As It Happens

Thunder Bay jail whistleblower has 'mixed feelings' after murder charge stayed

When Ontario's human rights commissioner toured the Thunder Bay District Jail in 2016, correctional officer Michael Lundy told her to ask management about an inmate named Adam Capay.

Judge ruled Adam Capay's Charter rights were breached and he will not stand trial for 1st degree murder

Former corrections officer Michael Lundy says there aren't enough staff or resources at the Thunder Bay District Jail. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Story transcript

When Ontario's human rights commissioner toured the Thunder Bay District Jail in 2016, correctional officer Michael Lundy told her to ask management about an inmate named Adam Capay.

What Renu Mandhane found shocked her — a young Indigenous man who was barely able to speak after four years in solitary confinement in a windowless room with 24-hour artificial light.

On Monday, a judge ruled that Capay will not stand trial for first-degree murder in the 2012 death of another inmate, saying that his Charter rights had been violated. A publication ban remains in effect on the reasons for the judge's decision and all evidence presented until the window to appeal closes on Feb. 27.

For Lundy, who now works at the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre and serves as vice-president of OPSEU Local 708, the news was "a mixed bag of emotions."

Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

What compelled you to expose what was going on, to tell the the commissioner that day when she was visiting?

It's unfortunate that it was Thunder Bay incident that brought it to light, but these kind of conditions are inside many of our jails right now.

There's no place to house those that are suffering from mental illness that need to be kept away from the general population for a variety of reasons. There's just no infrastructure to do it.

It sounds all good to put it on a policy on paper, but when you don't provide people with the tools to do it — it would be like telling a carpenter to build a house with a hammer, nails and wood and then not giving them the hammer the nails, right? I mean, it just doesn't work.

Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, toured the jail in early October 2018. (CBC)

You were there the day, though, that the human rights commissioner was visiting and you wanted her to see where Adam Capay was and to talk to him. What did you expect to come out of that?

I don't know if I expected the huge media thing that came with it and that, you know, it would lead where it led as far as with Adam's trial.

The truth is, we're tasked to do care, control and custody of people that are, for whatever reason, the courts have decided are to be in our facilities.

And the truth is, it's not right, 100 per cent, what we're doing with them. 

In our various remand centres across Ontario, there's really no chance for us to rehabilitate these people, to try and help them, give them resources for when they're going back out in the community, to give them resources while they're on trial and all that stuff.

I guess I wanted her to see how systemic the problem is — that the system's coming very close to being completely broken and we're not taking any steps to really fix it. 

We're limited in what we can say because there is a publication ban in this case. He is still before the courts. But you know the conditions under which Mr. Capay was held. He was in solitary confinement for 4 1/2 years. What were the conditions where Mr. Capay was being held?

That the biggest thing is that all inmates are supposed to have certain rights. They're supposed to have times out of their cells. They're supposed to have access to yard. They're supposed to have access to programs.

Well, we have no program officers. At the time that Adam was going through that, we had one social worker that was in charge of classification.

We didn't have enough staff to facilitate yards every day for inmates. We didn't even have staff some days to facilitate time for our inmates that were held in our special handling units to get out of their cell during the day.

You know, sometimes we can't facilitate showers on certain days because of a staffing shortage. Thunder Bay jail has been dealing with a staffing level that hasn't changed in 45 years.

I don't believe any of this on our senior management or even anybody from regional. The truth is is that the ministry has a set of policies and procedures that we're expected to follow, but then they don't give you the tools to be able to follow them. 

After the story of Adam Capay came out, the Ontario government announced that the jail would be finally replaced with a new facility. Where does that plan sit right now?

Right now, they're saying all the right things. They're saying that they're still going forward with it. However ... from a union standpoint, we've seen no progress from since the Progressive Conservative government took power.

Since you blew the whistle though on Adam Capay case, the media has — especially the Globe and Mail — has done extensive coverage on the conditions of solitary confinement in Canada. Do you think that things are changing? 

I think that there's a lot of pressure being put on from the top, for sure. I think that Renu from the Human Rights Commission continues to hold the ministry accountable. 

Do I still think it's being handled properly? Absolutely not. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview produced by Tracy Fuller. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.