Ombudsman wants video recording changes at correctional facilities after restraint, excessive force complaints

Saskatchewan's ombudsman has asked correctional facilities to better manage their video recordings after investigations into allegations of excessive force were hindered because of "unavailable or incomplete" recordings.

Saskatchewan ombudsman Mary McFadyen received 3,298 complaints in 2017, annual report says

Saskatchewan's ombudsman has asked correctional facilities to better manage their video recordings after investigations into allegations of excessive force were hindered because of 'unavailable or incomplete' recordings. (Getty Images)

The provincial ombudsman's latest report says two of her investigations into allegations of excessive force and restraint at Saskatchewan correctional facilities were impeded because of "unavailable or incomplete" video recordings, and she's calling for changes around recordings at correctional facilities.

"We had two cases this year that we could not fully investigate because the video record was unavailable or incomplete," said Mary McFadyen, who is Saskatchewan's ombudsman and public interest disclosure commissioner.

She tabled her annual report in the Saskatchewan Legislature on Thursday.

The report says an inmate at the White Birch Remand Centre who was restrained for five hours in a "WRAP device" reported the incident to the provincial ombudsman.

The WRAP device includes a shoulder harness, ankle binding and a blanket with straps that restrain the legs.
The WRAP device from Safe Restraints, Inc. is demonstrated in a YouTube training video on the company's website. (Safe Restraints, Inc. )

The ombudsman said that at the the time, the WRAP was not authorized for use and was not used reasonably. 

Policy directs the use of the restraint devices at youth facilities in the province, but they were not approved for adult facilities. 

Restraint chairs, rather than WRAPs, are used at adult facilities in Saskatchewan, according to Ministry of Justice spokesperson Drew Wilby. 

But there isn't a restraint chair at the White Birch Remand Centre.  

"The WRAP is a bit of a gentler version, so to speak," he said. However, he said there were "serious issues" with this case identified by the ombudsman. 

He said the Ministry of Corrections and Policing followed McFadyen's recommendation to issue a letter of apology to the woman. 

Corrections has since drafted a policy to allow it to be used on adult women at the White Birch Remand facility, because of its close proximity to the Paul Dojack Youth Centre.

McFadyen's report says an inmate at the White Birch Remand Centre who was restrained for five hours in a WRAP device reported the incident to the provincial ombudsman. (Neil Cochrane/CBC)

McFadyen recommended corrections "ensure basic human dignity would be preserved" with its draft policy. 

She also recommended the policy include reasonable time limits, and proper video and audio recording of the use of the restraining device.

Excessive force allegation

The second issue involving video recordings centres around an allegation that excessive force was used on an inmate at an unidentified correctional facility.  

Corrections ministry staff involved in the alleged incident provided conflicting information to McFadyen's staff, who requested a video recording of the incident. 

However, the recording had been taped over after 30 days, which is in line with the provincial standard, Wilby said. Right now, there aren't plans to change that. 

Corrections toyed with the idea of upping the retention period to 40 days after this incident. 

"The cost to the taxpayers would be about  a quarter million dollars a year to do that," Wilby said, citing the cost of data storage. 

He said the circumstances of this situation appeared to be outside of the norm. 

Municipalities 'hesitant' to hand over info

In 2017, the ombudsman received 3,298 complaints about provincial and municipal government. The top two complaint categories involved social services and corrections.

Municipal issues were the third most frequent with the majority involving a conflicts of interest. The ombudsman's office was given jurisdiction over municipalities in November of 2015.

McFadyen says that some municipalities were reluctant or "a little bit hesitant" to hand over information. 

"Most of the time what we're asking for are documents that under law have to be publicly available … for inspection at their offices," she said, adding municipalities could still be unfamiliar with the role of her office.  

"We're really trying to do lots of outreach and go out and try to explain to people what we're doing, and why it's so important that they follow the rules."