Prisoners hoarded toilet paper and changed into institutional clothes before a fatal riot at a maximum security prison east of Vancouver, the B.C. president for a union representing corrections officers said Tuesday.
Andy Reekie, regional president for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said an officer working Monday night before the riot at Kent maximum-security institution in Agassiz noticed the unusual behaviour.
Mr. Reekie, who got the information second-hand from people who spoke to officers on-site during the riot, said hoarding toilet paper is often a sign inmates expect to be locked down.
"In the instance of wearing institutional clothing, it's that much harder for officers to identify certain inmates in institutional clothing," said Mr. Reekie, who has worked 18 years as a corrections officer. "After a while they all look the same."
Corrections officials said rioting broke out late Monday night and inmates were secured in their cell by about 2:30 a.m.
But by the time it was over, Darrell Fhanoss, a 39-year-old inmate serving a life sentence for second-degree murder had been found beaten and stabbed to death.
A 41-year-old prisoner also suffered multiple stab wounds and head injuries in the disturbance and was taken to hospital, where he was in stable condition Tuesday.
Some security staff suffered minor injuries and at one point two guards locked themselves into a secured area for about 90 minutes until they were escorted out by the prison's emergency response team.
The disturbance began in a unit housing 92 inmates in three cell blocks and officials said that inmates put on masks and barricaded doors before setting fires and trashing prison property.
Guards fired a number of warning shots and used tear gas to try to quell the riot but inmates responded by trying to breach control posts in the cell blocks. The emergency response team was eventually deployed to regain control of the prison.
Mr. Reekie said he was told inmates tried to grab a female officer but that she managed to escape by using a spray similar to pepper spray.
But a spokesman for the Correctional Service of Canada said he didn't know about the incident Mr. Reekie described.
Dennis Finlay said he couldn't confirm whether inmates were hoarding toilet paper or behaving abnormally before the riot.
"These are the types of observations that officers make and report and whether or not that was the case in this instance I can't confirm," he said.
Mr. Finlay said it was too early to say what caused the riot, although he said some of the inmates seemed to have been drinking.
"Apparently some of the offenders involved in the incident had been drinking homemade alcohol and that may have been a contributing factor to the way they acted," he said.
Mr. Finlay said homemade alcohol is a serious problem at many Canadian prisons, describing it as a constant struggle between inmates and corrections staff.
Mr. Reekie said it's relatively easy for prisoners to make homemade alcohol.
"It's not hard to take a couple of pieces of bread, some sugar and some fruit and let it ferment for a while," he said.
Asked how prisoners could make alcohol without guards noticing, Mr. Reekie said it "doesn't take long if you put a lamp under a bag and it heat if for a while, it doesn't take long to produce a brew."
The riot was a repeat of a similar deadly incident at the Kent prison, said Canadian Alliance MP Randy White, who represents the Fraser Valley riding of Langley-Abbotsford.
"At that time, five years ago, Corrections Canada acknowledged how serious the problem of homemade alcohol can be in a prison," said Mr. White in a statement released Tuesday.
Mr. Reekie said he suspected there were more reasons than alcohol for the outburst, namely a change in the way inmates were being served food.
Mr. Reekie said he was told tension had been building for some time over the issue and he thought prison officials should have been better prepared for a riot to start.
He said hot summer weather can also contribute to tension among inmates.
He suggested there could have been more security in the units.
Mr. Finlay countered by saying authorities would have taken steps to stop the riot "if we had any kind of idea that this was going to happen last night. . ."
He said he couldn't comment on the atmosphere in the prison before the riot or whether the system for serving food was a potential contributor.
"Investigators are now looking at whether there were any pre-indicators which would have allowed us to know something was happening."
Kent security officials, the coroner's office and the RCMP are investigating. The federal maximum security institution is divided into three units, now housing a total of 289 inmates.