Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Torture in the New Residential Schools

The torture of Adam Capay in Thunder Bay Jail says as much about how politicians are failing us as anything else happening in the world today.

As much as Brexit, as much as the U.S. election nightmare, as much as the surge of the Pirate Party in Iceland. As much as any of the political upheavals created by people rising up and demanding better government and better politicians dedicated to providing it.

Capay, a young man from Lac Seul First Nation near Sioux Lookout, has been in solitary confinement for more than four years. The lights are on 24 hours a day in his Plexiglas cell, making it impossible for him to know if it is night or day. He has been in this cell 52 months, awaiting trial for the killing of another inmate.

Ontario’s politicians and bureaucrats are yip yapping the usual lines, calling the Capay case unacceptable and not nice. Premier Wynne calls it disturbing.

Well Ms. Premier, here’s what I call it: * * * outrageous, evil, cruel and criminal. Clearly it is a violation of international laws regarding torture.

At first word of the Capay treatment Wynne should have been on an airplane to Thunder Bay to personally manage and correct this outrageous wrong. The premier’s mind, however, can’t seem to get outside downtown Toronto and its pressing issues of gender neutral language and bicycle lanes.

Especially sickening is that the Ontario government knew about Capay’s torture for a long time and did nothing. Protocols for solitary confinement mean that dozens of monthly reports on Capay’s segregation were sent, or should have been sent, to the ministry of institutional services.

The dirt only hit the fan when Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Renu Mandhane was tipped to Capay’s plight. She visited him and witnessed the conditions in which he is being held.

A bright spot in this ugly story is that a jail guard pushed it into the spotlight by informing Mandhane. That’s heartening because corrections officials have not been known to show much empathy for aboriginal inmates.

I recall vividly being slipped a plain brown envelope many years ago that contained a photocopy of a top-secret Northwest Territories prison training manual. The manual informed new prison staff that aboriginals are “lazy, uncreative, unthrifty and adolescent,” traits that come from their “mongol origins.”

Hopefully the sentiments in that training manual have long disappeared, but the shockingly high rates of aboriginal imprisonment have not.

Almost 25 per cent of inmates in Canadian federal, provincial and territorial lockups are aboriginal. Aboriginals are 10 times more likely to be imprisoned in Canada than non-indigenous people. Ninety per cent of the inmates at Thunder Bay Jail are aboriginal.

Our prisons and jails are the new residential schools. 

The Capay story shows us clearly the political rot in Ontario and the urgent need to overhaul our democracy.

Much of the rot can be attributed to swelling numbers of career politicians whose decisions too often are based on re-election, rather than the concerns and needs of the people. They are masters of the political game, when they should be masters of the art of management.

Good managers lead from out front and recognize problems before they become crises. Letting a young man sit in a brightly-lighted Plexiglas cell for more than four years is managing from the bleachers instead of being on the field.

This Ontario government, and others of the last three decades or more, have demonstrated that they are incapable of managing a peanut stand.

The way to get fewer career politicians and better government is for people to become involved in the political process. The next Ontario election is in 2018 and people need to become involved now in the nomination process.

That means deciding what type of people we need in government and encouraging them to run. It means challenging the existing nomination practices and, if necessary, tossing people who have been a political party’s choice.

This is not about party politics. It is about getting into government people dedicated to working for the people, not the party. If that means people without political party affiliations, all the better.


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