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How a tweet led to unlocking Adam Capay’s stint in solitary

Adam Capay, shown in 2012, spent more than four years in solitary confinement, awaiting trial on a murder charge.

Jeff Labine/

If not for a mundane tweet, two forthcoming investigations into solitary confinement would likely never have been launched – and a young Indigenous man named Adam Capay might still be languishing in a prison cell surrounded by acrylic glass.

Instead, that single social-media post was the ember that touched off an inferno of criticism and scrutiny focused on the use of solitary confinement in Ontario's correctional system. The issue will flare up again on Thursday with the release of the Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé's investigation into solitary-confinement practices, one of two major probes launched after revelations about Mr. Capay's four-and-a-half year stint in segregation.

The story of Mr. Capay's trip through the justice system is still being written, but some new details have emerged.

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Globe editorial: Ontario's sickening mistreatment of Adam Capay

Renu Mandhane, the province's chief human-rights commissioner, told The Globe and Mail on Wednesday that, on Sept. 23, 2016, she tweeted about plans to tour Thunder Bay Jail and "speak with prisoners, including those in segregation." The post caught the attention of Mike Lundy, a correctional officer and president of the jail's union local.

"I hope you will engage the Local Union Leadership in discussion," he tweeted back. "More to the story."

The brief but fateful exchange led to a pretour meeting on Oct. 7 at the jail. As they parted ways, Ms. Mandhane said: "Is there anything I should know or ask about during my tour?"

That is when Mr. Lundy advised her to ask jail management about an Indigenous man in the segregation unit named Adam Capay.

"In a way, it was a chance encounter and it certainly took immense bravery on [Mr. Lundy's] part to tell me about Adam," Ms. Mandhane said.

What she heard from the young man shocked her. He had difficulty speaking because of a lack of human contact, and the presence of continuous artificial lighting made it hard for him to discern night from day. He had been in a cell surrounded by acrylic glass for more than four years. All while he was still awaiting trial on a murder charge.

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When Ms. Mandhane told reporters about her encounter, Premier Kathleen Wynne labelled the situation "unacceptable," and corrections minister David Orazietti hired outgoing federal correctional ombudsman Howard Sapers to review segregation practices, the results of which are expected next month.

Meanwhile, a prominent legal team took over Mr. Capay's case. They had him moved from Thunder Bay to the maximum-security Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care in Penetanguishene, Ont.

In an application to have the charges against Mr. Capay dismissed, the lawyers peg his total time in continuous solitary confinement at 1,636 days. During most of that stretch, he had minimal access to showers, reading materials, writing tools, cell radio, Indigenous services or canteen food.

His medical records, filed in court with the stay application, told of deep mental-health concerns, including suicide attempts and anti-social personality disorder. One prison psychologist labelled him a "very impaired young adult."

The application alleges his treatment violated an array of Charter rights, including those protecting against arbitrary detention, cruel and unusual punishment, discrimination and unreasonable justice delays.

The provincial government has repeatedly declined to comment on Mr. Capay's legal proceedings, but did say it would respond to Mr. Dubé's report on Thursday afternoon.

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Mr. Capay's family, meanwhile, has been working to raise gas money for a trip from their home in Lac Seul, Ont., to visit him in Penetanguishene, a 10-hour drive, and to attend court proceedings.

Testimony will begin on May 23 and stretch through October. No decision is expected until 2018. "While Adam's case is extraordinary, what it reveals is the profound systemic failure to identify and implement appropriate options for inmates with mental health issues," Karen Symes, one of Mr. Capay's lawyers, said in an e-mail. "Adam's case helps to shed light on the enormous service gap that exists in Ontario's Correctional system for mentally ill inmates. Even when front-line workers recognize and seek to address the serious harms that result from prolonged segregation, the reality is that there are no meaningful alternatives currently available."

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