Unfortunately, despite the existence of transcripts and media accounts to the contrary, the Commissioner chose to follow his briefing notes rather than question his own staff.
What emerged was the portrait of a very insular, insecure yet self-righteously arrogant government department, where prisoners or anyone who questions their actions are relegated to the margins and classified as unimportant and misinformed, regardless of the facts. I must admit that I naively believed that somewhere along the line someone would express regret and accept responsibility for at least some of what had so clearly gone wrong. I seriously underestimated the extent of the bureaucratic brainwash, Orwellian double speak and rudderless direction of CSC. All energies seemed to be focused instead upon efforts to obfuscate the issues, discredit any perceived detractors and continue on with business as usual.
Why am I still incredulous when the suicides this past week do not seem to cause a questioning of policies and procedures, and that efforts instead seem to be focused upon the frailties of the women themselves or to scapegoating their sister prisoners? At times it feels a little too weird doing this work, but then I remind myself of the basics -- that social control and industry are what imprisonment is really about, not justice.
I also remind myself that the focus of the Inquiry from CSC's perspective was myopic: federally sentenced women are, after all, only 2 per cent of the federal prison population. In addition, we considered the implications of the Inquiry to be much more extensive than did CSC for whom it seemed to be just another brief spotlight on a past event at the Prison for Women, and not particularly relevant or significant to the future of women's corrections. We certainly hope that the reality will ultimately be otherwise. I will outline CAEFS perspective on the future -- and mine -- throughout the rest of this article.
A discussion of the Inquiry must start with the situation at the prison more than 2½ years ago. Despite the release in 1990 of the recommendations of the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women, and the pending closure of P4W, transitional planning had not proceeded as suggested. Despite clear interim recommendations, liaison workers and all programs and services for the women at P4W were not maintained. For at least the past two years, such contracted services as psychology and the library were in jeopardy. In addition, some positions vacated by staff were not necessarily filled. There was also a reduction in the availability of educational programs. There was increasingly limited availability of staff to escort women to other prisons for programs, ETAs, medical appointments, et cetera.
Despite the Solicitor General Doug Lewis' announcements in September and December of 1994 that the level of services and programs offered would be maintained until closure of the Prison for Women, cutbacks at P4W were included in CSC's regional and national budget reductions. This Minister had also previously announced that the prison would close by September 1994.
In the past 2½ years, security levels within the Prison were increased as opposed to being revised or relaxed in preparation for the movement of women from P4W to the new prisons. For example, B-Range was established as a Separation Unit in July 1991. There have been increasingly limited opportunities for B-Range women to access non B-Range jobs, services and programs. There was a particular crackdown in this regard following the stabbing of a prisoner in August/September 1993. The administration refused to "open up" B-Range until such time as the "victim" of the stabbing was transferred to the Burnaby Correctional Center for Women (BCCW). She was held in the P4W hospital area until January 1994. In the interim, there was no relaxing of security.
Many B-Range women were only permitted security visits with their famishes. The rationale given was that the administration suspected, had intelligence information regarding, or had actually detected drug use by those women who were being denied access to support (family, or friends who might visit). In reality, most of the other women who were not placed under such visiting restrictions did not generally receive visitors. B-Range women were not permitted access to the full yard, nor eventually at the same time as the rest of the general population.
The power struggle between the P4W administration and the B-Range women was exacerbated in December 1993, when all of the B-Range women went on a hunger strike after one of them had her Private Family Visit (PFV) cancelled within 1-2 hours of its commencement. This occurred in the midst of the women (and CAEFS) trying to negotiate with the prison administration for the women to be permitted to have their families attend the December 1993 Family Day. A standoff ensued, ending some 2-3 days later, when the women terminated their hunger strike so as not to interfere with the next woman's PFV. This was also a response to their discouragement caused by the warden's unwillingness to even agree to meet with them. These matters subsequently formed part of the rationale for not relaxing security on B-Range once the stabbing victim left P4W.
In addition, women in P4W, particularly on B Range, were reporting harassment by staff, particularly the disrespectful and condescending attitudes, of some of the younger, less experienced staff. For example, women being called for "kibbles and bits" at dinner time, stomping and banging and flipping up shams during the night shift. First Nations women on A-Range, as well as in the Wing, had complained of interference with bundles, prayer time and the destruction of the Sisterhood's grandmother drum. The latter has never been acknowledged by the warden (et al.,) although the women told me there was a "bootmark" in the middle of the drum and it's covering had been opened up. It had been a gift from the Native Women's Association of Canada to the Sisterhood in May of 1993 during their spring Pow Wow.
CAEFS encouraged women to seek the assistance of the Correctional Investigator, raise matters with the Citizens' Advisory Committee, and to utilize complaints and grievance procedures. The women were mutually reluctant, but did gradually increase calls to the Office of the Correctional Investigator and laid complaints and grievances.