Nova Scotia

6 inmates go to court to argue against Nova Scotia jail lockdown

The six were housed at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Centre in 3 North Wing, a unit that from Sept. 1 to Sept. 24 was in lockdown. Inmates were kept confined to their cells for almost the entire day.

Inmates of Burnside jail want judge to declare lockdown invalid

Cells at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth, N.S. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

It was an unusual scene in a Halifax courtroom Monday as six inmates from Nova Scotia's largest jail appeared before a judge to protest conditions in which they've been held.

The six were housed at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Centre in 3 North Wing, a unit that from Sept. 1 to Sept. 24 was in lockdown. Inmates were kept confined to their cells for almost the entire day.

Management at the Dartmouth, N.S., facility, better known as the Burnside jail, said the lockdown was necessary because death threats had been shouted at guards from the cells, but it couldn't be determined which of the inmates had made them.

But the inmates argue that holding them in lockdown violated their rights and could impact how they're treated in custody in the future. They want Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Peter Rosinksi to declare the lockdown invalid.

One of their lawyers, Hanna Garson, told Rosinksi Monday that simply being linked to the lockdown could have the inmates branded as troublemakers in the correctional system.

The lockdown meant inmates were confined to their cells. (Robert Short/CBC)

During Monday's hearing, 10 sheriff's deputies were positioned around the courtroom.

Two former inmates are also part of the legal action. They have since been released from jail but at least one of them has signalled to his lawyer that he wants to continue the fight.

Three of the six who appeared in court in person wore the bright orange outfits all inmates wear behind bars. The remaining three were in civilian clothes, including convicted murderer Randy Riley, who's awaiting sentencing for the killing of Chad Smith.

Monday's hearing was complicated by the fact this is not the first time the court has been asked to rule on the legality of the lockdown. Another inmate, Maurice Pratt, was part of the original legal action. But when lawyers for the others asked for a postponement to better prepare their case, Pratt opted to push ahead on his own.

In a ruling in September in the midst of the lockdown, Justice James Chipman rejected Pratt's arguments and upheld the legality of the action by jail staff.

For that reason, Duane Eddy, the lawyer for the Nova Scotia Attorney General, argued that Rosinski should not be required to hear the same arguments on the same set of facts.

Rosinski reserved his decision.