Man raped by inmates during 'scared straight' prison tour awarded $175K from B.C.

The B.C. government has been ordered to pay at least $175,000 to a man who was raped by several inmates during a tour of a prison in Burnaby four decades ago.

Victim was assaulted during visit that was one of his terms of probation in late 1970s

Teenagers were sometimes locked in cells during tours of Oakalla Prison. (Jack Lindsay/Vancouver archives)

The B.C. government has been ordered to pay at least $175,000 to a man who was raped by several inmates during a "scared straight" tour of Oakalla Prison four decades ago.

The victim, known by the initials B.E.S. in court documents, was a teenager when he was forced to visit the Burnaby prison in the late 1970s. The tour was one of the terms of his probation for break and enter — a sort of "scared straight" form of sentencing to deter teens from committing crimes in the future, the judge told his parents. 

He laid out what happened next during an appearance in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver earlier this year.

Now 54, B.E.S. testified that a prison guard "grabbed him" when he arrived at Oakalla and led him to a cell where a group of inmates was waiting. The men tried to force him to perform oral sex and then took turns raping him, according to court documents.

He said the guard stood at the door, laughing, while he was sexually assaulted. When it was all over, B.E.S. said the guard pushed him against the wall and said, "That's what happens to little f--kers like you."

Before it was demolished, Oakalla Prison overlooked Deer Lake Park in Burnaby. (B.C. Ministry of Justice)

In a judgment handed down Tuesday, Justice Jennifer Duncan found that B.E.S. had, in fact, been sexually assaulted by a number of inmates at Oakalla, thanks to the actions of an unknown corrections officer.

"The province is vicariously liable for the actions of the unknown officer," Duncan wrote, awarding B.E.S. $150,000 in damages and $25,000 for the cost of future care, as well as his legal costs.

"The sexual assault of B.E.S. was a single event, but it was brutal, and I accept that it continues to have an impact on his day-to-day functioning well into adulthood," the judge said.

She added that the award could grow in the weeks to come — special and punitive damages will be determined at another court date, yet to be scheduled.

Was guard convicted of sexual assault involved?

But the judge rejected B.E.S.'s argument that the guard responsible was Roderick David MacDougall, a former officer at the long-shuttered prison who has been convicted of multiple sexual assaults against inmates. Over the years, dozens of civil suits have been filed against MacDougall for his abuse of prisoners.

When B.E.S. filed his own lawsuit, he named MacDougall as the officer responsible for what happened to him.

But his lawyer offered little evidence for that, other than the fact that MacDougall is a convicted sex offender who worked at Oakalla at the time of the assault.

"It is apparent that B.E.S. became aware of Mr. MacDougall through a counsellor he was seeing. B.E.S. candidly agreed that he 'assumed' Mr. MacDougall was the escort officer, based on information from his counsellor," Duncan wrote.

Victim had 'happy childhood' before assault

B.E.S. grew up in Coquitlam and had a "normal and happy childhood" in the years before the prison tour, according to the judgment.

His life took a turn when he started middle school in Grade 8 and made new friends. When he was 13 or 14, he and some friends broke into a home on a dare. They stole a TV and drank orange juice from the refrigerator.

It was not a successful heist. The police arrived almost immediately and arrested all the children and drove them home to their angry parents. B.E.S. was banned from hanging out with that group of friends.

His parents agreed to a tour of Oakalla as part of his sentence for the break-in.

Oakalla closed its doors in 1991 to make way for a housing development. (B.C. Ministry of Justice)

The court heard that between the years of 1978 and 1981, the youth tour program at Oakalla was unstructured and the visits varied from child to child, depending on the whims of the supervising guard. Teenagers were locked in dark isolation cells, cat-called by inmates and subjected to other forms of verbal abuse.

"The foregoing features of a supposedly educational program are shocking in today's context, where there is a heightened awareness that sexual assault in general, and against children in particular, is an insidious social problem," Duncan wrote in her judgment.

Lasting psychological harm

In B.E.S.'s case, a female probation officer picked him up at home and drove him to the prison, where she handed him off to the unknown guard.

She drove him home again after the assault, apparently unaware of what had happened. B.E.S. says he told her nothing about the attack.

The assault left him bleeding and in pain for at least a week. He didn't speak of what happened to his parents or his friends, and all of his personal relationships were strained, according to the decision.

In the decades since the assault, B.E.S. has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, personality disorder, major depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and an addiction to cocaine.

Oakalla Prison closed its doors in 1991 and was demolished to make way for a housing development.

"Scared straight" programs took youth considered to be at risk of committing crimes on organized prison tours to deter them from offending in the future by providing a first-hand look at what life behind bars would be like. Adult inmates serving life sentences would often speak to youth in an intimidating, abusive manner as part of the program.

Where to get help

Rape Crisis Centre 24-hour crisis line: 604-255-6344 or toll free 1-877-392-7583

Battered Women's Support Services: 604-687-1867

VictimLink B.C.: 1-800-563-0808

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868; Live Chat counselling at kidshelpphone.ca

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay has more than a decade of experience in B.C. journalism, with a focus on the courts, health and social justice issues. She has also reported on human rights and crimes against humanity in Cambodia. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.