Inmates awarded thousands over poor conditions
Frequent lockdowns violate charter rights against cruel and unusual punishment, judge rules
A judge has awarded damages to two inmates at the Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton after he ruled their charter rights were violated by conditions at the jail.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Douglas J. Gray awarded $60,000 to Jamil Ogiamien, an immigration detainee, and $25,000 to Huy Nguyen, an inmate awaiting trial on firearm-related charges, on Tuesday.
He said conditions at the men's jail violated their rights against cruel and unusual punishment under section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Gray said the conditions stem mainly from repeated lockdowns at Maplehurst.
"They have been made to suffer stress, impacts on visits from family and friends, interference with telephone calls, interference with showers, interference with proper hygiene, forced co-existence with a cellmate, to mention only some of the features mentioned in the evidence," he said in the ruling.
Gray said he awarded damages in part to deter government from "future breaches."
The case appears to be the first to award damages to inmates over detention conditions, according to immigration lawyer Barbara Jackman, who was involved in the case but did not directly represent either man.
"The court was right to do what it did because the problem has been there for years, and it's been raised in different cases over the years," she said.
The frequent lockdowns have been used as a stop-gap solution to staffing shortages at Maplehurst, Jackman said. When a similar case came up in 2002, inmates were spending about 40 per cent of their time in lockdown. Lately, it's closer to 50 per cent.
"Lockdown is supposed to be an exceptional security measure. It's not supposed to be a regular means of controlling for staff absences," Jackman told CBC News.
Most of the 1,000 inmates in question are awaiting trial. Others are being held for immigration cases.
Jackman expects the government will appeal but predicts, if the damages are paid, the case will pave the way for improvements at Maplehurst.
The federal and Ontario governments were ordered to pay Ogiamien jointly, because the federal government is responsible for his detention, while the Ontario government was ordered to pay Nguyen.
Ogiamien, one of 13 immigration detainees at Maplehurst, has been detained since April 26, 2013, mostly at Maplehurst. Nguyen has detained at the facility since May 8, 2015.
With files from Sean Davidson