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Prison guards involved in Matthew Hines case not disciplined for more than a year

Correctional officers who beat and repeatedly pepper sprayed Matthew Hines weren't disciplined until more than 15 months after his death in a New Brunswick prison, CBC News has learned.

New documents shed light on how Correctional Service Canada handled Hines's death in prison in 2015

Matthew Hines begged for help before taking his final breath at Dorchester Penitentiary. He was pronounced dead on May 27, 2015. (CBC)

Correctional officers who beat and repeatedly pepper sprayed Matthew Hines weren't disciplined until more than 15 months after his death in a New Brunswick prison, CBC News has learned.

On Aug. 26, 2016 — four days after CBC News first reported Hines's story — the former federal correctional investigator wrote a letter about the case to Correctional Service Canada commissioner Don Head.

"On what basis and on whose authority was it determined that there would be no formal disciplinary action taken against the front-line officers who, according to the warden and the board of investigation, used 'inappropriate' physical and chemical force against Mr. Hines?" Howard Sapers wrote.

One month later, the Correctional Service told CBC News that three correctional officers had been disciplined.

Two guards were given reprimand letters, while a correctional manager received a reprimand letter and lost one day's worth of pay.

A nurse who failed to provide Hines with medical assessment and treatment before his death was disciplined by the correctional agency much sooner, in September 2015. She no longer works in the prison system but is still licensed as a nurse in New Brunswick.

Matthew Hines died while a prisoner at Dorchester Penitentiary on May 27, 2015. His family has learned that he may have died from lack of oxygen after being pepper sprayed by guards five times. (CBC)

Hines, 33, died in the custody of Dorchester Penitentiary on May 27, 2015. An autopsy report shows the Cape Breton man likely died from lack of oxygen caused by pepper spray.

Two correctional officers — Alvida Ross, 48, and Mathieu Bourgoin, 31 — have since been charged with manslaughter and criminal negligence causing Hines's death.

They haven't entered pleas to the charges and are scheduled to appear in court in Moncton on Feb. 26.

It's not clear whether Ross and Bourgoin were among the three correctional officers who were disciplined.

The federal agency declined an interview request because the case is before the courts. A spokesperson wouldn't explain why more than 15 months passed before guards were disciplined.

"In terms of staff discipline, there is a due process that must be respected and this can take time," spokesperson Martine Rondeau wrote in an emailed statement.

"We do not tolerate any breach of policies and all allegations regardless of the source are thoroughly investigated by CSC."

Justin Piché, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, said he wasn't surprised by the delay in disciplining the guards, "given the political and institutional context that CSC was operating in at that point in history."

The tough-on-crime stance of the previous Conservative government, and a move away from the principle of using the least restrictive measures on prisoners, sent a message that prisoners' rights don't matter, Piché said.

"When you have that kind of messaging going around, it gets to be seen more acceptable to treat prisoners in that fashion."

Sapers's letter is among more than 200 pages of documents about Hines's death released to CBC News by Public Safety Canada under access to information legislation.

A similar request was filed to Correctional Service Canada in August 2016 but has never been answered.

Plans to screen video scrapped

Matthew Hines died at Dorchester Penitentiary on May 27, 2015. (Correctional Service Canada/Flicker)

The documents also detail how the Correctional Service developed a nine-page strategy for dealing with media questions after Hines's death, one month after his story first made headlines.

"Following the best practices of crisis communication, information regarding Mr. Hines' death should be shared with speed, clarity and accuracy," a draft copy of the strategy says.

It mentions plans to invite media to Dorchester Penitentiary in October 2016 and show them video depicting Hines's death. 

"Subject matter experts" would be brought in to answer questions about Hines's death, such as why pepper spray is used "and CSC's discipline and investigation processes."

Rondeau said the agency couldn't release the video "due to the ongoing investigation and the potential coroner's inquest."

"That remains the case today."

Dos and don'ts

In November 2016, a year and a half after Hines's death, Correctional Service Canada issued a bulletin to staff that detailed how Hines's death could have been prevented.

With "DON'T" written beside in big letters, it details a scenario where officers used a "spontaneous use of force" on an inmate who "appeared to be acting out of it and behaving oddly.

"An inmate may appear to be uncooperative and/or under the influence of intoxicants but may actually be experiencing a medical emergency."

The better approach, the bulletin says, would have seen officers speak to the man calmly to determine why he wasn't following instructions.

They would have concluded he wasn't aware of his surroundings and "required medical intervention."

In this scenario, the inmate lives.

"He was then assessed and treated by health services and returned to his range." 

About the Author

Karissa Donkin

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Send your tips to NBInvestigates@CBC.ca.