Dif­fi­cul­ties in ob­tain­ing ac­cu­rate data

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - jwake­field@post­ Twit­­ny­wake­field

Just be­fore noon on Dec. 3, 2017, RCMP in Red Deer re­ceived a call from the lo­cal re­mand cen­tre, a jum­bled, brick build­ing that houses in­mates just blocks from its city hall.

In­side, in­ves­ti­ga­tors were told, a pris­oner had been sex­u­ally as­saulted.

A 44-year-old man was even­tu­ally charged with sex­u­ally as­sault­ing an­other in­mate housed at the cen­tral Al­berta fa­cil­ity, said RCMP. A pub­li­ca­tion ban cov­ers any in­for­ma­tion that can iden­tify the vic­tim — him­self serv­ing a sen­tence for a sex­ual of­fence. The case con­tin­ues to wind through the courts.

Though Al­berta gov­ern­ment sta­tis­tics re­veal dozens of al­le­ga­tions on record, the case at the Red Deer Re­mand Cen­tre is the only sex­ual as­sault in the pro­vin­cial cor­rec­tional sys­tem in the past five years that led to crim­i­nal charges.

Sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tions by in­mates in Al­berta cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties have his­tor­i­cally been “very rare,” a spokes­woman with Al­berta Jus­tice and So­lic­i­tor Gen­eral said in an email. Of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics for the fed­eral cor­rec­tional sys­tem also sug­gest sex­ual as­saults are rel­a­tively un­com­mon within pri­son walls.

But peo­ple who have spent time in and around Cana­dian cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties tell an­other story.

“They would have to have their heads stuck in the ground to not know it’s an is­sue,” said Kim Pate, a sen­a­tor and for­mer head of the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of El­iz­a­beth Fry So­ci­eties.


In 2001, Hu­man Rights Watch re­leased an in­flu­en­tial re­port on sex­ual as­sault in United States pris­ons called No Es­cape. In it, author Joanne Mariner wrote about “rape’s estab­lished place in the mythol­ogy of pri­son life.” Sex­ual as­saults are as­sumed to be so preva­lent, she wrote, “that when the topic of pri­son arises, a jok­ing ref­er­ence to rape seems al­most oblig­a­tory.”

In the U.S., there is data to back up this per­cep­tion. In 2003, Congress passed the Pri­son Rape Elim­i­na­tion Act. Es­ti­mates within the text of the act sug­gested at least 13 per cent of Amer­i­can pris­on­ers had ex­pe­ri­enced a sex­ual as­sault be­hind bars — equal to more than a mil­lion peo­ple over a span of 20 years.

The act was passed with bi­par­ti­san sup­port and re­quires, among other things, an­nual col­lec­tion of sta­tis­tics on sex­ual as­sault in pris­ons and jails. In 2015, the most re­cent year for which data is avail­able, there were 24,661 recorded al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual vic­tim­iza­tion from pris­on­ers.

The pic­ture is murkier in Canada. In a 2009 ar­ti­cle for the Columbia Jour­nal of Law and So­cial Prob­lems, Philip El­len­bo­gen wrote that pri­son rape is as­sumed to be less of an is­sue north of the bor­der.

While ac­knowl­edg­ing this may be true, El­len­bo­gen found Cana­dian sta­tis­tics and records on sex­ual as­sault were in short sup­ply. At the time, Cor­rec­tional Ser­vice Canada did not track in­mate sex­ual abuse al­le­ga­tions. It was “a prob­lem that Cana­dian schol­ars and of­fi­cials can­not ex­plain,” he wrote.

Post­media en­coun­tered sim­i­lar

They would have to have their heads stuck in the ground to not know it’s an is­sue.


is­sues when re­quest­ing sex­ual as­sault sta­tis­tics from 14 Cana­dian cor­rec­tional sys­tems.

Of those, just seven were able to pro­vide sta­tis­tics — five prov­inces, one ter­ri­tory and the fed­eral Cor­rec­tional Ser­vice Canada. Those sta­tis­tics vary from sys­tem to sys­tem; some count only cases where charges were laid, while oth­ers also keep track of al­le­ga­tions.

Five cor­rec­tional sys­tems — B.C., Man­i­toba, Nu­navut, On­tario and Saskatchewan — ei­ther do not track sex­ual as­saults or could not pro­duce data. Que­bec and Yukon did not re­spond by press time.

Cor­rec­tional Ser­vice Canada, which over­sees about 14,000 in­mates, said it in­ves­ti­gated 17 sex­ual as­saults last year — a fiveyear high.

For Al­berta num­bers, Post­media filed a free­dom of in­for­ma­tion re­quest for five years of de­tailed sex­ual as­sault sta­tis­tics bro­ken down by cor­rec­tional in­sti­tu­tion. The Red Deer case was the only one to show up in those records be­cause it re­sulted in a charge.

Post­media then re­quested data on al­leged sex­ual as­saults in Al­berta cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties; those num­bers are far more com­mon. Al­berta pris­on­ers made 67 al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault in the last five fis­cal years — av­er­ag­ing just over 13 com­plaints a year.

For one rea­son or an­other, charges were not pur­sued in 66 of those cases.


Even when they do ex­ist, sta­tis­tics tell only part of the story.

Sex­ual as­sault is the most un­der-re­ported vi­o­lent crime in the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics Canada. Some es­ti­mates show that only five per cent of as­saults are ever re­ported to po­lice. The con­straints on re­port­ing sex­ual as­sault are even more sig­nif­i­cant in pri­son or jail, where any­one la­belled a snitch can face vi­o­lent reprisals.

Of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics have an­other lim­i­ta­tion: they leave out other forms of sex­ual vi­o­lence en­demic to time be­hind bars.

Howard Sapers, a for­mer Ed­mon­ton MLA who was Canada’s cor­rec­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tor from 2004 to 2016 and is now On­tario’s In­de­pen­dent Ad­vi­sor on Cor­rec­tions Re­form, said sex­ual as­saults are “prob­a­bly the rarest form of sex­ual con­tact in a cor­rec­tional in­sti­tu­tion.”

“There is a lot of sex­ual con­tact that hap­pens in­side pris­ons and jails,” he said. “Some of it is vi­o­lent. Some of it is co­er­cive.”

Con­sen­sual sex does hap­pen in­side, he said, de­spite be­ing pro­hib­ited. How­ever, some pris­on­ers might ac­cept what un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances would be un­wanted sex­ual con­tact, as a dis­trac­tion or as the “lesser of two evils.”

“Jails are very par­tic­u­lar kinds of en­vi­ron­ments,” he said. “I’ve talked to men and women who have en­gaged in of­ten risky sex­ual be­haviour while they were in cus­tody (who) shud­der to think (about) their own be­haviour once they’re on the out­side.”

The strip search is an­other form of sex­ual vi­o­lence, ar­gued Martha Payn­ter, a nurse who works with the pris­oner ad­vo­cacy group Women’s Well­ness Within.

“If that was out­side of pri­son walls — forc­ing some­one to re­move their clothes, penetrating their body cav­i­ties to search them — this would ob­vi­ously be sex­ual as­sault,” she said.

The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union re­cently called the prac­tice “sex­u­ally abu­sive.”

Two Al­berta in­mates re­cently claimed they were sex­u­ally abused by staff dur­ing what were os­ten­si­bly searches. The law­suits con­tain al­le­ga­tions not proven in court.

A civil suit filed in early 2017 by for­mer Ed­mon­ton Re­mand Cen­tre in­mate Gor­don Robin­son al­leges he was sub­ject to a de­grad­ing or­deal at the hands of four un­named cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers. The case was re­solved out of court.

Robin­son al­leged he was taken from his cell on the evening of Aug. 13, 2016, and or­dered to strip naked in front of a group of guards in the shower room. One of the guards al­legedly told him to “bend the f--- over and show me your a------,” which led him to fear he was about to be sex­u­ally as­saulted.

The claim states Robin­son was then led naked down a hall­way in front of male and fe­male in­mates while guards made re­peated jokes about his gen­i­tals. He goes on to claim one of the guards broke his el­bow, and that he did not re­ceive proper med­i­cal treat­ment.

In an­other law­suit, ex-in­mate Gavin An­nett claims guards sprayed pep­per spray into his rec­tum, then forced him to show his anus for a strip search, which was fol­lowed by a “mouth sweep” with the guard us­ing the same fin­gers. The law­suit claims An­nett suf­fered post-trau­matic stress, anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion fol­low­ing the Dec. 17, 2017, or­deal. The claim is on­go­ing and no state­ment of de­fence has been filed.

In­mate com­plaints about strip searches have a long his­tory. One par­tic­u­larly in­va­sive strip search at Kingston’s Pri­son for Women was the sub­ject of a ma­jor in­quiry into pri­son con­di­tions.

If that was out­side of pri­son walls — forc­ing some­one to re­move their clothes, penetrating their body cav­i­ties to search them — this would ob­vi­ously be sex­ual as­sault.

On April 22, 1994, six in­mates at the pri­son were in­volved in what was termed a “brief but vi­o­lent phys­i­cal con­fronta­tion” with staff at the fa­cil­ity. The women were placed in seg­re­ga­tion along with sev­eral other in­mates. While in seg­re­ga­tion, the women con­tin­ued to be vi­o­lent. Staff demon­strated out­side the pri­son de­mand­ing the women be trans­ferred.

On the evening of April 26, the war­den called in an all-male In­sti­tu­tional Emer­gency Response Team from the men’s pri­son to re­move eight women from cells and con­duct strip and cav­ity searches. As was stan­dard pro­ce­dure, the search was video­taped.

The women were placed in re­straints and leg irons and forced to wear pa­per gowns.

Footage of the in­va­sive, hours­long process pro­voked out­rage af­ter it was ob­tained by the CBC and aired on the Fifth Es­tate.

The case led to an in­quiry headed by for­mer Supreme Court Jus­tice Louise Ar­bour. Ar­bour’s re­port, de­liv­ered in 1996, found the women’s treat­ment was “cruel, in­hu­mane, and de­grad­ing.” Ar­bour is­sued a raft of rec­om­men­da­tions — in­clud­ing rules bar­ring men from strip search­ing fe­male pris­on­ers.

“A crime was com­mit­ted there,” said one of the women, who tes­ti­fied she saw other men in­clud­ing two con­struc­tion work­ers watch­ing the pro­ce­dure. “And if some­thing like that hap­pened down the street, that’s a crime. If you go in an apart­ment and rip girls’ clothes off, that’s a crime. That’s sex­ual as­sault.”


Sex­ual vi­o­lence also was at the heart of a ma­jor law­suit brought by four for­mer em­ploy­ees at Ed­mon­ton In­sti­tu­tion, a fed­eral max­i­mum-se­cu­rity pri­son in north­east Ed­mon­ton.

The law­suit de­scribed a workplace “rife with dis­crim­i­na­tion, ha­rass­ment, bul­ly­ing, abuse of author­ity and sex­ual as­sault” over a pe­riod of years. None of the plain­tiffs or al­leged abusers are named in the suit. No state­ments of de­fence have been filed.

One ex-em­ployee, iden­ti­fied by the pseu­do­nym An­drea, claims that a se­nior male co-worker made sex­ual ad­vances at work and threat­ened to sex­u­ally as­sault her af­ter hand­cuff­ing her to a chair.

Jes­sica, an­other ex-em­ployee, claims she was sex­u­ally ha­rassed daily for 10 years at Ed­mon­ton In­sti­tu­tion. She also makes claims against the se­nior male co-worker iden­ti­fied by An­drea, in­clud­ing that he would “pa­rade” around the of­fice with his pe­nis ex­posed and use it to “stir” fe­male co-work­ers’ unat­tended drinks.

Jes­sica also said she was stalked by an­other male co-worker who would in­ap­pro­pri­ately touch her and leave gifts in her car, in­clud­ing sex toys. Dur­ing one evening shift, she claims the man bent her over a desk and hand­cuffed her to the desk through her un­der­wear.

It was an en­vi­ron­ment, she said, where con­ver­sa­tions be­tween co­work­ers inevitably turned to sex. “It al­ways turns to sex talk over time,” she said in the law­suit.

Canada’s cur­rent cor­rec­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tor, Ivan Zinger, spoke about the al­le­ga­tions at Ed­mon­ton In­sti­tu­tion in his an­nual re­port re­leased last month.

“If staff dis­re­spect, hu­mil­i­ate or (abuse) each other one can only imag­ine how they might treat pris­on­ers,” he wrote.


Jesse Lerner-Kinglake, spokesper­son for the hu­man rights group Just De­ten­tion In­ter­na­tional, said one thing learned from data gath­ered un­der the U.S.’s Pri­son Rape Elim­i­na­tion Act is that pri­son rape is pre­ventable.

“There are some pris­ons and jails that have hor­rif­i­cally high rates of sex­ual vi­o­lence, and oth­ers that have vir­tu­ally erad­i­cated it.”

“Sex­ual abuse hap­pens in pris­ons and jails and de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties that are poorly run,” he added. “If you have a well-run fa­cil­ity, you won’t have a prob­lem with sex­ual abuse.”

It’s pos­si­ble, then, that Canada has largely elim­i­nated sex­ual as­sault within cell walls sim­ply by run­ning its pris­ons bet­ter.

El­len­bo­gen, the aca­demic who stud­ied U.S. and Cana­dian pris­ons, wrote that while the U.S. is known to have “ex­tremely high” pri­son rape rates, Canada was not re­puted to have a prob­lem of the same mag­ni­tude.

El­len­bo­gen iden­ti­fied three things the Cana­dian sys­tem does dif­fer­ently that may re­duce sex­ual vi­o­lence: smaller cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties, shorter sen­tences, and sex offender seg­re­ga­tion. Per­haps most sig­nif­i­cantly, Canada has much lower in­car­cer­a­tion rates. One study he cites ar­gues sex­ual vi­o­lence is less com­mon in Cana­dian pris­ons “largely be­cause the size of the pri­son pop­u­la­tion is man­age­able.”

Sapers said Canada needs to do more to un­der­stand sex­ual vi­o­lence in pris­ons and jails re­gard­less of whether it’s bet­ter or worse off than other coun­tries.

“I think there are some other cor­rec­tional sys­tems ... that have much more can­did con­ver­sa­tions about this is­sue, and ac­knowl­edge it’s a prob­lem more read­ily than ... we do in Canada,” he said.


It is dif­fi­cult to get a com­plete pic­ture of how big a prob­lem sex­ual as­sault is in Canada’s cor­rec­tions sys­tems. In Al­berta, 67 com­plaints have been made in the last five years in con­nec­tion with pro­vin­cial jails. Just one of those com­plaints led to a crim­i­nal charge.


The Ed­mon­ton In­sti­tu­tion, a max­i­mum se­cu­rity fed­eral in­sti­tu­tion in north­east Ed­mon­ton, is the sub­ject of a law­suit from sev­eral for­mer fe­male em­ploy­ees that in­cludes al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct by co-work­ers.


Sen­a­tor Kim Pate vis­ited the seg­re­ga­tion unit at On­tario’s Mill­haven In­sti­tute in 2017. Pate was on a fact-find­ing mis­sion study­ing liv­ing con­di­tions in­side the fed­eral pri­son sys­tem.

Howard Sapers


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