Nationwide prisoner advocacy group demands more respect for them

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Prisoners advocacy group nationwide demands more respect for them

An Ontario woman had to to appear by video through the slot used to pass meals in his cell at Vanier prison.

The Vanier Provincial Jail Complex -Maplehurst in Milton, Ontario. The Vanier building is reserved for women.

The Association of Eizabeth Fry Societies of Canada denounces the recent humiliating appearance of a woman in Toronto court and calls on Ontario to show respect for prisoners. The incident occurred Tuesday at Vanier Jail, a provincial women's facility in Milton, suburban Toronto.

Edith Frayne appeared in the Ontario Court of Justice via video link through the slot in the cell that is used to pass trays of food to prisoners. The woman is accused of pushing another on the Toronto subway.

Appearance of the woman accused of pushing another on the Toronto subway

A guard had to hold a cell phone camera to film Edith Frayne through the door opening, which forced the Torontonian to contort on her knees for 20 minutes to be seen and heard during his hearing.

The Registrar told the court that a lack of corrections officers had prevented the prison from bringing Edith Frayne to the facility's video conferencing room.

A publication ban prevents us from revealing information about the legal proceedings against Edith Frayne, but Radio-Canada witnessed the incident on the zoom platform.

L' Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Canada says it is disturbed by the incident which it called shocking. Its general manager, Emilie Coyle, does not say she is surprised, however. I'm still so upset when I hear such stories, she says.

She says this incident again raises the issue of how political, prison and judicial authorities treat inmates across the country, whether in penitentiaries or provincial jails.

“The lack of compassion for inmates is appalling and what happened in Vanier only reinforces the stigma faced by any defendant awaiting trial in prison. »

— Emilie Coyle, Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Canada

Ms. Coyle is further concerned about Ms. Frayne's rights to the dignity and privacy of her appearance, which were violated because of the way she was treated.

The Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Canada reiterates its call on governments to treat prisoners with dignity.

Were there people around who could hear his statements to the court?, she wonders. Was she able to say all she had to say without being worried in such a situation?, she adds.

Ms. Coyle suggests that officers or prisoners now have a fair chance to use her words against her after hearing what she or her lawyer had to say online.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union reminds that procedural appearances before the courts have only been made by videoconference since April 2020.

He points out that the Vanier-Maplehurst prison complex does not currently have enough staff and videoconferencing rooms to accommodate all the inmates who must appear in court. The ratio of guards per prisoner there is very high, according to him.

The Vanier prison has 230 inmates for a capacity of 200 people. From 70 to 100 employees (agents, nurses, janitors, administrators, etc.) work there on a 24-hour cycle.

OPSEU president in Vanier, Peter Figliola, confirms that the situation is widespread in the province and that the pandemic has only made the problem of employee retention worse.

“The correctional officers who are hired today do not stay in their jobs for long because the working conditions are not satisfactory enough.

—Peter Figliola, OPSEU representative in Vanier

Mr. Figliola acknowledges that Wednesday's incident in Vanier is unfortunate. Our members are doing everything possible to meet the high demand from the judiciary with the resources given to them, he said.

A virtual courtroom of the Ontario Court of Justice.

He adds that such a situation would never have happened before 2020, since the prisoners were transferred to a court for their legal proceedings before being returned to their prison.

All the rooms that have been set up in Vanier for virtual sessions in court were occupied and we could not cancel the appearance [of Mrs. Frayne], he continues.

He stresses that his union must maintain access to justice. There were 60 virtual appearances that day, which is huge, he said.

Ms Coyle, however, says a shortage of staff should never justify such treatment of inmates as Ms. Frayne paid the price.

Ms. Coyle recalls that many provinces at the start of the pandemic managed, successfully and rightly, to depopulate their prisons to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of prisoners and prison staff.

Nearly a third of the defendants who posed no danger or threat to society have been released pending further legal proceedings against them, she continues, adding that the results have been beneficial to all levels.

She nevertheless specifies that the number of individuals kept in detention has been increasing astronomically for several months in prisons, while some of them should not even be there.

Many prisoners in the country have lived on the streets or poverty or suffer from drug addiction and mental health problems, according to the Association of Elizabeth Societies Fry from Canada.

Ms. Coyle also points out that the situation in Vanier is symptomatic of a much more serious problem in the country on the treatment of prisoners.

She first asserts that x27;it is disturbing that nearly 70% of inmates in Ontario are awaiting trial in jail while still enjoying their presumption of innocence

“Due to a shortage of resources in our communities, these individuals are being prosecuted, punished and imprisoned before they are even convicted of the crime they are charged with.

— Emilie Coyle, Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Canada

Mr. Figliola agrees. People with mental health issues shouldn't be in jail in the first place because they won't get the care they need, he says.

< p class="e-p">He points out that governments have closed many psychiatric establishments in the province in recent years.

OPSEU confirms that its members are unable to respond to the request of the judicial administration regarding virtual appearances in detention.

Ms. Coyle adds that there are already prejudices against prisoners in our society that need to be addressed in the justice system before the harm is done.

If you have an inmate appearing through the lunch slot of her cell door, the stigma has already taken its toll on the minds of the people attending her audience, she says.

It would be wiser and less prejudicial, according to her, to resume having detainees appear in person in court and in civilian clothes and not in prisoner clothes.

The technology of online appearances, which is now well established in Canada after a difficult start, is partly responsible for the situation according to her.

We recently explained to a Senate committee in Ottawa that technology can actually restrict access to justice, she said with concern.

Technology that enables virtual court appearances is not the solution, let alone for marginalized individuals in society, she argues.

In the impossibility of an in-person appearance, Ms Coyle explains that precautionary measures must be taken in prisons to ensure that the rights of prisoners are respected.

Unfortunately, staffing shortages are only part of the story, video conferencing spaces aren't always adequate either, she says.

The Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies recalls the importance of preserving prisoners' access to justice, with or without technology.

Institutions should have several private rooms and their leaders should better explain to prisoners the limitations they face in prison regarding their rights or the legal proceedings that have been initiated against them. Understanding court administration is not for everyone, she says.

“Society has already decided that it doesn't care too much about people who end up in jail, because they must have done something horrible before they got arrested, but this is not always the case.

— Emilie Coyle, Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Canada

Questioned the decisions that are made to detain a person who for example, he violated the conditions of his release.

Who has never been late for a work meeting?, she wonders, explaining the case of an individual who violated the curfew to which he was subject by a few minutes .

Michael Kerzner is Ontario's new Solicitor General since re-election of the Progressive Conservatives in June 2022.

The union acknowledges that the government now seems to favor virtual appearances for reasons of economy, but technology is not a foolproof solution according to him.

I always believed human interaction was important, even though zoom technology has now proven itself, says Figliola.

“Prisoners should always be able to speak to a judge or their lawyer in person, physical and eye contact remains essential for people who are in trouble.

—OPSEU's Peter Figliola

Mr. Figliola adds that some inmates are likely to have a better chance of being released on bail if they appear in court in person rather than from their jail.

He further clarifies that the technology should primarily be reserved for long-distance appearances, when the court is located far from a detention centre.

Ministry of the Solicitor General of Ontario did not respond to our specific questions about the incident at Vanier Jail because he could not speak to specific cases.

In an email, he nevertheless writes that the department is committed to ensuring that those in [its] custody have appropriate access to justice and are able to fully participate in their legal proceedings.

It further recognizes that there may be times when access to virtual courtrooms is limited due to operational issues.

He adds that he continues to work with his partners and the judiciary to ensure appropriate access to court proceedings for all those in Ontario's correctional system.

These defendants who refuse to take psychiatric tests in preparation for their trial

Ms. Coyle does not say she is surprised by a such a response, because the government must guard against any prosecution relating to the treatment of a prisoner like Mrs. Frayne.

It is clear that it prefers to protect itself rather than to protect individuals in prison, she concludes.

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