Fre­quent fail­ure of guards to obey use of force video­tap­ing rules ‘alarm­ing’

‘Very high num­ber of non-com­pli­ance’

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA -

Fed­eral prison guards are fail­ing to com­ply with rules around video­tap­ing their use of force against in­mates in a ma­jor­ity of cases, ac­cord­ing to data ob­tained by The Cana­dian Press.

In the 2016-2017 fis­cal year, the Of­fice of the Cor­rec­tional In­ves­ti­ga­tor led by Ivan Zinger re­viewed 1,436 in­ci­dents in which guards re­sorted to force against a pris­oner. While the sit­u­a­tion has im­proved in re­cent years, the high in­ci­dence of prob­lems around video — in 67 per cent of the cases — is of sig­nif­i­cant con­cern, the prison om­buds­man said in an in­ter­view.

“This is still a very high num­ber of non-com­pli­ance,’’ Zinger said from Ot­tawa. “That’s what is alarm­ing.’’

Prison pol­icy man­dates that guards use a hand-held cam­era to video planned uses of force, as well as in spon­ta­neous sit­u­a­tions where fea­si­ble. Com­pli­ance prob­lems ex­ist in both sce­nar­ios, data show.

Some of the is­sues with video com­pli­ance are of a rel­a­tively mi­nor or tech­ni­cal na­ture but in other cases, cru­cial video of in­ci­dents in which a pris­oner al­leges guards used ex­ces­sive force — a crim­i­nal of­fence — sim­ply isn’t avail­able when it should be.

One re­cent ex­am­ple is the case of Ti­mothy (Mitch) Nome, who al­leged guards in March at Kent In­sti­tu­tion in Agas­siz, B.C., beat him in his cell with­out provo­ca­tion. The in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tor from Zinger’s of­fice found no hand-held video of the in­ci­dent was avail­able for rea­sons not prop­erly ex­plained.

The lack of video ev­i­dence that could have proven or re­futed Nome’s al­le­ga­tion left the in­ves­ti­ga­tor with lit­tle choice other than to say he couldn’t con­clude what hap­pened in Nome’s cell that morn­ing, his re­port shows.

Over­all, Zinger said, cases where video goes miss­ing, is deleted, or is other­wise un­avail­able to his om­buds­man of­fice are rel­a­tively rare but have an enor­mous im­pact.

“They cast an in­cred­i­bly neg­a­tive light on, and it may taint all, the good work that cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers do,’’ he said. “It’s all good to say, ‘Wx’ve acted ap­pro­pri­ately,’ but if you can demon­strate that you have — and the video does that for you — then it makes the sys­tem even more cred­i­ble and erases any doubt in any­body’s mind.’’

Non-com­pli­ance in­ci­dents in­volv­ing video have fallen since the 83.5 per cent found in 20142015, but the Of­fice of the Cor­rec­tional In­ves­ti­ga­tor iden­ti­fied on­go­ing is­sues such as:


held cam­eras dur­ing spon­ta­neous use of force when time and re­sources are avail­able;


brief­ings when force is planned;

r -BDL PG WJEFP PG EFDPOUBNi­na­tion pro­ce­dures af­ter guards have used chem­i­cal spray on an in­mate.

The cor­rec­tional ser­vice wouldn’t be com­ment­ing on the data be­cause they came from a third party and would need to be ver­i­fied, spokes­woman Laura Cum­ming said in an email. She also said pol­icy breaches are not tol­er­ated and would be in­ves­ti­gated.

Given the im­mense power en­trusted to guards, the om­buds­man said, full com­pli­ance with law and pol­icy in all as­pects is crit­i­cal. Video can help pro­tect vul­ner­a­ble in­mates from abuse, but can also pro­tect guards against false al­le­ga­tions of bru­tal­ity.

“This is be­hind the wall and it’s al­ways very se­cre­tive (so) there’s even more of a ne­ces­sity that you fol­low the pol­icy with re­spect to video ev­i­dence,’’ Zinger said. “It’s to the ben­e­fit of ev­ery­body to make sure that cam­eras are used ap­pro­pri­ately.’’

One prob­lem area Cor­rec­tional Ser­vice Canada could eas­ily fix, he said, re­lates to the amount of time video from the myr­iad sur­veil­lance cam­eras in pris­ons must be kept be­fore they be­come part of an ac­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Cur­rent pol­icy al­lows the ser­vice to re­tain video for six days.

Zinger said that’s too short and means in­for­ma­tion may dis­ap­pear be­fore any­one gets to it. He wants re­in­state­ment of a 30-day re­ten­tion pol­icy that ex­isted un­til 2005.

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