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Years after landmark case, some Ontario inmates with mental health issues still segregated for months at a time, ministry data dump reveals

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A coroner’s inquest will begin in Ottawa later this month for Cleve Gordon (Cas) Geddes and another is likely to take place next year for Justin St. Amour — two young men with mental illnesses who both spent time in segregation in the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, and then hanged themselves in the Ontario-run jail.

From these inquests, juries will most likely make recommendations that have been made before, including not placing people with serious mental illness in segregation.

A special isolated prisoner cell seen during a media tour of the Toronto South Detention Centre in Toronto in an Oct. 3, 2013, file photo.
A special isolated prisoner cell seen during a media tour of the Toronto South Detention Centre in Toronto in an Oct. 3, 2013, file photo.  (Nathan Denette / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

“They keep making recommendations but the province just keeps ignoring them,” said Paul Champ, the lawyer representing the Geddes and St. Amour families. “It’s a tragedy that keeps on rolling.”

Last month, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services quietly posted an unprecedented volume of data on 3,086 inmates who spent time in segregation in Ontario jails over a two-month period earlier this year. It was part of a five-year-old settlement in an Ontario human rights case, in which Champ represented former inmate Christina Jahn.

The good news is that there is now robust data that tracks vulnerable Ontario inmates placed in segregation. The bad news is nothing much has changed in five years. In fact, it has grown worse for people with mental illness, Champ said.

“In these overcrowded, understaffed jails, an inmate who presents with serious mental health problems is handled in the only way they know how, which is placing them in segregation,” Champ said. “There are more people with mental illness in segregation, and that is just inexplicable to me. The province has to respond.”

The numbers are grim.

Nine inmates captured in the review of segregation placements for the months of April and May had been held for a year of consecutive days in segregation, or longer. Of those, four had a combination of mental health and suicide risk and watch alerts. A fifth had a mental health alert.

Of 3,998 placements in segregation, 778 were for periods longer than 15 consecutive days, a threshold beyond which the United Nations said segregation should be banned because of the proven psychological damage it can cause.

Half of the inmates had mental health alerts on their files and more than a third had a suicide alert.

Story Behind the Story delivers insights into how the Star investigates, reports, and produces stories.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has reached out to the government and expressed its concerns with what the new data reveals.

Chief rights commissioner Renu Mandhane, who prompted public outcry two years ago when she discovered inmate Adam Capay had been in segregation in a Thunder Bay jail for more than four years, said nothing has changed. But she credited the government for meeting its obligation and releasing the data, which has been anonymized.

“It is the most complete picture that we have of the circumstances of individuals held in segregation,” said Mandhane, who wants the government to commit to a plan to deal with vulnerable inmates.

“What are their plans to address the long-term cases? Are they contemplating things like hard caps or prohibitions in certain classes of prisoners? We haven’t got a clear commitment from the government on that.”

Read more:

Murder and segregation: the story of Adam Capay and Sherman Quisses

Inmate in solitary for four years alarms rights commission

Data reveal ‘shocking’ numbers of Ontario inmates in solitary

In response to questions from the Star, ministry spokesperson Brent Ross said in an email that the “ministry and its staff work diligently to find alternative housing solutions for individuals who are declining to leave conditions constituting segregation.

“These can include moving an inmate to an institution where they feel more comfortable being out of segregation conditions; working to acclimatize an inmate through the use of behavioural contracts and slowly bringing the inmate out of segregation for longer periods; educating inmates about the advantage of step-down units in the hope they will choose to transition to that type of housing; and working with the inmate to identify the reasons they prefer to remain in segregation.”

In response to a request from the Star, the ministry separately released data on the racial makeup of Ontario jails for the same period as the segregation data. This allowed the Star to compare placements to baseline jail populations.

Adam Capay has been held for over four years without even being convicted of the crime for which he is being held in segregation — the alleged killing of another inmate.
Adam Capay has been held for over four years without even being convicted of the crime for which he is being held in segregation — the alleged killing of another inmate.  (Alison Jane Capay/askfm/ File)

In 17 of 24 institutions, the proportion of segregation placements for white inmates was greater than their share of the jails’ overall populations, and in seven jails the difference was greater than five points.

For 15 of 24 institutions, the proportion of segregation placements for Indigenous inmates was also greater than their share of the jails’ populations, but only three had differences greater than five points. Jails in Kenora and Thunder Bay saw a lower proportion of Indigenous inmate placements compared to their overall population.

With minor variances, the proportion of Black inmates was in line with the proportion of segregation placements for Black inmates.

Another Star analysis of those in segregation, which compares the number of placements to lengths of placements by race, shows that in two Ontario jails Black inmates are kept in segregation for longer periods.

At Maplehurst Correctional Complex, Black inmates represented 17.5 per cent of placements, but 26 per cent of the total length of segregation time. At the Toronto East Detention Centre, Black inmates represent 41.6 per cent of placements and 49.6 per cent of total length.

Indigenous inmates in jails in northern Ontario show the opposite trend: the Star found they made up 32.5 per cent of placements but represented 16.4 per cent of the total length of time in segregation. Conversely, in the same north region, white inmates represented 60.9 per cent of placements and 78 per cent of length.

The ministry’s Ross told the Star the “length of stay in conditions constituting segregation varies according to the individual and can be affected by a number of factors, including mental health, perceived vulnerability and injury. At no time is an individual’s ethnic or racial background considered grounds for placement in conditions constituting segregation.”

The inmate held in segregation for the longest continual period was in for 598 days, at the Central East Detention Centre in Lindsay. The data shows him to be white, in his early 40s and with a mental health alert. Three other of the nine inmates held in segregation for a year or longer were also at that jail.

Another of the nine, a male Muslim inmate in his 30s, was in segregation for 469 days at the same Ottawa jail where St. Amour and Geddes were housed.

St. Amour, 31, died Dec. 8, 2016, in hospital after hanging himself. He had serious mental health issues, likely schizophrenia, and had spent time in segregation, Champ said.

Geddes, who had schizophrenia, ended up in jail after a call for help. Geddes had stopped taking his medication, and his father was worried, Champ said.

“The police show up and he got really belligerent with them, which is what a guy with schizophrenia does,” Champ said. He was arrested for uttering threats to police.

Cleve Gordon "Cas" Geddes hung himself while in segregation at the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre in February, 2017. A coroner's inquest into his death begins Nov. 26, 2018, in Ottawa. (Photo courtesy of Sigrid Geddes) Jim Rankin/Toronto Star
Cleve Gordon « Cas » Geddes hung himself while in segregation at the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre in February, 2017. A coroner’s inquest into his death begins Nov. 26, 2018, in Ottawa. (Photo courtesy of Sigrid Geddes) Jim Rankin/Toronto Star  (Jim Rankin/Toronto Star)

In court, Champ said it was obvious to everyone that Geddes was mentally ill and he was ordered to undergo an assessment at Royal Ottawa Hospital. There were apparently no beds available, and he was sent to the detention centre and placed in segregation, Champ said.

“Seven days later, he’s still there, and he hung himself,” Champ said. Geddes died on Feb. 10, 2017. The inquest into his death begins Nov. 26 in Ottawa.

“There is no end to it,” Champ said. “At least now we can’t say that people don’t know what the scope of the problem is.”

Sigrid Geddes is preparing to testify at her little brother’s inquest. Known by his nickname Cas, he was the youngest of six siblings and was an “amazing human being,” she said.

“He was loved by everybody he came in contact with,” Sigrid added, describing Cas as handsome, charming, funny and a hard worker.

When he got sick in his early 20s, “no one could believe it,” Sigrid said. He was addicted to marijuana, she said, noting that schizophrenia and cannabis do not mix well.

Jail, she said, is no place for people with mental illness, let alone placing them in segregation.

“If you want to talk about basic human rights, this is a health issue,” she said, adding she hopes more education will “put pressure on the government to have a little bit more holistic care for people.”

Spokesperson Ross said the ministry has made “significant progress” on meeting the conditions of the Jahn settlement since the beginning of the year, when a consent order was signed. An independent expert on human rights and corrections has been appointed to assist with implementing the order and an independent reviewer is in place to monitor the ministry’s compliance.

The definition of segregation was also revised from being a specific area in a jail to a “condition of confinement where any inmate is physically isolated and confined anywhere in an institution for 22 hours or more per day,” said Ross.

Jim Rankin is a reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @Jleerankin

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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