Toronto Police have charged five correctional officers with aggravated assault in the Dec. 20 beating of a prisoner at Toronto South Detention Centre, and police say they expect to charge a sixth in the incident.
Aggravated assault is defined in the federal Criminal Code to include wounding, maiming, disfiguring or endangering the life of a complainant. It carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.
Police did not release the names of the correctional officers or the victim, or provide details about the nature or extent of the beating or what led to it. The victim was admitted to hospital for injuries that were not life-threatening, police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray said in an e-mail. She said she could not provide other details because they would be considered evidence in the case.
Earlier this year, a judge condemned “Dickensian” conditions at the detention centre and reduced an armed fentanyl trafficker’s nine-year sentence by two years to reflect the centre’s repeated lockdowns, which can leave inmates in small, shared cells for days. It was the 15th time since 2015 that judges have criticized conditions at the centre.
Criminal-defence lawyer Shane Martinez, who has represented inmates in lawsuits over abuse, says the lockdowns aggravate tensions between guards and inmates. Abuse charges against correctional officers are “exceptionally rare,” he said, adding that laying charges is an important step in holding correctional officers accountable for their conduct.
Police said they were not releasing the names of the accused correctional officers because, “In this case, there’s no investigative reason to do so,” Ms. Gray said in her e-mail. “This was an isolated incident; we are not looking for more victims or witnesses; all of the people involved have been identified; and there is no threat to public safety.”
Mr. Martinez called that a double standard.
“Shielding the identities and reputations of correctional officers reveals a troubling bestowal of privilege that is not afforded to other accused persons,” he said.
“The police commonly release the names and photographs of individuals charged with offences, especially when the offences involve the victimization of vulnerable persons. Inmates, by virtue of their confinement and isolation, are potentially vulnerable to an array of systemic abuses.”
He said police should encourage other inmates, current or former, to come forward to report similar abuses at Toronto South.
A spokeswoman for the Solicitor-General’s department, which oversees provincial jails, declined to comment while the case is under investigation and before the courts.