in 1931 and lived in the Kingston Penitentiary from 1932-34. Buck was involved in the violent riot in 1932 that lasted six days. During the chaos, at least five bullets were fired into his cell. Later, the government admitted that the shots were a deliberate attempt to “frighten” Buck.
5. Edwin Boyd: By the time of his incarceration in the 1950s, Boyd was a celebrity. The leader of his own bank robbing crew, the Torontonian had achieved folk-hero status after several well-executed bank heists and two successful breakouts of the Don Jail. He spent a decade in the Kingston prison. In 2011, Canadian actor Scott Speedman stared as Boyd in the movie Citizen Gangster based on his life.
6. Roger Caron: A career criminal and prison escape artist, Caron wrote several books describing his experiences in prison. Go-Boy! Memories of a Life Behind Bars won him the 1978 Governor General’s Literary Award for non-fiction.
7. Wayne Clifford Boden: Known as the “Vampire Rapist” because he bit the breasts of his victims, Boden was sentenced to three life sentences for the rape and murder of three women in Montreal and a high school teacher in Calgary. For the first time in North American history, the Crown used forensic odontological evidence to convict him. Boden began his sentence in 1972 and died of skin cancer in 2006.
8. Clifford Olson: Convicted of killing 11 children, Olson spent 10 years—from 1982 to 1992—in the pen, which he called a “rat hole.” He was often in trouble. In 1990, he was charged with possessing eight grams of hashish while in isolation. Two years later, he was caught hiding a handcuff key in his rectum and had his telephone privileges cut due to phone “abuse.” After a broom handle was found in his cell, he was moved to a prison in Saskatchewan. Olson died from cancer in 2011 at the age of 71.
9. Paul Bernardo: Since his conviction in 1995 for the murders of teenagers Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, Bernardo has been in segregation, locked in an eight-foot-by-four-foot cell for 23 hours a day for his own safety. Shortly after his imprisonment, he confessed to a series of sexual assaults that terrorized the Toronto suburb of Scarborough.
10. Russell Williams: In 2010, the former air force commander of CFB Trenton pleaded guilty to 88 criminal offences, including the murders of Corp. Marie-France Comeau and Jessica Lloyd. He was given an automatic sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years.
Sources: The Trials of James McDermott and Grace Marks, (1843); Dictionary of Canadian Biography; Canadian Encyclopedia; Maclean’s; New York Times; CBC; Owen Sound Sun Times; Kingston Whig Standard; The Worker; Toronto Sun
Have you ever wondered which cities have the most bars, smokers, absentee workers and people searching for love? What about how Canada compares to the world in terms of the size of its military, the size of our houses and the number of cars we own? The answers to all those questions, and many more, can be found in the first ever Maclean’s Book of Lists.
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By Aaron Wherry - Friday, August 24, 2012 at 12:05 PM - 0 Comments
Edward Greenspan and Anthony Doob get tough on the Harper government’s “tough on crime” approach to justice policy.
Imprisoning a few thousand more people may prevent the few street crimes they might have committed had they not been incarcerated, but what about the impact of imprisonment on the chances of their reoffending after release? The data comparing recidivism rates for former inmates with those for offenders given non-prison punishments demonstrates conclusively that incarceration does not decrease reoffending. In fact, for some offenders — notably those sent to prison for the first time — it may increase it. Averting a few crimes while convicts serve their sentences in prison doesn’t help if more crimes are committed when they are released.
But this is not about policy; it’s about politics. Advocating for “tough on offenders” bills makes for good bumper stickers and sound bites, even if it violates one of the government’s economic principles: that public money should not be spent on programs that do not advance its stated goals. Keeping a single inmate in federal penitentiary costs about $117,000 per year; a provincial inmate about $58,000. Money spent on incarceration is money not spent on services (the police, education, public health, and so on) that the evidence suggests would be more effective at reducing crime.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Last week, the NDP criticized Conservative Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu after Mr. Boisvenu suggested convicted murders be given rope and allowed to decide for themselves whether they wanted to live. Pat Martin referred to the Senator using a bad word.
On Monday, Conservative MP Greg Rickford rose before Question Period and reported those events to the House as follows.
The NDP wants to silence victims, urging a well-known victims’ advocate to stop speaking out about Canada’s justice system.
Mr. Martin has now apologized for his curse.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, December 9, 2011 at 10:03 AM - 13 Comments
A former Progressive Conservative MP and Justice Department advisor says the government’s crime legislation will lead to worsening conditions in prisons.
Mr. Daubney said that, since the mid-2000s, the Justice Department has asked for less and less research to be undertaken and typically ignores recommendations against policies such as mandatory minimum sentences or prison expansion. “It is kind of sad that I have to do this, but somebody has to take the risk of talking,” Mr. Daubney said. “I feel sad for my colleagues who are still there. It was clear the government wasn’t interested in what the research said or in evidence that was quite convincingly set out.”
By Patricia Treble - Tuesday, November 22, 2011 at 10:05 AM - 0 Comments
A pre-dawn visit to the city’s penitentiary uncovers 19 prostitutes, two peacocks, and 100 plasma TVs
Prisoners at Acapulco’s penitentiary didn’t have time to clean house when more than 500 Mexican police officers paid their residence an unannounced pre-dawn visit last week in order to move 60 inmates to other correctional facilities. In addition to 100 plasma TVs, video games and two bags stuffed with marijuana, the officials also discovered 19 prostitutes, two peacocks and six female inmates in the men’s section. As if the place wasn’t crowded enough, more than 100 cockerels, used for popular cockfights, were found on the premises, as well as two peacocks—described as “pets” by Guerrero state spokesman Arturo Martinez.
Acapulco is in the midst of a violent crime wave as rival drug gangs battle for control of the area. Recently, a human rights commission accused the prison, along with others in the state, of being controlled by inmates. It isn’t alone. In July, detainees in the Cereso Hermosillo jail in Sonora state were caught selling $15 rafﬂe tickets for a one-in-200 chance of using a cell fitted out with air conditioning, a full kitchen including appliances, as well as a comfortable bed and even a private toilet.
By Barbara Amiel - Tuesday, November 15, 2011 at 11:00 AM - 5 Comments
Email allows inmates who have never written much more than a bad cheque or dodgy prescription to keep in touch with the outside world
The very moment Dr. Conrad Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson, an eager bailiff with an eye for camera angles and posterity handcuffed him while sitting down, in a move that required almost Busby Berkeley choreography to pull off gracefully. There was no reason to handcuff him, but this is a Barnum & Bailey world.
Dr. Murray has had some difficulty with child support payments, but this could be explained by the high cost of wives, seven children (I think) by six mums and the price of a defence team. Television shows him to be a handsome Afro-American man with sombre bearing. His new address will be a local jail and then probably a state prison, which is definitely not a happy address. State prisons are the stepchildren of the American carceral state and rarely have the benefit of extras such as email as in the federal correctional institutions.
Email allows inmates who have never written much more than a bad cheque or dodgy prescription to keep in touch with the outside world, thus maintaining the great tradition of prison belles lettres—and not so belle letters. The current system has dedicated email with no Web access or attachments and limited computer time. Lengthy communications are written on lined paper from the commissary and then typed in frantically. Pulling off The Gulag Archipelago would require a 20-years-to-life sentence.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 4, 2011 at 12:35 PM - 24 Comments
About 13 per cent of the male inmate population is “double-bunked” – housed in cells built for one person – and, under the new legislation, that will increase to 30 per cent (about 15,000 prisoners) before planned new construction is able to “provide relief,” added Sapers.
“Prison over-crowding undermines nearly everything that can be positive or useful about a correctional environment,” he said. “It is linked to increased levels of institutional violence, is a contributing factor to the spread of infectious disease and reduces already limited access to correctional programming and delays the safe and timely reintegration of offenders into the community.”
By Jen Cutts - Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 8:15 AM - 0 Comments
Russian authorities found mafia bosses serving time in three secret, pimped-out rooms
Fish tanks, sofa beds, wood panelling—not quite what you’d expect from a Russian jail cell. So when authorities dropped by prison number 12 unannounced earlier this month, and found mafia bosses serving time in three secret, pimped-out rooms, the prison’s governor was quickly out of a job.
The head of the facility in the Volgograd region had allegedly been collecting rubles for allowing the luxurious cells, and for providing comforts like plasma TVs, imported liquor and Internet access. Framed photographs of notorious Russian criminals were hung on the wall, and a collection of handmade knives was also found. The region’s prison service tried to quiet the scandal with a statement claiming the rooms were for counselling, and that the alcohol discovered was in fact nothing but aftershave.
But Russians have heard it all before. A similar scandal played out in April, when photos were posted online of toga-wearing prisoners celebrating a fellow convict’s birthday with caviar and McDonald’s. For prisoners without connections on the outside, Russia’s penal system—recently likened to Stalin’s gulags by the country’s justice minister—is much tougher to endure. The fact that Russia is second only to the U.S. in how many of its citizens are jailed likely isn’t helping.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 9:30 AM - 40 Comments
Terry Milewski travels to Texas to compare crime policy here and there.
Adds Rep. Jerry Madden, a conservative Republican who heads the Texas House Committee on Corrections, “It’s a very expensive thing to build new prisons and, if you build ‘em, I guarantee you they will come. They’ll be filled, OK? Because people will send them there. ”But, if you don’t build ‘em, they will come up with very creative things to do that keep the community safe and yet still do the incarceration necessary.”
By Kenneth Whyte - Monday, September 12, 2011 at 10:25 AM - 5 Comments
On scrubbing showers, navigating the prison economy and getting used to sleeping alone
Q: I want to go back to something near the start of your troubles. Peter C. Newman predicted that you would get 15 years in jail, that you would be raped in prison, and that your wife Barbara Amiel would leave you and return to London for her fifth husband. Did he hit the mark on any of that?
A: No, he was rather wide of the mark on all of those. He missed completely on the last two. Where I was—there is practically no violence in this particular prison, and there certainly wasn’t anywhere around me or with anyone that I dealt with. The only homosexual activity is voluntary, and however much of it there is, it isn’t oppressive, and is not otherwise unconsensual. But on the first point, as you know there were 17 counts and four of them were not proceeded with; nine were rejected by the jurors, and the remaining four were vacated unanimously by the U.S. Supreme Court. Two of them were spuriously retrieved by the appellant panel that the Supreme Court excoriated, but in the perverse American manner had been sent back to the same panel for the assessment of the gravity of their own errors. So the grand total that I ultimately will have served is three years, even though anyone reading the relevant transcripts and filings can see that nobody amongst my co-defendants—including myself—broke any laws at all, and none of us would have dreamt of such a thing.
Q: You admit in the book to having missed a shift in the zeitgeist toward higher standards of corporate governance, and I was wondering if that was something you missed as much as didn’t agree with.
A: Well, the two I’m afraid run somewhat together. We had a very long and unbroken record—or practically unbroken—of taking distressed properties and fixing them up, both in quality and in profit level, and that was what our business was, producing quality products profitably. So my objection was this attempt to shunt the discussion with the shareholders into these issues of secondary relevance. On the other hand I must admit—as I did admit in my book—that I should have been more aware of how much shareholder and financial community and financial press attention was at that time already being focused on things like that.
Q: You were extremely worried during this time—it comes out in the book—about your personal financial position. It was the key to your survival and your ability to fight. I had no idea that your access to your wealth really was what was keeping you afloat.
A: Yes. Well, you see, the way the system works is that there are freezes on any trades in securities in companies under the kind of scrutiny that ours were, so you couldn’t realize on that if you wanted to. And then because of the publicity, I couldn’t find anyone to whom I could sell anything, other than a bottom-feeder or a vulture who would try to take advantage of me. All of a sudden, for my purposes, if I was trying to realize any money, nothing had much value, you see? Now, I managed to get ’round that eventually, but it requires a lot of setting things up carefully and moving with less speed and less liquidity than would normally be available, and yet the legal profession in these kinds of things is terribly expensive.
Q: On that note, tell me about Brendan Sullivan.
A: [He was] chairman of the Washington law firm Williams & Conway, and they’ve had a great many famous cases, including the defence of [Bill] Clinton in his impeachment case, and the civil complaints of the Democratic party after the Watergate affair.
Q: And you hired him, paid him about $9 million in fees, and in the end didn’t get a hell of a lot in return for it.
A: I’m afraid that is substantially true.
Q: But how could he charge you so much without really producing anything? He didn’t take your case in the end, did he?
A: No. No, he did not. He’d requested a large retainer of at least $15 million, and in order to be sure that I had that cash ready I sold the co-operative unit that I owned in New York City on Park Avenue. I sold it at quite a respectable profit, and the government was aware of that through, in fact, illegal telephone intercept, as the devices were all discovered when we moved the furniture out of the apartment. Then they, on the basis of a completely spurious FBI affidavit, they represented that I had paid an insufficient amount of money to the company—the company I was chairman of—to buy this apartment. But they got an ex parte proceeding in which a magistrate authorized the seizure of the proceeds of the sale with no notice to me. So the closing came, my counsel were there with the buyer’s counsel, and the FBI did an elephant walk through the room, picked up the cheque. The buyer had my apartment, the government had my money, and I didn’t have anything. And they knew perfectly well that would prevent me paying the retainer to Brendan Sullivan promptly.
Q: Normally I wouldn’t ask somebody about their personal financial position, but you wrote about it, so I was surprised at two or three things. One, most of your assets were in real estate. Why?
A: The largest asset by far was the control position in the company we directed, but that was frozen, and it rapidly deteriorated in value as these vandals with court protection destroyed the companies, wiping out $2 billion of shareholder value. Only about 15 per cent of that was mine.
Q: Is it common for people who build their own companies to have most of their wealth invested in those companies?
A: Yeah, sure, it’s quite common. When people are controlling shareholders that’s often how things are.
Q: At one point in this whole mess, because of your inability to access your wealth you were down to your last hundred thousand dollars. Had you ever, in your adult life, been that strapped before?
A: No. No, and not my last hundred thousand dollars in terms of assets, but everything had to be paid right away. You had no access to credit other than loan sharks, so it was a constant battle to keep enough liquid money around, to pay counsel and, since I had some fairly large homes, they did require some money to operate them. I got through it all, you know. I’m not a poor person today. I certainly am a less well-to-do person than I was, but it’s all right, it’s only money and I can build back from where I am if that’s what I want to do.
Q: By most people’s standards you’re still a wealthy man.
A: By the standards of contemporary fortunes I was never a tremendously wealthy man at the best of times, but I was a wealthy man and I am a less wealthy man now.
Q: So we go through the trial, most of the government’s case is knocked away, but you are convicted on three charges of fraud and one of obstruction of justice, and the latter—the obstruction charge—centres around that video of you coming out of your office with boxes, caught on a security camera, looking furtive, red-handed. What was going on there?
A: The famous picture of my pointing at the camera was that I was saying to my assistant and my driver that I certainly wanted to make sure this was all captured on film because I didn’t want any suggestion of anything surreptitious happening. Even though I technically owned the building where I had had my office for 27 years, one of the Toronto courts said I had to leave the building. We had six business days left, my assistant put some things in boxes, and had asked them to be moved, and then there was an intervention asking that they not be moved from the representative of the court-appointed inspector. So when I arrived later on in the day I spoke to the acting president of the company who said, “That’s fine to move it,” after questioning my assistant about the contents. I knew nothing about the contents, I just asked her if they contravened the order that we were under, and they didn’t. And in fact, everything in there was either totally personal or it was business-related and had already been handed over in complete compliance to five different subpoenas for documents from the United States. Every page we had in there had already been copied and sent away, and so it was a totally innocuous act.
Q: How would you explain, then, the court’s logic convicting you?
A: I think even the defence counsel who represented me on that particular item acknowledged they could have put up a better defence. The film, as you say—I mean, you’ve described it yourself, I suppose, quite accurately—that I appeared to be furtive and red-handed. And the jurors, as they acknowledged in post-trial interviews, did not always follow the judge’s instruction to be sure beyond a reasonable doubt. They got to the point, where one of the jurors was told by a relative that the speculation in the press was that they were just a bunch of yokels who would never be able to reach a verdict in such a complicated case, and this juror said, “So we really got to reach a verdict.”
Q: Tell me what it was like walking into prison for the first time.
A: Well, by the time it finally happened, my attitude was, “This has gone on so long and been so horrifying it can’t be worse than what’s happening now.” So to the extent that it is apparently survivable, I can start to develop a comfort level that I will in fact survive it and have a life after this appalling nightmare. And I had spoken with someone who had been in that particular facility, a low-security prison, who assured me there was no violence other than the occasional scuffles between people that didn’t amount to much and just occurred because individuals were ill-tempered, and that it, while sometimes quite tedious, was eminently survivable.
Q: What does it mean to be processed?
A: You, first of all, have to take off all your clothes and you’re searched . . .
Q: Thoroughly searched.
A: Thorough search, yeah. Intrusively, I think is the usual description. Then you answer medical questions and a lot of other questions, and they give you a card with your number on it, they issue some sort of basic clothing, and then they tell you where you’re supposed to go to live and approximately how to get there.
Q: And you were never handcuffed at any time during this, were you? I don’t ever remember you being in those pictures that you see on TV.
A: No. I was handcuffed when there was a move—that proved to be mistaken—to move me to another location because they thought I was being called as a witness in a civil proceeding in which I was in fact the plaintiff . . . fortunately the judge’s order arrived before I had to get on the bus, but in the meantime you have that very elaborate form of having manacles on your feet—chains, you know—as well as being handcuffed.
Q: What’s that sensation like?
A: It’s interesting in that it is so restrictive and demeaning, you feel intensely vulnerable. I knew that they were making a mistake and—incompetent though the Bureau of Prisons often is—this would come to light and it wouldn’t go very far, so I could look at it in a more relaxed manner than I would if I thought I would have to travel across the country in that condition.
Q: I don’t want to suggest that the time at Coleman was leisurely, but you weren’t busting big rocks into little rocks. I was kind of surprised at how much free time you had.
A: I don’t think in federal prisons in the U.S. you have them out breaking stones, I think that may be state prisons. In a low-security federal prison, everybody is supposed to have a job. In my case, some people in the library, who were aware of the book on [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt that I had written, got the head of the education section to engage me as a tutor, and I had a very satisfying job there. I worked quite hard at it.
Q: And you write in the book about your enormous pride in some of the progress that your students made.
A: Enormous in the sense of pride in them, not in myself.
A: This is true. I mean, some of them were very surly and terribly under-educated in formal terms when we started. Once they could see that there was a purpose to it, and that it was a way of getting something useful out of this unpleasant experience, they applied themselves. It was very heartening to see how hard they worked, how people who had been told all their lives they couldn’t possibly succeed at anything were so excited—and justly excited—because it was a great achievement for them.
Q: On one occasion you speak about cleaning a shower stall, and you attracted a crowd. What was going on there?
A: Well, apparently I was slightly late leaving in the morning, so the counsellor said, “All right, well then you can’t leave for an hour,” which is when the next opportunity was, “and so in the meantime you go and work with the men in the shower room.” And so I cleaned the shower stall that I normally used, and I cleaned it very thoroughly. And I didn’t attract the audience in the sense of there was any great merit to how I did it—I mean, cleaning a shower stall is an important activity but not an especially stylish one—but the counsellor and some of his chums who were correctional officers thought it was so uproariously humorous that a man of my alleged means would be cleaning a shower stall that they turned it into a spectator sport. I must say it was all quite good-natured, it wasn’t nasty.
Q: And you gave them a good show?
A: No one disputed that the stall was clean!
Q: How sophisticated is the economy within the prison? I imagine, especially in the kind of facility that you were in, that there are some pretty cagey operators.
A: Extremely so. It’s very sophisticated in the sense that you have tremendously talented craftsmen. I mean, if there’s a problem with your eyeglasses, or a problem with your radio, there are people who can fix them. And it’s also sophisticated in the upper ranges of what you might want in terms of consumer value, because there is some degree of smuggling there, and because all inmates who receive visitors are strip-searched at the end of the visit, really none of the smuggling is through prisoners’ families or other visitors, it’s all through corrupted correctional officers. If you really wanted to, you could get a cellphone—which is forbidden. You could get a bottle of good whisky—which is forbidden. Now, I never touched any of that because I conducted my battle with the U.S. authorities and this unjust prosecution entirely through the courts, and the last thing in the world I wanted was any needless dispute with the officials of the Bureau of Prisons.
Q: What was the worst moment for you in prison?
A: The worst was when the Court of Appeal in Chicago so cavalierly treated our case. We had a very strong appeal, as was ultimately demonstrated by the Supreme Court of the United States, and the chairman of the appellant panel would not allow my counsel to finish a sentence. It was the most disgraceful thing I have seen in a court in a serious country. I didn’t actually see it, but I heard the audio and I read the transcript. And it reminded me—not to be tendentious here—but it reminded me of these news films of the Nazi People’s Court after the attempt on Hitler’s life in July of 1944, where Judge Freisler shouted at the prisoner. It was a fantastic spectacle in what is generally a distinguished jurisdiction in Chicago and it was obvious that we had no chance in that court.
Q: Through the whole of this process, Conrad, you had some friends who left you and some who stuck beside you. I’m just going to give you some names. Henry Kissinger.
A: I’ve had a great reconciliation with him. I’d been here in New York for four months, and he went to some lengths to see me, and I told him what my objections were to what he’d done, and he . . .
Q: He failed to defend you after having called you on several occasions an indispensable pillar of his existence, I think that was the phrase.
A: Pillar of my life, but he said that and wrote that a number of times. And in fairness, unknown to me he wrote that to the trial judge. I didn’t ask him to write a letter, and I did not know until years later that he did write a letter.
Q: So you say in the book that his failure to stand up for you was a wound that wouldn’t heal. That’s no longer the case?
A: No. In fact I altered the wording in the final version of the book. I did say the litmus test was if he thought I had committed crimes, and he said immediately, “I do not think you’ve committed crimes, and I never did.” And I said, “In that case I suggest that we put it all behind us and never speak of it again,” and that’s what’s happened. I see him quite often. I’m having dinner with him tomorrow.
Q: Elton John continued to be a great friend.
A: Magnificent, absolutely magnificent.
Q: David Radler was an associate for more than a quarter century, and then he turns on you and gives evidence against you. Surely you had to know what he was capable of.
A: So one would think, and I reproach myself for not having known. But I must say, in his defence, that for almost all of that time there was never the slightest sign that he was capable of either committing illegalities himself or inventing untruths to level against his associates as part of an activity to try and transfer blame from himself to others in order to get a reduced sentence for himself.
Q: Rupert Murdoch: do you still consider him the greatest media proprietor of all time, given his recent troubles?
A: Yes, but I’ve made it clear that my admiration for his talents as a media proprietor are not on either the standards that he has in presenting news or his own ethics. I was referring to his tremendous boldness in breaking the primitive print unions in Britain, and in breaking the triopoly of the three American television networks, and vertically integrating a film studio with a television network and then being a pioneer in satellite television. But he’s always been a tabloid man, he personally is a complete cynic. I’ve often said that his political philosophy is in that cartoon show that his company produces, The Simpsons. I mean, the people are idiots and all politicians are crooks, and that’s how Rupert sees the world.
Q: Have you changed as a result of all of this? What has changed about Conrad Black?
A: I’m not the best person to judge. It is fair to say very few people would go through as prolonged and arduous an experience as this without changing in some way, and I believe that I probably have. I hope that I have a greater recognition about the numbers and dire conditions of disadvantaged people even in a rich country like the United States. I’m of course much more aware of how imperfectly the justice system functions.
Q: Do you feel remorse about anything you yourself did?
A: Well, I feel remorse about anything I did that helped bring this upon me. I certainly feel no remorse at all about the honesty of what I did, because I didn’t do anything dishonest. I have remorse about any errors that I made that contributed to the vaporization of $2 billion of shareholders’ equity, 85 per cent in the hands of average people throughout the United States and Canada.
Q: Less than a year from now you will be a free man. What is the next act?
A: Well, one of the few positive results of this difficult time is that my career as a writer has flourished. I was fortunate to be in a prison where there was email access so I could file columns for the National Post, the National Review in the United States, and various publications in other countries. I often wrote book reviews, including of your book about William Randolph Hearst, and so I hope to go on with that.
Q: It’s a hard way to make a living.
A: I wasn’t suggesting I had to do it for a living, although I think I could get a fairly respectable income out of it, but in the terms you mean I think I shall return to being an investor. I don’t want to say this in a way that’s inappropriate, but I had some success in that field and I think it can be done in a way that’s completely private, totally unobtrusive, and will furnish quite a decent living.
Q: And do you expect to return to Canada? Do you want to return to Canada?
A: I want to divide my time between Canada and Great Britain, but I certainly would like to come to Canada if only as a temporary resident.
Q: When you were in prison, what was the one material thing you missed most?
A: Probably good food, but I have to emphasize that far above material things was the companionship of my wife. There is no substitute, in the middle of the night, for moving your knee and hitting a cinderblock wall instead of connecting with a person you’re happy to share the bed with. I don’t mean that in a prurient sense, it’s just something that one feels acutely.
Q: How is the food in prison?
A: It’s the lower end of institutional food. There are microwaves in the units and you can buy food from the commissary and put together something a little better in the microwaves, if you want to. What’s offered in the dining hall is certainly enough to keep body and soul together, but it’s not very tasty.
Q: Is that what you spent your stamps on?
A: No, we had—to use Lenin’s phrase—a division of labour: I would do some things for some of the inmates, and in return they would do some things for me, and there were better cooks in that place than I am.
Q: Conrad Black, thanks very much, and good luck with the rest of your journey.
A: Thank you so much, Ken.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Jonathan Aitken lost his cabinet seat, his wife and millions
Sitting in a Toronto pub, Jonathan Aitken recalls the time when he fancied he’d be the one to “fix” British journalism. It was April 1995, and the then-cabinet minister in the government of John Major was launching a high-profile libel case against the Guardian newspaper and Granada television over allegations he had “pimped” girls for a Saudi prince and taken kickbacks from Lebanese arms dealers. “Wicked lies,” he declared at a dramatic evening press conference in the Conservative Party’s London headquarters. “If it falls to me to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of fair play, so be it. I am ready for the fight.”
The now 68-year-old gives a rueful smile, and skips ahead in the story to June 24, 1997, the day his life “went up in smoke.” The libel trial had been going well: “Even their lawyers would admit I was winning,” Aitken says, on a break from a conference of the global Christian ministry to convicts, Prison Fellowship International (PFI). That is, until evidence was introduced catching him out in a lie.
Back in September 1993, Aitken, the minister of defence procurement, had travelled to Paris to meet with an old friend, Lebanese businessman Said Ayas, and his associate, Prince Mohammed of Saudi Arabia. The son of the Saudi king paid the hotel bill—a violation of cabinet ethics rules. But when news of the rendezvous leaked out, Aitken told the press his wife, Lolicia, had settled the account. Years later at trial, he introduced affidavits from Ayas and his own 17-year-old-daughter Victoria backing up the claim. Then Guardian lawyers dug up airline tickets and car rental records proving his wife and daughter had been in Geneva on the day in question. The case collapsed. “He lied and lied and lied,” was the banner headline above his dour picture in the next morning’s paper.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, July 25, 2011 at 11:13 AM - 52 Comments
The crime rate is at its lowest since 1973, but prison spending is set to boom. Jason Kenney is chasing fraudulent immigrants and war criminals. John Baird went to China. And the Prime Minister refused to move out of 24 Sussex.
And in other news, Bob Rae proved himself an adept and experienced master of the modern air travel system and/or totally big-timed Newfoundland novelist Kenneth Harvey out of a seat.
“Name,” called the woman, thrusting out her hand again as though to grasp hold of the drowning.
“Bob Rae,” said the pink-faced hobbit of a man, his glasses and suit looking a touch too big for him. “I’m on the delayed St. John’s flight.”
“No,” snapped the militant attendant. “Too late.” Her eyes caught on yet another lost soul and her fingers wiggled for his boarding pass, “Name.”
The man – identified as one of the blessed who belonged on the flight – was embraced as a comrade.
My eyes returned to Bob Rae to hear him utter: “I am Super Elite.”
By Stephanie Findlay - Monday, July 4, 2011 at 2:26 PM - 1 Comment
Inmates in B.C. are working to establish Canada’s first-ever prisoners’ union
In January 2010, a 50-something inmate serving a life sentence at Mountain Institution, a medium-security prison in Agassiz, British Columbia, polled his fellow prisoners to see if they were in favour of starting a labour union. Over 76 per cent of the inmates said yes. By March, he and a core group of 14 inmates at Mountain had drafted a constitution for the union and have been working towards certification ever since. If the inmates are successful, the union will be the first of its kind in the country.
It’s not surprising the movement is happening at Mountain, given its unique status as a work-focused prison where inmates must have steady jobs. As of 2007, there were 449 inmates at Mountain–the majority of whom work in one of four industries: textiles, manufacturing, construction, and prison services, such as printing and laundry. They’ve only recently met their first hurdle: getting 51 per cent of the prisoners to sign up. This is usually a routine affair, but represents a problem inside a prison, where inmates have been denied the right to assemble.
In a press release, the prisoners said their proposed union would raise issues that “plague the prison population as a workforce,” including workplace safety, access to vocational training, and pay, which hasn’t been adjusted to inflation since 1986. The union tactic comes in response to a dysfunctional inmate grievance system that is overloaded, understaffed, and inefficient. According to the Correctional Investigator’s office the volume of complaints has grown from around 20,000 in 2005-06 to over 28,000 in 2009-2010
A 2010 review of the complaints and grievance process by David Mullan, a constitutional lawyer and professor emeritus at Queen’s University, found “serious problems” with the current system. A routine grievance can take over 150 days from its initial filing to be resolved, in part because of improperly trained staff. (Mullan says staff do “little more than [process] paper.”) And the system is tied up by “frequent users”–serial grievers, determined to bog down the process. In 2008-09, Mullan found that in some institutions, just a dozen offenders accounted for 11.3 per cent of all submissions. Canada’s prisoners’ rights movement dates back to the 70s, when a series of brutal uprisings and violent deaths spurred an overhaul of prison legislation, including extending the vote behind prison walls. Since then, a series of legal reforms that have guaranteed rights to prisoners, notably the adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 and the adoption of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act in 1992, which includes the inmate grievance policy. In many respects, Canada’s commitment to prisoner’s rights is admirable.
But just because something is written, doesn’t mean it’s enforced, cautions Allan Manson, a criminal law professor at Queen’s University. “The problem,” says Manson, “is enforcing compliance with the act and that continues to be a problem today.” There are statutory standards, he says, “but prisoners have to be able to force compliance. And given the obstacles to judicial remedies and cost of litigation, there hasn’t been a crucial mass of judicial scrutiny that will keep penitentiary officials in line.”
The Correctional Service of Canada wouldn’t speculate on the impact a union might have on the federal prison system and pointed out that inmates already have a say in their treatment. “Each institution has an inmate committee which is formed to allow inmates to identify issues, including work-related issues, affecting them and to raise them with wardens and institutional staff,” CSC spokesperson Jean-Paul Lorieau wrote in an email to Maclean’s. “So far no union has been formed, and we do not have any further comments on this issue.”
In the meantime, Mountain inmates and Natalie Dunbar, a Vancouver-based criminal lawyer who’s been serving as a liaison between the prison and the outside world, continue to organize. While the process is slow, Dunbar is optimistic. She says a prisoners’ union could “change the dynamic” between guards and prisoners for the better. “Prison staff are unionized and they have issues they have to deal with and believe it or not some of the issues intersect with prisoners issues.” Ideally, Dunbar says prison labour unions will propagate across the country: “Mountain would be local 001 and hopefully Kent would be unionized, then places throughout BC and then Canada.” Though, until then, “it’s baby steps,” she says. “We just want to get the application in at Mountain.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 12:16 PM - 44 Comments
Alex Himelfarb considers the state of crime policy in this country.
In her 1997 study of public opinion and perceptions of crime in the U.S., Katherine Beckett showed that fear of crime did not lead public policy, it was the other way around. Tough on criminals policy creates the perception that rising crime is a serious problem, that we ought to be afraid. And the inevitably escalating government action simply continues to feed those fears. Breaking the cycle is very hard. California’s current governor tried to pass bizarre legislation tying prison spending to education spending as something of an admission that he was helpless to do anything about the shift of scarce resources from health, education and welfare to prisons. His frustration is understandable – California spends 45% more on prisons than on higher education. This is not a path we want to follow.
By Brian Bethune - Friday, June 10, 2011 at 9:55 AM - 23 Comments
An ex-beat cop says the U.S. penal system is immoral and ineffective
Peter Moskos is an American criminologist whose experiences and research, first as a Baltimore beat cop and later as a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, have shown him just how immorally counterproductive, ruinously expensive and profoundly stupid his country’s prison system is. He’s also discovered that he can tell his fellow Americans this, and even convince many, but it doesn’t really matter: they just want criminals punished. Very well, Moskos decided, consider this, meaning the startling suggestion in the title of his elegant polemic, In Defense of Flogging. Like 18th-century satirist Jonathan Swift, whose Modest Proposal offered a tidy if savage solution to chronic hunger in Ireland—have the rich eat the starving children of the poor—Moskos aimed “to shake up people,” as he says in an interview, “alter their thinking.” With one key difference: Swift never really thought eating babies was a good idea, but by the end of In Defense of Flogging, Moskos had convinced himself of the benefits of flogging.
His argument has two pillars. The first is how awful the current punishment regime is, mostly as a result of the abject failure of the war on drugs: “These 2.3 million prisoners we have, more than one per cent of the adult population, more prisoners than soldiers, more prisoners than China, seven times the incarceration rate of Canada? Somehow we’ve convinced ourselves this is normal and rational.” (References to Canada pepper his book as well, with Moskos pointing northward to what he considers a land of rational incarceration policies. He is discouraged, to put it mildly, to hear that Canada now seems set to take some steps, at least, down the American penal road, embarking on an expensive prison expansion program and increasing mandatory minimum sentences.)
Moskos, no bleeding heart, has no quarrel at all with his countrymen’s demand that criminals be punished—he merely despises the way the U.S. currently goes about it.
By Brian Bethune - Friday, June 10, 2011 at 9:20 AM - 2 Comments
The author of ‘In Defense of Flogging’ on why he’d rather be lashed than go to prison
Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore beat cop who is now a criminologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, found himself telling his fellow Americans how immorally dysfunctional, ruinously expensive and profoundly stupid their country’s prison system is, and even convincing some of such, but finding they didn’t much care: they just want criminals punished. Hence, the suggestion in the title of Moskos’s elegant and Swiftian polemic, In Defense of Flogging. In it he asks if you, dear reader, were ever convicted of a non-violent felony and were offered the chance of accepting—instead of a jail term—two flesh-lacerating, Singapore-style strokes of the cane for each year of your sentence, wouldn’t you take the flogging option? And if you would, how can you deny it to others? Moskos spoke with Maclean’s Senior Writer Brian Bethune.
Q: Your book is very Modest Proposal-ish; what was your aim in writing it? Continue…
By Colby Cosh - Monday, May 30, 2011 at 5:37 AM - 68 Comments
I want that headline understood: I don’t mean to say the Ontario PC leader has won the actual argument about the usefulness of assigning provincial inmates to “mandatory” work gangs so that they can pick up litter and clean up graffiti until they become model citizens. The truth, which advocates of liberal penology seem unable to put into plain English, is that you can make labour “mandatory” only by the use of one or more large individuals armed with whips, clubs, or possibly, in our enlightened times, tasers.
We cannot hold hostage privileges that prisoners already enjoy by right as a consequence of court decisions. The only foreseeable alternative to having an overseer prepared to inflict pain upon chain-gang inmates on the spot would consist of equal or worse tortures and deprivations, administered out of sight and in cold blood. Some inmates will refuse outdoor work on principle even if it is made “mandatory” by the stroke of a ministerial pen. Are we going to make such objectors serve their sentences in solitary confinement? Or does Hudak propose to treat Ontarians to the sight of prisoners being beaten and terrorized in the streets? Chain gangs, one notices, have historically been features of morally benumbed societies in which law-abiding citizens were quite prepared to contemplate such Roman spectacles.
Hey, I don’t know Ontario all that well, but I can’t imagine very much of it fits that description. I don’t think Hudak is very serious about this chain-gang idea as such. But look at what he accomplishes by bringing it forward: he has stampeded editorial boards and Liberal worthies like James Morton and Warren Kinsella into arguing against him. And what argument do they use? Why, that provincial prisoners are dangerous and can’t be trusted to perform manual work, even under close supervision, in our communities!
This immediately calls attention to the fact that provincial prisoners are, by definition, those who have received sentences of less than two years’ imprisonment. “Why would a convict proven and agreed to be ‘dangerous’ be in provincial custody in the first place?”, asks the Ontario voter: no answer arrives from Crown prosecutors, from judges, or from an explicitly punishment-averse corrections establishment. “And where have these liberal concern trolls been for the past forty years while the federal penal system, which has charge of the really dangerous criminals, has explicitly promoted ‘community release’ and built a bunch of zero-security prisons*?”
Thus is the magic lamp of law-and-order sentiment rubbed, and thousands of conservative-voting genies roil forth. Hudak has certainly learned a trick or two from Stephen Harper. At every election Harper invents pretexts to make the media angry at him, and the media take the bait, not realizing that all Harper wants is the fight—carried on in front of an audience that would happily take Pol Pot’s or John Wayne Gacy’s side against the media as such (that is, as an amorphous blob ruled by a liberal hive-intelligence). All Hudak wants here is a fight against advocates of rehabilitation and humanitarianism in prisons, whose moral standing is, for better or worse, little higher than that of us journalists.
*[As measured by the raw numbers of escapes, of course, the "security" level of federal prisons has become all but perfect in recent decades, improving on the margin even since the year 2000. Prison escapes were a fairly significant preoccupation of the news apparatus in my youth; today they are all but unheard of.]
By macleans.ca - Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 2:00 PM - 2 Comments
WikiLeaks cables prove Omar Khadr was no naive bystander, while Syria cracks down hard on protesters
Omar Khadr should never have spent nine years of his young life locked inside the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But as the Toronto native prepares for his imminent return to Canada—and the hero’s welcome he will no doubt receive—newly released Pentagon documents offer a timely reminder of why the Scarborough-born teenager was such a prized catch. According to a 2004 intelligence assessment published on the WikiLeaks website, Khadr’s father was al-Qaeda’s “fourth in command,” and young Omar provided “valuable information” about the inner workings of Osama bin Laden’s network. Child or not, Khadr was hardly a naive bystander.
Resurrecting road hockey
Another week, another doomsday report about Canada’s obesity epidemic. The latest version, from the advocacy group Active Healthy Kids Canada, says only seven per cent of children in the video game generation get the recommended 60 minutes of daily “active play.” Which is precisely why we’re rooting for Alexander Anderson, Andrew Polanyi, Liam McMahon and Bowen Pausey. The Toronto teens are petitioning the city to overturn its long-standing ban on road hockey—a misguided bylaw that has no place in any Canadian neighbourhood.
Doing the right thing
It was a good week for those who act on instinct. In Fayetteville, N.C., a high school basketball coach saved dozens from a tornado by herding 300 players and parents into a safe area of the school—just before the twister began shredding cars and flipping vans. Then on Sunday, crew members on an Alitalia ﬁight from Paris to Rome overpowered a would-be hijacker who was armed with a knife, and who demanded to be flown to Libya. Not everyone can play the saviour. But when crisis calls, it’s reassuring to know that some folks step up.
Researchers have found a natural remedy for stubbed toes and hammered thumbs: swearing at the top of your lungs. According to a British study, F-bombs and other curse words help relieve drastic pain, especially if the person cussing isn’t a typical potty mouth. Michael Ignatieff may want to remember that tip next week.
Bashar al-Assad’s bloody crackdown on Syrian protesters drove home the cost of political freedom in certain Arab countries—leaving open the question of whether the international community is willing to help pay the price. No sooner had U.S. drones levelled part of Moammar Gadhafi’s compound in Tripoli than al-Assad unleashed tanks and troops on his own people, killing as many as 25 in Daraa. Britain, France and other countries voiced outrage, but having already committed air and logistical support in Libya, the best they could do was seek a toothless condemnation from the UN Security Council. The long-awaited Arab Awakening may yet reach Damascus. For now, though, it must proceed without help.
Later this year, Canadian soldiers will begin the next phase of our military mission in Kandahar: training Afghan security forces. Perhaps they could help the prison guards, too. In a plot straight out of Hollywood, nearly 500 inmates—including senior Taliban commanders—escaped from the Saraposa jail through an underground tunnel burrowed by insurgent allies on the outside. A Taliban spokesman said the getaway route took five months to dig, with the help of “skilled professionals” and “trained engineers.” Said one escapee, in between giggles: “The guards are always drunk. Either they smoke heroin or marijuana, and then they just fall asleep.”
Spare us the spin
Well, that’s puzzling: after the fatal tasering of Robert Dziekanski, the mysterious death of a man in custody in Houston, B.C., a series of botched 911 calls in Saskatchewan, an officer’s kick to the face of a co-operative driver in Kelowna, and obstruction of justice charges against an allegedly drunk-driving Mountie who killed a motorcyclist, a survey has found that nearly 85 per cent of Canadians still trust the RCMP. And who commissioned this survey? The RCMP, you say? Never mind. Puzzle solved.
Head in the clouds
The union representing U.S. air traffic controllers is pushing for new measures to stop members from sleeping on the job. Their recommendation? Monitored naps. Here’s a better suggestion: a coffee maker in each tower, and a good night’s sleep. At home.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 10:29 AM - 33 Comments
John Ivison refers to the writings of Newt Gingrich to find fault with the government’s prison expansion.
The “hanging’s too good for them” brigade should read an eye-opening piece from last Friday’s Washington Post, co-written by Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, and Pat Nolan, former Republican leader of the California State Assembly. They pointed out that the U.S. currently spends US$68-billion on corrections — 300% more than 25 years ago — and the prison population is growing at 13 times faster than the general population.
“Our prisons might be worth the current cost if the recidivism rate were not so high but, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, half of the prisoners released this year are expected to be back in prison within three years. If your prison policies are failing half the time, and we know there are more humane, effective alternatives, it is time to fundamentally rethink how we treat and rehabilitate our prisoners,” they concluded.
Conrad Black is equally unimpressed.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 10:36 AM - 28 Comments
In the midst of ruminating on a number of fronts, Conrad Black proposes prison reform.
Having recently inexplicably spent 29 months in one of the kindest and gentlest of American federal prisons, I must emphasize that imprisonment is an insane, archaic and self-defeating treatment of non-violent offenders (especially when many other convicted people are in fact, by the nature of the system, as innocent as I). Apart from those with a propensity to violence, and those who have committed other crimes on a Madoff-scale, felons should receive a government insurance bond for their employers, and contribute work to society pro bono but with, where their circumstances require it, basic non-custodial shelter and meal vouchers, and treatment for substance abuse. Recidivists would have to be confined, but in prison or workshop facilities. Disused prison facilities could then be spruced up and reconfigured as housing for the indigent.
By Nancy Macdonald - Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 10:20 AM - 0 Comments
After two decades under house arrest, peace activist Aung San Suu Kyi is free, and her quiet fight for democracy begins again
When, on the evening of Nov. 13, Aung San Suu Kyi suddenly appeared from behind the red iron bars surrounding her house, her lonely prison for most of the past two decades, her ecstatic supporters erupted into cheers; many were reduced to tears. Thousands had rushed to Suu Kyi’s crumbling white villa on Rangoon’s Inya Lake after security forces began taking apart the compound’s barbed-wire barricades: a clear signal the world’s most famous political prisoner would finally be freed from house arrest.
The crowd’s size, enthusiasm, and the strong youth element suggest “the Lady,” as she is known in Burma, had emerged from captivity with her popularity and moral authority intact. “We haven’t seen each other for so long,” Suu Kyi, dressed in a purple longyi, a Burmese sarong, told supporters, her grace unbroken. “We have a lot to do.”
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, December 3, 2010 at 5:20 PM - 46 Comments
A week ago the Public Safety Minister recalled words uttered 39 years ago by a former solicitor general to explain the current Conservative government’s differences with the current Liberal party when it comes to current crime policy. The specific comment of Jean-Pierre Goyer’s that Mr. Toews seems to have been referring are as follows.
“Consequently, we have decided from now to stress the rehabilitation of individuals rather than protection of society.”
Mr. Goyer made these comments during a speech in the House on the afternoon of October 7, 1971. Specifically, and for the record, he was addressing proposed reforms to the prison system. Concerned about both the cost of an imprisoning an individual and the rate of recidivism, Mr. Goyer had introduced various measures: from new haircuts and clothing to new housing arrangements and greater access to work and education.
The first response to the solicitor general’s comments that day was offered by Eldon M. Woolliams, the MP for Calgary North and the justice critic for the Progressive Conservative party. His speech is noteworthy in its own right. A few excerpts. Continue…
By Michael Friscolanti - Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 10:00 AM - 71 Comments
Murdering jihadist, victim of circumstance or model-citizen-in-the-making?
In exchange for another eight years in prison—and the chance to be a free man in Canada long before that—Omar Khadr consented to a long list of strict conditions. He cannot sue the U.S. government for damages, regardless of how many torture sessions he may (or may not) have endured inside the barbed-wire walls of Guantánamo Bay. He will never step foot on American soil for as long as he lives. And he is not allowed to profit one penny from public speaking tours or movie deals or anything else that would involve selling his saga to the highest bidder. Any such proceeds, the agreement says, will go straight “to the Government of Canada.”
Khadr has read a lot of books during his stint behind bars (from steamy Danielle Steele novels to Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom), and his pen pals include an English professor at an Edmonton university. But when he signed his name to that seven-page plea deal on Oct. 13, he received a first-hand lesson in the meaning of irony: the same government that spent many years and millions of dollars fighting to keep him out of Canada now owns the exclusive rights to his life story.
By Nicholas Köhler - Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
A string of recent escape attempts highlights the sorry state of Newfoundland’s prison system
Last month, 33-year-old Mount Pearl, Nfld., resident Rick Bennett pushed aside a ceiling tile in the interview room where he was waiting for his lawyer, pulled himself up into the crawl space and briefly fled into the heavens above St. John’s provincial courthouse. Officers with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary collared him once he collapsed through the ceiling near the judges’ chambers, then dragged him from the building—but not before he’d forced the courthouse’s evacuation, the deployment of the K-9 unit and, perhaps most worrying, an asbestos assessment of the area disturbed by his escape.
Bennett’s illicit exit was just the latest in a string of escapes and corrections slip-ups that highlight the sorry state of Newfoundland and Labrador’s prison system. Two years after a damning independent report noted the decrepit facilities and lack of security—including cell doors that couldn’t lock and 19th-century jails—the escapes raise the question of just how ready Newfoundland is to implement the federal Conservatives’ plans to expand the country’s jails.
By Andrew Potter - Monday, October 18, 2010 at 9:20 AM - 0 Comments
What life is like inside Afghan detention facilities
If there is one thing the hysteria over the “detainees” scandal that preoccupied Parliament for most of last winter points to, it is a widespread resolve amongst Canadians to distance ourselves as far as possible from the abuses of executive authority that stained the American record in Iraq and Afghanistan. The names of prisons like Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, and Bagram will remain synonyms for the moral collapse of the leadership of the West.
We tend to forget, though, that Canadian officials are themselves just as keen to be seen upholding the Geneva Convention and the basic principles of due process. That is pretty much why I found myself in southern Afghanistan last week, part of a journalistic foursome touring the buffed-up detainee centre at Kandahar Airfield, and, a day later, the infamous Sarposa prison in Kandahar City itself.