Nova Scotia

Former correctional officer accused of sexual assault speaks out

Three female inmates are suing the federal correctional service, alleging they were sexually assaulted at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro, N.S. The former correctional officer at the centre of the lawsuit says he's been wrongfully accused.

Three female inmates allege they were sexually assaulted at Nova Institution for Women in civil lawsuit

The Nova Institution is one of six federal corrections facilities for women across Canada. (The Canadian Press)

A former correctional officer accused of sexual assault against three inmates at Atlantic Canada's only women's prison is speaking out, denying the allegations. 

The three women are suing the federal correctional service, alleging they were sexually assaulted at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro, N.S. It's one of six federal corrections facilities for women across Canada. The alleged assaults are said to have happened in 2013 and 2018. 

Brian Wilson worked at the facility for 10 years and is named in the civil lawsuit against the federal correctional service. He told CBC News on Thursday he has been wrongfully accused. 

No criminal charges have been laid against Wilson and the allegations have not been tested in court.

Wilson said he wasn't aware of the lawsuit until CBC News contacted him for an interview earlier this week.

"I had no idea. I was totally blindsided," he said.

In a statement to CBC News, Correctional Service Canada (CSC) said they began an internal disciplinary investigation as soon as the allegations were brought forward in December 2018. 

CSC said the employee in question was placed on administrative leave pending the results of the investigation.

"In March, the investigator provided us with her preliminary findings, and on March 29, we contacted the Truro Police with details of the allegations uncovered in the disciplinary investigation. CSC has been and will continue to cooperate with the police investigation," spokesperson Kyle Lawlor said. 

Brian Wilson worked at the facility for 10 years and is named in the civil lawsuit against the federal correctional service. (CBC)

Brian Wilson said he was suspended in January but it wasn't until March that he learned the nature of the allegations against him.

He said he resigned from the facility in April on the recommendation of his psychologist after what he calls false allegations against him compounded his stress. 

"She said, 'You need to be away from there.' My family doctors told me for years, 'You need another job.' So finally I said, you know what, I think you're right. It's time to move on," he told CBC News.

He said he's been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

"I left, my mental health was getting better, better mood — until 5 o'clock [Wednesday] night," when he learned of the lawsuit.  

Mike Dull is the lawyer representing the three inmates accusing Wilson of sexual assault.

"It is harder for inmates, people with a history of trouble with the law to be believed by the legal system. And it's an unfortunate reality and that's what makes it all the more brave for these women to step forward and speak their truth in the face of that knowledge."

Mike Dull is the lawyer representing the three inmates accusing Wilson of sexual assault. (CBC)

Dull said Wednesday that two of the three women are still serving time while one has been released.

Emma Halpern, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies for mainland Nova Scotia, agrees it's difficult for inmates to come forward.

"I would say it's magnified for women who are imprisoned and who are deemed as, sort of often less than by our society," she said. 

"Once someone's been criminalized there's further stigma that [they have] to overcome in order to report something like this and so that's a challenge."

CSC said in a statement to CBC News that inmates "have a number of avenues to report inappropriate behaviours from staff whether they are a victim or a witness."

It also said the CSC has a responsibility "to ensure that the dignity and privacy of women offenders are respected to the fullest extent possible, and that they are provided an environment that is safe and secure." 

"CSC has also established clear policy direction to address the health care needs for any potential victim of sexual assault. The direction includes both physical and mental health care needs." 

'Toxic, dysfunctional' workplace: report

Wilson's wife, Lisa Wilson, is also a correctional officer at the Nova Institution. She's been on sick leave since July 2018. Lisa Wilson said she also suffers from PTSD. With the added stress of the allegations against her husband, she has given her notice of resignation as well.

"It's rough right now, it's pretty rough. I don't even have words, honestly, to describe it," she said. 

An internal CSC report obtained by CBC News on the Nova Institution and the Springhill Institution described the work environments as "toxic, dysfunctional and having a very low morale."

The internal document for Nova Institution says there is a staffing crisis, with approximately 30 per cent of correctional workers on extended sick leave.

Lisa and Brian Wilson say Brian has been wrongly accused of sexual assault in a lawsuit involving inmates at the Nova Institution for women. (CBC)

Brian Wilson said the correctional service promised him a copy of the findings of the internal investigation at the end of March. He said he never received it.

The Wilsons have applied through the Access to Information and Privacy Act to see the contents of the report.

They said police have not been in contact with them and neither the union nor management will speak to them about the situation.

"Brian's name is being dragged through the mud by three women who [have been] incarcerated," said Lisa Wilson.  

Wilson alleges there are other male officers facing similar accusations. 

"I'm definitely not the only one going through this same thing here [at the Nova Institution]," he said.

"I'm just the top of the list right now."

The Wilsons say they have no idea what they'll do next.

"Especially after all of this. I have no trust in the service any more," said Lisa Wilson.

Even though Wilson's resignation has meant the union has stopped supporting him, Wilson said he has no regrets about leaving.

"As far as my resignation. The only mistake I did was not doing it a long time ago."

With files from The Canadian Press

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