Jail broke human rights deal, inmate says
Toronto South faces complaint from disabled man who says he was left in solitary without supplies
For more than three days this past March, Aaron Sherman sat in soiled boxer shorts in a solitary unit at the Toronto South Detention Centre, unable to access clean clothes and supplies that he requires to have a proper bowel movement.
Three return trips to the new jail also did not go well. Instead of being placed in a medical unit, he was asked if he would be “alright in segregation” for a couple of days. He could not eat for five days. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In 2015, Sherman, 48, who has fought most of his adult life for jails to accommodate his medical requirements, won a human rights settlement that set out a plan to respect his rights and assure access to supplies.
Fed up with his experiences this year, Sherman has filed a second application with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal calling for the plan to be followed and raising “serious questions” about the continued use of solitary confinement at the new Toronto jail because of a shortage of medical beds, his application states.
The Toronto man estimates he has spent a total of17 years in jail, over the years, for property crimes, he says, ranging from minor thefts to burgling homes and businesses.
Sherman can live with inconveniences, such as minor variations in the timing of access to his supplies and treatment. But not solitary.
He knows some will think: “It’s jail, you know, suck it up,” but “when it’s systemic and it’s so problematic that it’s happening week to week, it’s just too much,” Sherman said in an interview. “I’m stuck in solitary confinement, what, because I have a medical problem?”
Tess Sheldon, a lawyer with ARCH Disability Law Centre who is representing Sherman, said in an email that “tragically, Aaron’s case is by no means isolated.”
Ontario inmates are often placed in segregation because of overcrowding and lack of medical beds. Data recently supplied to the Ontario Human Rights Commission showed 17 per cent of segregation place- ments from October to December 2015 were for “administrative” medical reasons.
According to a submission by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, one inmate spent 103 days in segregation because he used a walker — a device that is considered “contraband” in the general jail population.
How the jail classified Sherman’s stay in segregation is unclear. The ministry does not comment on individual cases.
In a statement to the Star, the ministry said it “would not be appropriate to com- ment on or provide details about any individual’s personal health information. However, an inmate’s care plan would detail any special requirements, approaches and accommodations” and that is shared with staff.
When told of Sherman’s case, Lisa Kerr, an assistant law professor at Queen’s University, said “segregation in order to facilitate medical treatment is not a permissible ground in Ontario.”
It could be that jails get around those rules “by using segregation but not naming it as such,” Kerr said in an interview. She called for independent monitors assigned to jails “checking who’s in these cells and are they classified properly.” The Ontario government last month announced reforms on the use of segregation and, in a statement recently emailed to the Star, the corrections ministry said it would “continue to work to ensure all inmates in segregation, including those who are particularly vulnerable, will continue to have access to the specific supports they need.”
In addition to a physical disability, Sherman, according to his human rights application, has mental-health disabilities and a “lived experience of the psychiatric system.” He uses crack cocaine and, to pay for it, he steals — and often gets caught.
Sherman was born with an imperforate anus and since age 9 has been self-administering a saltwater enema treatment to have bowel movements, about once every two days. The process requires supplies and takes about an hour and a half and he must be near a toilet for another four hours.
In 2015, following a 2014 human rights complaint, a “written accommodation plan” was agreed to in a settlement with the correctional services ministry spelling out what Sherman required. The plan was to be placed in his file and an alert added to his computerized profile.
The plan lists supplies, including extra toilet paper, three pairs of boxer shorts and backup jumpsuit, sheets and towel. It requires the jail unit manager to be “fully aware” of the plan and to be the first contact for any problems.
Sherman makes meticulous notes of his experiences in jail, including four stays at Toronto South this year — all due, he says, to shoplifting incidents. What follows comes from allegations in Sherman’s human rights application.
On March 5, he was jailed and overdue for a treatment. He was placed in “Medical Unit A” but given incomplete supplies. He was released from jail March 7.
He spent five days later that month at the jail, entering March12, a Satur-
“(A) systemic failure to translate policies into on-the-ground action.” TESS SHELDON ARCH DISABILITY LAW CENTRE
day. He told a nurse he was two days overdue for a treatment and was told that Medical Unit A was full. At 4 p.m., he was “transferred to a solitary confinement cell.”
The tools he needed for the enema were inadequate, and he “lost control of his bowels.” There wasn’t enough toilet paper and requests for more, and clean boxers, were “ignored.”
“He finally gave up and was left in his own mess” from 5 p.m. that Saturday until Monday night.
In between, Sherman did receive some supplies but they were “incomplete.” He pointed out the problem but a nurse was unhelpful, telling a correctional officer he was “uncooperative.” Sunday night, a different nurse refused help.
By then he “felt very sick, constipated and experienced severe abdominal cramping.”
Sherman says he suffers from anxiety, aggravated by lack of access to his supplies. He does not eat when he can’t have a regular treatment. On Monday morning, Sherman again asked a nurse for help and referred her to his accommodation plan. He also asked to be transferred to the medical unit. Again there was no help, he claims.
By Monday night, Sherman finally had the ear of a supervisor who “advised staff” of their responsibilities under the accommodation plan. Sherman was transferred to the medical unit at 8:30 p.m. Seventy-six hours after he had soiled himself, he was able to give himself the treatment — “well beyond” the 24 hours spelled out in his settlement.
On a stay from March 20 to April 11, Sherman alleges “Medical Unit A” was at capacity again and he was placed in a “Special Needs Observation Unit” and told he would “soon be moving” to the medical unit.
“Later that day, he was asked by a correctional officer if he would be ‘alright in segregation’ for a day or two,” states the application. Sherman told him he needed a treatment and rejected the idea of solitary.
He was moved to the medical unit. He faced barriers getting treatment and was “unable to eat for five days.”
During an 11-day stay in August, Sherman alleges an officer tried to put a partner in his cell at a time when he required another treatment and would not have privacy. He was denied a copy of his plan.
Sherman’s application says health supports “are seriously limited” in Ontario jails and at Toronto South he notes that beds in Medical Unit A were almost always full, while a second unit was “non-operational.”
“What does it say that they appear to have a surplus of solitary cells and not enough medical beds?” says Sheldon, Sherman’s lawyer. She says the case, and past legal challenges related to solitary, inquests, recommendations and promises, highlight the ministry’s “systemic failure to translate policies into on-theground action.”
Sherman is seeking assurances that this will not happen to him again, said Sheldon, or “anyone else.”
Aaron Sherman alleges he was placed in a solitary unit at Toronto South Detention Centre because it lacked medical beds.
Sherman makes meticulous notes of his experiences in jail, including four stays at Toronto South this year — all due, he says, to shoplifting incidents.