Death or serious injury are the risks facing two gangsters poised to testify in the murders of six men, including two innocent bystanders, says newly released expert testimony that offers a menacing window into the prison lives of those who co-operate with authorities.
A prison warden and an intelligence director in Canada’s prison system told B.C. Supreme Court earlier this year the two expected witnesses will face serious peril behind bars, marked as “rats” if they testify.
Their testimony became public Thursday after the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear a request by the gangsters’ lawyers for a sweeping publication ban in the case to protect the two and cleared the way for the release of the previously sealed rulings.
The two expert witnesses told the court that while there are options for protecting such inmates – transfers to another prison, solitary confinement or even a name change – there are challenges with each.
The two gangsters, who can be identified only as Person X and Person Y, are serving life sentences for their part in the so-called Surrey Six case.
Court heard Person X actually shot the six victims on Oct. 19, 2007, with one of the accused. Person Y was a co-conspirator in the killings, which came as the Red Scorpions gang lashed out at the man renting the apartment where the killings occurred. Person Y became an agent for the police, and obtained admissions from the accused, according to the text of a ruling by Justice Catherine Wedge, which recounts the debate over the issues.
Three men went on trial in the case, but one – Quang Vinh Thang (Michael) Le – pleaded guilty last month to a charge of conspiracy in the death of one of the six.
In deciding how far to extend a publication ban on the identities of X and Y in the case, Justice Wedge heard from Jason Hope, warden of the Saskatchewan Penitentiary and an expert on inmate culture in the Canadian federal correctional system, as well as Jason Cormier, deputy director of intelligence operations, policy and programs with Correctional Service Canada.
Mr. Hope said dealing with an inmate such as X “would be one of the greater challenges in his experience as a warden.” Mr. Cormier noted X’s circumstances would create “the highest level of risk one could imagine.” Of Person Y, Mr. Cormier said such an inmate would face “an extreme risk of harm” were his role as an agent known.
In her ruling granting a publication ban that did not reach as far as the defence had wanted, Judge Wedge writes that prison informants – “known as ‘rats’” and “justice-system co-operators” – occupy the bottom of the hierarchy in Canada’s prisons because “there is no greater breach of the inmate code than to testify for the Crown against other inmates.”
“According to the inmate code, an inmate in the presence of a known co-operator is expected to take steps to bring harm to the co-operator, from assault up to murder.”
Targeted inmates can be transferred, but “the efficient flow” of information through inmate networks can raise risks, she writes. Such inmates can be placed with “similar inmates,” but the stigma of being a “co-operator” can still follow them, prompting attacks. Segregation doesn’t work because it means 23-hours-a-day confinement that limits access to resources needed for rehabilitation and can have health impacts.
Mr. Hope said he could recall fewer than five occasions where an inmate’s name was changed as an option. “However, the risk of identification remains because it is possible that someone may recognize the co-operator by his former name.” A full-fledged identity change, involving the purging of an inmate’s name from official records has promising possibilities, he added.