The upper echelons of the Ontario government knew about the plight of a young inmate long held in solitary confinement at Thunder Bay Jail for at least nine months before taking action this week.
Those warnings came through formal channels – alerts are sent to an assistant deputy minister within the corrections ministry every time an inmate spends more than 30 continuous days in segregation – as well as in a personal interaction between the inmate, Adam Capay, and then-corrections minister Yasir Naqvi, according to a union official.
Mr. Naqvi, now the government's Attorney-General, said this week he does not remember seeing Mr. Capay during a visit to Thunder Bay Jail on Jan. 13.
Mr. Capay is the young aboriginal prisoner who has languished for upward of four years in solitary confinement awaiting trial for a crime he allegedly committed when he was 19. The circumstances of his incarceration – an acrylic-glass-encased cell bathed in 24-hour artificial light – only came to light last week after the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission spoke publicly about her first-hand encounter with Mr. Capay.
On Thursday, the current minister in charge of corrections, David Orazietti, vowed to do better for the inmate, saying he will remain in the new cell he's been moved to – in solitary, but with access to a day room including a television and a shower – indefinitely.
"There were concerns around lighting, there were concerns around the Plexiglas, other concerns were raised," Mr. Orazietti said. "So we're working to address those issues and we want the circumstances that Mr. Capay has today to obviously continue while he's in custody. So he has access to a day room, he has access to showers, phone calls, TV and the other support services that are necessary."
Mr. Naqvi's tour of the facility early this year came a month after rioting inmates ransacked an area of the jail and took a correctional officer hostage. Mr. Naqvi met with management and union officials that day.
Unlike the minister, a union official who helped lead the visit recalls the encounter in vivid detail. Mike Lundy, a correctional officer and president of the union local representing the jail, said Wednesday that as the tour passed by Mr. Capay's glass-encased cell, the inmate called out to the minister. Mr. Lundy can't recall exactly what Mr. Capay said, "but it was something like 'Who are you?' "
Mr. Naqvi replied that he was the minister responsible for corrections, and the touring party moved on, according to Mr. Lundy. "That's when I said 'That guy you just talked to, he's been in segregation going on four years.' "
When Mr. Naqvi asked why, Mr. Lundy says he was blunt, telling the minister the inmate was accused of killing a fellow prisoner.
Mr. Naqvi said Wednesday he could not remember whether he had been told of Mr. Capay's case when he visited Thunder Bay Jail, or whether he had seen anyone in Mr. Capay's circumstances – in a glass-encased cell with the lights on 24 hours a day.
"I do not recall any conversation with Mr. Lundy on any specific inmate or his condition," Mr. Naqvi told reporters. "I don't recall any conversation specific to an individual. Our conversation mostly was focused on the building, the facility and how old it is and the challenge with the building and the future need for a new jail in Thunder Bay."
When asked if he saw any prisoner in the sort of solitary Mr. Capay was apparently living in, Mr. Naqvi replied: "I don't have recollection … you walk through a lot of halls and you talk to a lot of people, so I don't have that specific recollection."
Informed of Mr. Naqvi's lack of recollection, Mr. Lundy said, "That's unfortunate, because I saw the look on his face that day."
The Ontario corrections system has strict policies in place to ensure high-level bureaucrats are notified any time an inmate logs 30 or more days in segregation.
In Mr. Capay's case, for instance, a report would have been forwarded to an assistant deputy minister on at least 50 occasions.
All segregated inmates have their placement reviewed by jail staff within 24 hours, followed by further reviews every five days. If the placement reaches 30 continuous days, the jail superintendent (or a designate) conducts a more thorough report, the results of which are sent to the assistant deputy minister for Institutional Services, currently Christina Danylchenko.
Human-rights lawyer Paul Champ, who's worked on a number of prominent prison cases, says a warning is also sent directly to the minister responsible at 60-day intervals. "The purpose is to raise the seriousness to the highest level of government," he said.
Review notes are captured on internal forms bearing the title "Segregation Decision/Review." A Globe and Mail analysis of those forms earlier this year found they often contained illegible and cursory justifications for prolonging segregation placements, such as "incompatible" or "bizarre behaviour." Twenty-nine of 653 forms bore no justification whatsoever.
Mr. Capay had logged 1,500 days in administrative segregation – the internal term for solitary confinement – by the time Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, met him during a jail tour earlier this month. Mr. Capay told her that his acrylic-glass cell, along with a lack of natural light and the 24-hour artificial illumination had led to speech and memory problems.
With a report from Sean Fine