Five inmates are suing the federal maximum-security penitentiary in Edmonton, alleging guards put spit and feces in their food, regularly beat them and ran a sadistic prisoner fight club.
Two of the inmates also allege that in 2011 guards intentionally placed two rival gang members together and, when one was stabbed, waited until he died before calling an ambulance.
“Inmates were terrorized. They had fear instilled in them,” Erika Norheim, the lawyer representing the inmates, said in an interview Monday.
Norheim said while prisoners may be segregated and denied privileges for not following rules, guards at the Edmonton Institution may not use threats and violence.
The lawsuits, filed in Court of Queen’s Bench, name as defendants the institution’s warden, Kelly Hartle, guards, supervisors and medical staff.
None of the allegations in the statements of claim have been proven. Correctional Service of Canada spokesman Jeff Campbell declined comment, saying it wouldn’t be proper as the lawsuits are before the court.
Statements of defence have not been filed.
The prisoners detail a litany of alleged abuses from the petty to the negligent.
Prisoner James Wigmore’s claims centre around either the segregation unit or G Unit – a unit to deal with troublesome prisoners.
G Unit, said Wigmore, was set up as a rehabilitation program but in reality has no guidelines. Its real purpose, he said, was “abusing inmates in order to destroy any sense of security they had within the institution.”
Wigmore said guards played a key role in the Aug. 16, 2011, death of Mason Montgrand, a gang member.
Wigmore claims that on that day, guards arranged prisoner times outside the cells so Montgrand would come into contact with a hostile inmate. Montgrand, 21, was stabbed in a fight with a rival gang member.
Wigmore alleges that guards stood around for 45 minutes “laughing and joking about the fact that he was dying and the inmate gang members taking care of their own problems.”
“An ambulance was not summoned until after Montgrand was dead,” the claim alleges.
Prison officials at the time said they needed tear gas to bring the situation under control, and when they did, Montgrand went into medical distress and died a short time later.
Lance Regan, 24, was charged with first-degree murder in connection with Montgrand’s death. A provincial inquest is pending.
Regan is one of the inmates suing the prison. He said guards “recklessly” gave the two men shower and exercise privileges at the same time in the same unit, knowing that as bitter gang rivals they would attack each other.
Regan, in his statement of claim, said Montgrand came after him and that in the course of the fight, as Regan defended himself, Montgrand was killed.
Inmate Terrence Naistus, in his statement of claim, said he lodged a complaint when, in the days before Montgrand’s death, he heard guards falsely telling other inmates Montgrand was in protective custody.
After Montgrand died, Naistus said he was strip-searched for no reason, pepper-sprayed, beaten and had his belongings destroyed. He said he overheard guards falsely telling other inmates that Naistus was a child molester, putting him in danger.
Wigmore claimed guards would direct the prisoners to fight each other “for the purposes of staff entertainment or other improper purposes.”
He said those who didn’t fight on command were threatened with pepper spray or assault.
Inmate Mark Kennedy, in his statement of claim, said he knew he was in trouble on Day 1 in G Unit when eight guards surrounded him and asked “where on his body he would like to be hit.”
He said they then gave him a black eye.
Kennedy alleges things got worse when word got out he was talking to a lawyer.
“The plaintiff’s food, and that of other inmates, was tampered with, including putting urine and feces in the food on some occasions,” said Kennedy in his statement of claim. He said he would return to his cell to find his clothes and bedding smeared with feces.
Inmate Arafat Fattah, in his statement of claim, said he was purposely housed in the same cell as a child sex offender and ordered to attack him. He said he did so under extreme duress.
Fattah said when he asked that his religious diet be respected, he was not fed at all or given “a Styrofoam container with his name on it, with some shredded lettuce, some onions, two slices of pickles and some used cutlery.”
Another meal, he said, consisted of a bun and three French fries and, on another occasion, his meal came doused in shampoo.
Norheim said the prisoners have tried to stop the abuse in-house for the last year without success and the lawsuits are a last resort.
She said more lawsuits from other inmates are on the way.