A former B.C. prison guard says provincial managers did nothing to stop taunting from the inmate who sexually assaulted and tortured his sister shortly before her death.
In a complaint submitted to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, Barry Rhodes says he was told to "suck it up and get back to work" when he complained to the assistant deputy warden in charge of staffing.
In December 2010, his younger sister, who was 34 at the time, went to police after she'd been held against her will, sexually assaulted and beaten by a man with a lengthy criminal record. The man was arrested, charged and remanded to Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre in Saanich, the same prison where Rhodes worked as a correctional officer.
"This individual would walk by and sit there and point and laugh at me," Rhodes told CBC News.
Before the case went to trial, his sister committed suicide.
Grieving and distraught, Rhodes says he went to his manager "at least twice a month" saying "transfer him out, transfer me to another centre." But they refused to do anything, he says.
Rhodes says everyone in the prison knew the situation, including the prison buddies of his sister’s attacker.
"I've had a few inmates that would come walking by me and just push the envelope: 'Hey Rhodes, how's your sister doing these days?'"
He says management did agree to a no contact protocol, where he was not supposed to be anywhere near the inmate. But there were many mistakes, he says.
'He'd taunt me … smiled and laughs.'
"He'd taunt me,” explains Rhodes, who came face to face with the inmate while supervising the medication lineup.
"I wasn't informed that he was coming to medication and stood there and looked at me, smiled and laughs and says 'What do you want to do? Wanna try something? Go ahead. I dare you. There is a camera right there.'"
Holding back tears, Rhodes told CBC News he could only think of the bruises his sister had shown him, after the attack and just days before her death.
"I see my sister sitting beside me still, black and blue, her mouth ripped apart — telling me all the things that happened. These are the images I got in my head," Rhodes said.
Court records show the inmate struck a plea deal and was released after serving time for an assault conviction. But he returned to the correctional centre in 2011, after being charged with first-degree murder in the stabbing death of an alleged drug dealer.
Eventually, going to work became unbearable, Rhodes said.
"I'd be going out for my break and go sit in my truck and bawl my head off for a half an hour on my break and then have to suck it up and go back to work and put on a strong face again," he told CBC News.
Rhodes has filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, saying he was discriminated against on the basis of mental illness. His complaint says "management at VIRCC did nothing to protect this peace officer or use any due diligence to prevent thus situation."
Ridiculed, bullied and harassed
Rhodes remembers his last day of work as a corrections officer, in December of 2012, after another inmate refused to co-operate and instead again asked about his late sister.
He says he called for help to subdue the man, and then went straight to management.
"I just tell my employer that, 'hey, this is getting a bit much. I'm almost having a breakdown here.'"
But he alleges he was "ridiculed and bullied and harassed" and told to return to work.
Instead, he filed a claim with WorkSafeBC. His injury claims were accepted.
Rhodes was found to suffer from PTSD, anxiety and adjustment disorder as a result of the conditions in the workplace, and he is not to return to any work in corrections or law enforcement.
In his complaint submitted to the tribunal he wrote: "[I] had to continue to live through this nightmare for two years, being reminded DAILY! How much can one person continue to handle. This is mentally causing me personal issues in my life."
Policies differ on transfers
CBC News asked B.C. Corrections for an interview about Rhodes's case but spokeswoman Cindy Rose sent a statement by email that said it would be inappropriate to comment on a matter before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
Rose also wrote that “B.C. Corrections takes the health and well-being of its correctional officers very seriously and works to promote a respectful work environment that is free of any form of discrimination."
A review of the B.C. Correction Act shows there is no specific policy to protect staff from inmates that could pose a personal conflict, but other provincial jurisdictions say either the guard or the inmate would be moved in similar circumstances.
"In Ontario, the inmate would be sent to another facility if the ministry is aware of any potential conflict between a staff member and an inmate," says Brent Ross, a spokesman for Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
In federal prisons, a commissioner’s directive makes officials assess the safety of staff and inmates to avoid such conflicts.
Neil Boyd, a professor and the director of the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University, has studied the risk of violence toward B.C. prison guards. He says management should have taken every step possible to prevent any contact between the officer and the inmate convicted of assaulting his sister.
“It’s quite worrying to hear of a case such as this, because it does seem that accommodations... ought to have been made," he said.
Boyd wants to know why Rhodes's requests for a transfer were denied.
"It's very difficult to move an inmate in such a circumstance but it's not difficult, at least at first glance, to think of different ways in which this correctional officer could have been moved, could have undertaken different kinds of work or, at the very least, it does seem on the face of it that more steps might have been taken to ensure that he would not have contact with somebody who had assaulted his sister."
But a large part of Rhodes's complaint involves the nasty comments made by other inmates, which he says caused him daily stress.
Boyd explains that, in prison culture, "for some inmates that is an opportunity to push some boundaries, to make outrageous statements." Boyd says that kind of behaviour is not surprising given "there are a lot of people in prison who might best be described as antisocial deviants."
'Somebody has to take some accountability'
Documents show the B.C. government has been served with the human rights complaint and Rhodes says the province has requested a settlement meeting. That request would not be an indication that his complaint is founded.
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal says most complaints are resolved with private settlements, and the variety of solutions can range from an apology to policy changes, to compensation. None of the allegations in Rhodes's complaint has been proven in court.
In the meantime, Rhodes says he has completed career re-training with the help of WorkSafeBC and is now looking for work as a heavy equipment operator in the Okanagan.
He says he wants to move on in his life, but he also wants the provincial government to address his concerns.
"It's not a monetary thing. This is about an issue at hand that somebody has to take some accountability for their actions."
Rhodes says if he didn't speak out, he fears other corrections officers could be placed in the same type of unbearable situation.
The inmate who assaulted his sister has since been convicted of manslaughter in an unrelated case and has been moved to a federal prison.
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Full statement from Cindy Rose, spokeswoman for B.C. Corrections:
BC Corrections takes the health and well-being of its correctional officers very seriously and works to promote a respectful work environment that is free of any form of discrimination.
As this complaint is currently before the BC Human Rights Tribunal and is in the very early stages of the process, it would be inappropriate to provide further comment.