Michael Nehass naked, shackled in Yukon video court appearance

The judge and lawyers watched and listened as a naked and shackled Michael Nehass pleaded for a towel during a video court appearance in Whitehorse, after spending 28 months in isolation.

Father files human rights complaint over son's treatment at Whitehorse Correctional Facility

Michael Nehass was held in isolation segregation for 28 months at the new Whitehorse Correctional Centre. (Al Foster/CBC)

A human rights complaint has been lodged about the treatment of a Yukon prisoner, who appeared naked and shackled during a court hearing by video conference.

During the Jan. 22 hearing in Whitehorse, three guards in riot gear held Michael Nehass to the floor of a cell. The judge and lawyers watched and listened as Nehass pleaded for a towel to cover up.

Nehass’s father has filed a complaint on the prisoner's behalf with the Yukon Human Rights Commission.

Nehass has been held on remand since December 2011 on charges laid in Watson Lake, Yukon.

He’s since racked up several more charges in four separate incidents, including shattering a guard’s nose, threatening to assault a police officer, causing damage to property and attempting to escape.

Nehass has previously been convicted of beating a man with a baseball bat while an accomplice cut the man's finger off.

At the January hearing, Nehass represented himself. He called for a change in his status, and ranted incoherently about mind control, indigenous rights and his personal sovereignty.

Nehass made another video court appearance Tuesday afternoon. He was fully clothed and his wrists were shackled to a chain at his waist. He appeared agitated and sounded angry as he demanded his next hearing be in person at the courthouse. The judge agreed and a date was scheduled for next month.

‘Psychological torture’ alleged

In his submission to the Human Rights Commission, Russell Nehass says his son is a member of the Tahltan First Nation and an intergenerational survivor of the residential school system. He says his son has a Grade 7 education and suffers several mental disorders.

He says his son's condition has deteriorated since his most recent incarceration, which he calls "psychological torture."

Nehass also claims his son is held in a segregation cell consisting of a bed, a toilet and a light, which is never fully turned off.

He says his son has only been outside four times in the last two years, does not get to take regular showers and was fed only bologna and cheese sandwiches for several months.

Nehass says he’s had difficulty visiting his son, even after scheduling visits 24 hours in advance, as required by the Whitehorse Correctional Facility. The father says he was unable to see his son for nearly a year.

His complaint also alleges that his son has not been allowed visits with the Yukon Civil Liberties Association, and that jail staff failed to inform him that his son attempted suicide.

He believes his son's low literacy levels and accusations of systemic racism against First Nations people are being used against him to justify calling him insane. 

It still hasn't been explained why Michael Nehass was being held naked on the floor during the video court appearance.

Leslie Robert, program co-ordinator with the Second Opinion Society, says prisoners like Nehass need to be dealt with by those with proper training.

The Second Opinion Society advocates for people with mental health problems, although Robert says she’s not sure Michael Nehass's mental health is the issue.

“We can't just say, 'Well, this person is mentally ill, because maybe the bad side-effects are caused by the segregation and inhumane treatment in jail.”

She also says people in Whitehorse should revisit the community consultations that were done in 2006, before the new jail was built.

At that time, many called for the jail to be a place of healing and rehabilitation.

“Even though they're there for punishment because of their behaviour, they certainly have to be treated with respect and humanely, so I ... would like the community to to look to find out what is going on in this new jail and how does that conform to what the community was asking for and the recommendations that were made in 2006.”