Prisoners at the Matsqui Institution in the Fraser Valley are going to court in an attempt to overturn a lockdown their lawyer says has forced some to use waste baskets and plastic bags in their cells as toilets because of a lack of timely access to washroom facilities.
Lawyer John Conroy, retained by the inmate committee at the medium-security facility about 70 kilometres east of Vancouver, said he has secured a hearing in B.C. Supreme Court next Monday to end a lockdown that was imposed on May 11.
The lockdown means the prisoners are in their cells 23 hours a day.
It was imposed after about 220 inmates at the 43-year-old institution stopped performing such duties as kitchen work to protest against changes that would have required more labour without more visits and yard time, he said.
But prisoners in three of the four wings do not have toilets in their cells, so, during the lockdown, must request access to communal washrooms from prison staff, Mr. Conroy said.
As a result, they are not being able to get to toilets as needed, he said.
“What they have been doing is going to the bathroom in their cells,” he said, noting that some are holding onto the raw sewage until they have their daily release, while others are throwing it out through open windows.
“We say this is instigating cruel, unusual, degrading and inhumane treatment,” he said, noting that it violates sections of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act on cruel and unusual punishment.
“We say there are remedies available to the institution and administration in the event of a work stoppage that don’t include locking people down and trying to coerce them to go back to work by using their toilet access as a way to coerce them,” he said.
Mr. Conroy said that he expects some members of the public will have little sympathy for his clients, but that standards for the treatment of inmates have to be respected.
“They’re not asking for a five-star hotel accommodations. They’re locked in cells without toilets,” he said, noting that they also lack washing options.
He said his clients are concerned, but not inclined to violence.
“It’s a popular myth that prisoners like to riot. It’s just nonsense,” he said. “They know what can happen during riots; how the lunatic fringe can take advantage of the cover of a riot. It’s not in their interests to riot. They want to try and resolve the whole thing peacefully and it’s the administration that’s escalating the situation by locking people down and trying to put them in a situation where some people might lose it.”
A spokesman for Correctional Service Canada, speaking on background, declined to give detailed comment on the situation because, he said, the matter is before the courts.
He would not talk about any aspect of the toilet-access issue, but acknowledged that inmates stopped working and so prison officials enacted what he called a “modified routine” that curbs privileges.
“Having less freedom has resulted in a number of things. That’s what is [being] brought in court,” he said.