Allegations of widespread bugging at Saskatoon jail

CBC News has learned that a listening device discovered in a staff lounge at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre may not be the only bug at the jail.

Internal document suggests bug in staff lounge not only listening device

Questions at the jail (CBC)

Concern is growing in the legal community over the extent of bugging at the Saskatoon jail.

Last week, Corrections officials admitted they had installed a listening device in a staff area in April.

The bug was hidden in a ceiling smoke detector. It was discovered by staff.

Officials said that it was all an embarrassing mistake.

In a letter to employees, dated June 23, acting director Jock McDowell said the bug was a prototype for a new intercom system.

It causes me to wonder whether I can have a confidential chat with my client at the institution.- George Combe

"It was not installed as a means in which to covertly listen to staff conversations," McDowell wrote.

Rather, he said that the device had been installed in the staff lounge to test it before installing it in the inmates' area -- which he wrote is already bugged.

Inmates already bugged

"The intercom device was required to be hard wired into the existing inmate intercom system," he wrote.

"The intent of the installation of the prototype was done in good faith to test its capabilities as a possible enhancement and/or replacement of the existing inmate intercom system."

Corrections officials have since refused interview requests to discuss the extent and legality of the hidden surveillance of inmates. 

But sources at the jail tell CBC that listening devices have been used in the prisoner's areas -- hidden in everything from fire extinguishers to cells -- for years. This surveillance only became an issue for staff when management placed a device in their lounge.

In an email to CBC, officials said that the device in the staff lounge had been "installed with the support of Central Services."

This means that management at the Correctional Centre installed a listening device in a staff lounge with the help of the government's IT department.

Privacy concerns for lawyers

George Combe routinely meets with clients at the jail.

News of the listening device in the staff lounge concerns him because, if management bugs its own staff, then he wonders whether they would also bug his clients when he meets with them.

"It causes me to wonder whether I can have a confidential chat with my client at the institution," he said.

"Now I'll be looking at smoke detectors, I'll be looking at anything hanging on walls to ensure that I had privacy." 

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