February 28, 2014

Will a Public Database of Pedophiles Protect Children? The answer may surprise you.

The federal government recently introduced legislation to create a public database of child sex offenders.

The bill increases the sentences for child sex crimes and requires sex offenders to provide information when they travel and also facilitates information sharing between various law enforcement agencies.

As an advocate for survivors of childhood abuse I support legislation increasing the penalties for child sex offences.

As a father I would want to know if there are any high risk sex offenders living in my neighborhood. So the public database is something that I expect will have a great deal of public support.

However, as a lawyer I have to question whether a public database of sex offenders will actually reduce child sex crimes and protect children.

American experience

Most American states have databases of registered sex offenders that can be searched online by the public. Some of these registries have been in place for decades. So there is a fair amount of data available to determine whether public registries actually reduce the incidence of sex crimes.

Registration vs. Notification

The research indicates that there is a clear distinction between the effectiveness of registration verses notification.

Registration requires convicted offenders to register with local police so that law enforcement can track offenders whereabouts.

Notification involves notifying the public when an offender moves into a neighbourhood or providing public access to sex offender databases.

The propsed Canadaian legislation contains both registration and notification requirements.

Registration of sex offenders

J. Prescott from the University of Michigan and Jonah Rockoff from Columbia University studied data from fifteen states over a 10 year period in their paper Do Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws Affect Criminal Behavior?

The authors of the study found that registration helped reduce sex crimes. In small communities forcing sex offenders to register with police reduced sexual offences by up to 13%. The authors found that the more comprehensive the registry the greater the effect in reducing offences.

Since laws require registration only for people who have already been convicted of an offence the reduction in crime was due solely to discouraging recidivism among convicted pedophiles. Registration had no effect in preventing first time offenders or in preventing serial offenders who had never been caught/convicted.

Notification increases crime rate

The authors found that in states that required Police to notify the public when a sex offender moved into a new neighborhood the laws actually had the effect of increasing recidivism rates.

The authors speculate public notification may provide some deterrent to first time offenders.

But notification programs appeared to make it more likely for past offenders to commit offences again. The authors specifically looked at states that had registration programs and added public notification and they noted these states tended to experience higher sex crime rates after adding public notification programs.

What is the reason for the increase in crime rate?

It does seem counterintuitive that notifying the public about sex offenders could result in an increase in crime rates.

The authors of the study speculated that:

“Convicted sex offenders become more likely to commit crimes when their information is made public because the associated psychological, social, or financial costs make a crime free life relatively less desirable…”

So what should the government do?

Although a public database of sex offenders may appeal to the public the government should focus its efforts on registration laws that enable law enforcement officials to keep track of sex offenders rather than publicly naming and shaming pedophiles.

Even though we may think that a public database is the right thing to do because it gives us the perception we are protecting our children, the facts from those jurisdictions that have past experience with these types of programs tell us that public databases of sex offenders is likely to increase the risk to our children.

So what do you think? Are you in favour of a public database for sex offenders?

February 25, 2014

Catholic Archbishop in Alberta, NWT Apologizes for Residential School Abuse: Irony Abounds

CTV News has reported that Archbishop Richard Smith of the Archdiocese of Edmonton has issued a formal apology for the Catholic Church's role in running the Indian Residential Schools.

Smith said:

“...we the Catholic Bishops of Alberta and Northwest Territories apologize to those who experienced sexual and physical abuse in residential schools under Catholic administration.”

Canada apologized

As part of the National Indian Residential School class action settlement, in 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on behalf of Canada, issued an apology to all former residents of residential schools. Various church leaders throughout Canada have followed suit apologizing for their role in the appalling legacy of Indian Residential Schools.

No apology from the Pope

It is worth noting that in 2009 the Pope met with Canadian Indian Residential School survivors, including some of my clients from the Shubenacadie Indian Residential school. Read my article: Pope Apologizes (Sort of) for Abuse at Indian Residential Schools for the full story.

Pope Benedict chose to simply express sorrow for the suffering of children forced into Indian Residential Schools, with no acknowledgement of the role the Catholic church played in causing the pain that Indian Residential School survivors carry.

This most recent apology is coming a few weeks before the final event by the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission which is set to take place from March 27 – March 30, 2014.

Real apology or window dressing?

All residential school survivors will have to judge for themselves what value they place on the Archbishop's apology. However for me, the apology is rather ironic given that just three weeks ago National Media reported that the Federal Government has been forced to sue the Catholic organizations that ran the Indian Residential Schools to get them to pay their share of the national class action settlement.

As part of the Indian Residential School class action settlement all of the religious entities that ran the residential schools agreed to pay 25 million dollars towards the cost of the 2 billion dollar settlement. Some critics suggested that since the catholic Church ran most of the Residential Schools, the Catholic church should contribute more than the other religious entities involved in the class action.

The Anglican, Presbyterian and United Churches have all met their financial obligations.

However, Canada is now pursing legal action against the Catholic Church seeking to recover 1.6 million dollars which was supposed to go toward the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

Further, Mike DeGagne the former executive director of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation says that the Catholic Church has contributed almost none of the 25 million dollars they were supposed to contribute to the overall Indian Residential School settlement.


Apologies are a valuable part of the healing process. However, apologies must be backed up by actions. In the case of the Catholic Church it appears that the church is happy to offer words but fails miserably when it comes to baking up those words with cash for the victims of residential school abuse.

December 13, 2013

Saint John - Estabrooks Class Action filed

I have been retained by Robert Hayes to file a proposed class action against the City of Saint John, the Saint John Police Department and the Saint John Police Commission.

For more than 30 years Kenneth Estabrooks preyed on children and youth in Saint John. Persons in authority turned a blind eye, or worse, covered up his sexual activities.

Estabrooks has destroyed hundreds of lives. Tragically some did not survive. Many of his victims have never been able to achieve their full potential because of the harm caused by his abuse. The ripple effects of his assaults have touched spouses, children and other family members of his victims.

Estabrooks can no longer be held accountable for his actions.

But Bobby hayes and the other Estabrooks survivors are taking control of their lives. They are demanding answers and accountability from the institutions and employers that allowed Estabrooks to destroy so many young lives.

For decades Estabrooks victims have suffered in silence. But Hayes is Breaking the Silencehttp://www.apmlawyers.com/breaking-the-silence-the-survivor-s-guide-to-sexual-abuse-claims.html. He is speaking up on behalf of all the survivors who cannot. I admire and respect his courage.

This class action will allow Estabrooks' survivors to receive closure and compensation for what happened to them.

You can read a copy of the pleadings filed on behalf of the survivors here

If you would like more information about the Estabrooks class action or would like to join the class action you can contact me confidentially or call toll free 1-866-423-2050.

November 10, 2013

Lest we forget


September 26, 2013

Estabrooks Sexual Abuse Survivors Plan Class Action Against City of Saint John

When I was little, one of the first things my parents taught me was that there are some people you can trust when you need help; your parents, your teachers, and above all, the police. This message was reinforced by our schools and public safety announcements on television.

Unfortunately, for dozens of kids who grew up in the poor south end of Saint John, the local police officer was the last person in the world you could trust.

Predator policeman

Global News has been conducting an investigation in to allegations of sexual abuse by former Saint John police officer Ken Estabrooks. Their investigative report “A City’s Shame: Relieving Childhood Sexual Abuse” airs Saturday night, September 28, 2013 on Global TV. You can read a preview of the report here.

Saint John police

Ken Estabrooks was a police officer employed by the City of Saint John in 1960s and 1970s. Inexplicably, in the mid 1970's Estabrooks was transferred from the Saint John Police Department to the Saint John City Works Department. There was never any public explanation as to why a long-term police officer suddenly lost his job and was transferred into the anonymity of City Works.

In 1999, Estabrooks was charged and convicted with indecent assault and sentenced to six years in prison.

Secretly transferred

During the trial, one of Estabrooks’ former co-workers, Detective Herbert Robertson testified that in 1975 two children have filed complaints alleging that they have been sexually abused by Estabrooks. According to Robertson, the Police Chief at the time, Eric Ferguson ordered Robertson to investigate the allegations. Robertson testified that Estabrooks confessed to sexually abusing the children.

However, instead of being charged with sexual assault or being fired from his job with the City, Estabrooks was quietly transferred to the City Works Department where he continued to be employed until his conviction in 1999.

Survivors come forward

We have been contacted by survivors who allegedly were sexually abused by Ken Estabrooks when he was a police officer. The survivors describe how Estabrooks used to prey on the poor and vulnerable kids who grew up in the south end of Saint John. Many of the survivors describe horrifying acts of sexual abuse by Estabrooks.

Other survivors describe how the sexual abuse continued even after he was transferred into City Works.

After our investigation, I have become convinced of the legitimacy of these survivors’ claims.

Class action against Saint John

We have been retained to file a class action against the City of Saint John on behalf of all of the survivors who were sexually abused by Ken Estabrooks both when he was employed as a police officer and later on when he was employed with City Works.

I have been representing survivors of childhood abuse for more than twenty-five years, and every time I meet another survivor I am always forced to come to grips with the question of how responsible adults could allow this kind of horrible abuse to go on for years.

I would encourage everyone to watch the report on Global News on Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 7 PM on 16x9.

More information

If you have any information pertaining to Ken Estabrooks, or would like more information about the class action, you can contact me confidentially through our website or by calling toll free 1-877-423-2050.

July 11, 2013

Sexual Assaults in the Military: The Armed Forces dirty secret

Can sexual assault or rape ever just be incidental to a job? Is it conceivable that someone can sign up for a job where a high risk of sexual assault would be considered somewhat normal? According to the American Military sexual assault is, essentially, just part of the job.

The astonishing statement is part of a response to a lawsuit filed by American soldiers against the Pentagon alleging sexual assault and harrassment by other members of the Armed Forces.

According to Neil MacDonald at the CBC there is a severe lack of accountability within the American military. Last year almost 3,500 people formally complained of sexual assault in the U.S. military. The Pentagon admits that only 238 of these complaints resulted in convictions. The remaining complaints were either dismissed or resulted in minor administrative punishments.

According to the documentary Invisible War about the American military, a female soldier in combat zones is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire!

Fox guarding the hen house?

What happens when those assigned to protect, investigate, and prevent sexual assaults are the ones committing the offences? Just this week the U.S. Army announced that a sergeant first class who had been involved with an assault prevention program at Fort Hood in Texas, is being investigated for allegations of sexual assault. While the soldier has been suspended from all duties, no charges have been filed.

While not an assault on a member of the military, the recent charges against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski of the U.S. Air Force also reflects another example of the proverbial fox in the hen house. Krusinski was the chief of the U.S. Air Force’s sexual assault prevention branch when he was charged with sexual battery in May, 2013. According to reports, the officer drunkenly approached a woman in a parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks. Interestingly, Krusinski faces trial on July 18th for his alleged assault, while the officer in the Army involved in an alleged assault involving subordinates still has not faced charges.

No-different in Canada

As a sexual abuse lawyer, I have represented victims of military sexual assault here in Canada. According to an article posted on The Canadian Encyclopedia the Canadian military has a similarly poor record in protecting it's femal memebers from sexual abuse and in holding abusers responsible.

It is interesting the CBC reported on the sexual assault report from the Pentagon, but not about the occurrence of sexual assault in our own military.

Shortly after the results of the American study were published, The National Post reported that the Canadian Forces is surveying it’s members to try to determine the extent of military sexual assault. The survey specifically seeks to shed some light on the hidden crime of male on male sexual assault in the military.


Victims of sexual abuse have long been unfairly stigmatized. Survivors are reluctant to come forward lest it affect their families or careers. It appears that this prejudice and lack of accountability is alive an well in Armed Forces on both sides of the border.

Continue reading "Sexual Assaults in the Military: The Armed Forces dirty secret" »

May 10, 2013

Brown v. Canada: Court Puts Brakes on Aboriginal Class Action

For close to twenty years I have had the privilege of representing Nora Bernard and the survivors of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School. I was a member of the steering committee that negotiated the landmark National Indian Residential Schools Class Action settlement and I have had the great honour of helping hundreds of former residential school students in the claims process.

The Residential Schools Class action was the largest class action settlement in Canada, effecting nearly 70,000 aboriginal people across Canada. but even that massive court case hasn't addressed all of the harms that aboriginal people have suffered as a result of actions of various federal and provincial government actions.

So I have followed with great interest the various claims that have been filed on behalf of aboriginal people across Canada based on issues similar to the loss of language and culture arguments that we pursued in the National Residential School claims.

Case in point: Brown v. Canada a class action in Ontario that was filed as a result of incidents that took place between 1965 and 1984.

The class action alleges that, in a program similar to the cultural assimilation policies of the Indian Residential Schools, the Canadian government took Aboriginal children from their families and placed them with non-Aboriginal families. The pleadings claim the government was engaged in a process of “identity genocide”.

Under the Child Welfare Act, Ontario assumed responsibility for providing child welfare services for the children.

The Plaintiffs allege that during the 19 years, approximately 16,000 Aboriginal children were removed from their families and lost contact with their Aboriginal cultural identity. They claim they lost their language, culture, customs and heritage, and any benefits they might have as status Indians under the Indian Act. (Para. 4 of Brown v. Canada [2013] ONCA 18).

No Cause of Action...but Certified Anyway

The case management judge, Perell J., certified the class action under the Class Proceedings Act. While he did not find a valid cause of action in the pleadings, the case management judge certified the claim on the condition that the plaintiffs amend their statement of claim. The case management judge listed the cause of action as the Crown’s breach of a fiduciary or common law duty to prevent the Aboriginal child from losing his or her Aboriginal identity.

Canada appealed the decision of Perell J. to the Divisional Court: Brown v. Canada (Attorney General), [2011] ONCA 1193. The Divisional Court found that the pleadings should have been amended instead of the case management judge granting the certification. Accordingly, the statement of claim was struck.

The claim then came to the Ontario Court of Appeal to determine whether it was open to the case management judge to certify the class proceeding before amending the pleadings. The Court of Appeal agreed with the Divisional Court that Perell J. erred in certifying the claim without having pleadings that disclosed an appropriate cause of action:

[44] I agree with the Divisional Court that the case management judge erred in conditionally certifying the class proceeding in the absence of a statement of claim that disclosed a cause of action. As this case demonstrates, identification of a cause of action is fundamental. It is impossible for the defendant to meaningfully respond to an application for certification without knowing the cause of action. The definition of the class and the identification of the common issues depend upon the nature of the cause of action.

Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed.

Starting over

It is back to the starting line for the Class Members. They must amend their pleadings to show a cause of action and then start again with a different case management judge.

May 9, 2013

Are Pedophiles born that way?

As a sexual abuse claims lawyer I have learned more than I want to about the deviancies that cause adults to prey on children. New research coming out of the University of Toronto suggests that Pedophilia may be the result of predisposed brain deficiencies, meaning they were born ‘wired’ that way.


As this video explains, for two years, researchers scanned the brains of pedophilic men using Functional MRI machines. The researchers discovered that, when compared to other men, pedophilic men had significantly less tissue in two regions of the brain. These tissue areas are responsible for connecting other brain regions. The researchers conclude:

This suggests the possibility that sexual attraction to children versus adults is not caused by some difference in any one region of the brain, but in the way that multiple regions work together. Neuroscientists refer to this as a partial “disconnection syndrome.”

Interestingly, the researchers also discovered that pedophiles do not have any differences in the regions of the brain that regulate self-control or impulsivity.

Nature vs nurture?
But what about the idea that people’s upbringing and experiences shape the way they turn out? While some researchers and scientists believe that people may be predisposed to pedophilia, many psychologists and sexologists believe that pedophilia is a result of one’s life experiences.

One of the general theories is that our sexuality matures as we age, and that people who are pedophiles have suffered some events in their childhood which have stunted the evolution of their sexuality.

In a previous article I asked the question: “Does the Catholic Church attract sexual abusers… or create them?” Dr. Richard Cravatts offers a theory that is very similar to the popular ‘nurture’ theory. He says “the process of accepting celibacy and entering the priesthood at an emotionally immature age level predispose priests to conflicting notions about human sexuality…”


Another theory is that the Church (and other positions of authority) tends to attract those who were already predisposed to pedophilia. The institutional structure of the Catholic Church provides an opportunity for those with pedophilic tendencies to attract, groom, manipulate and abuse their victims (as was noted by the Supreme Court of Canada in Doe v. Bennett).

The research continues...

There is no definitive answer just yet as to what causes pedophilia. The hope is we can eventually identify individuals who are likely to offend and apply corrective therapy to prevent any harm.

James Cantor, the researcher from the University of Toronto, believes that the technology already exists for creating such a diagnostic test. He is confident that we will see some promising developments in the next few years.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

May 1, 2013

N.S. Colored Home Settles Abuse Class Action: But no apology

Proposed Settlement in Class Action

The Chronicle Herald reported last week that a class action launched by former residents of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children has been settled for $5,000,000.

According to the media reports, there are about 140 former residents participating in the class action. The residents’ claim against the Province of Nova Scotia has not been settled, and it is still making its way through the Courts.

I know that resolving this claim is likely to provide a great deal of relief, and closure, to the class members. One of the class members, Troy Smith was quoted as saying the group's financial demands were higher but they decided to settle for less because they didn't want to force the sale of the Home's property:

“We could have easily gone after the land and the value of the land, and we took the high road, because we do know that the home itself has historical significance to some people in the community,” said Smith.

I give credit to Mr. Smith and the other class members for the approach they took in trying to resolve the claim.

No apology

One issue regarding the settlement with the Colored Home that caught my attention was the fact that it does not include an apology. Counsel for the class members indicated that when they looked at the wording of the proposed apology, they felt it was insufficiently sincere so they decided to proceed with the settlement in the absence of the formal apology.

One of the class members said "a half-hearted apology was worse than none at all".

I have to say, I agree.

Apologies have value

There is no doubt that apologies given as part of litigation, or to resolve litigation, can have significant value to claimants.

In a presentation I gave to the Canadian Institute’s National Conference on Institutional Abuse titled Safe to Say You’re Sorry: The Psychology of Apology, I reviewed research that proves apologies can have the effect of reducing litigation and increasing satisfaction on the part of plaintiffs with respect to the results of the litigation.

Class counsel for the former residents of the Home for Colored Children said that they decided to proceed without an apology because they did not think the proposed terms of the apology were sincere. There is no doubt that the sincerity of an apology (or lack thereof) is an important fact whether an apology will actually be of value to resulting litigation.

National Residential School Settlement

I had the honour of representing Nora Bernard and the former residents of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School. I also participated in the negotiations that led to the landmark National Indian Residential Schools class action settlement. That process remains the largest abuse compensation settlement anywhere in the world.

Apology by National Leaders

A critical part of the class action settlement was the formal apology that was given to residential survivors on behalf of the Canadian government and all of the churches involved. I vividly remember watching the televised event where the Prime Minister of Canada and all of the leaders of the opposition parties, and the heads of all of the churches that signed the agreement offered their formal apologies to the residential school survivors.

The apologies were, in my view, sincere and heartfelt, and watching the faces of the residential school survivors in the room with me, I could tell that, for many of them, this was the most important part of the claims resolution process.

Individual Apologies to Survivors

Furthermore, any survivor that proceeds through an individual compensation hearing has the opportunity to receive a formal apology from a representative of Canada, as well as receiving a written apology signed by the Prime Minister of Canada. I know many of my clients have framed their copy of the apology.

Conclusion, but not an end...

I am pleased that any of the former residents of the Home for Colored Children who suffered abuse will, finally, have an opportunity to receive some measure of compensation. I commend the class members and their dedicated legal counsel.

However, as I have told all of my historical abuse clients for the past 23 years, no amount of money is ever going to make them forget or erase what happened. Financial compensation is simply a measure of recognition that the abuse was wrong.

For most of my clients, a legitimate and heartfelt apology is more important than the number of zeros on any compensation cheque.

Continue reading "N.S. Colored Home Settles Abuse Class Action: But no apology " »

April 19, 2013

How Will Pope Francis Respond to the Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis?

Newly ordained Pope Francis has certainly started his papacy by making the headlines. He turned down the luxurious Papal housing in the Apostolic Palace in favour of a simple hotel room, he travelled to a juvenile detention centre to wash the feet of the inmates, and he has issued what is seen as a strong statement against sex abusers in the clergy.

Pope Francis, the head of 1.2 billion followers of the Roman Catholic faith, called on the Church to act against clergy sex abuse. He demanded that the Bishops’ conferences around the world need to step up to disciplining the priests and assisting the victims. USA Today reports, :

“This could be an indication that he will move from a strongly centralized government of the church of 1.2 billion people to one that places increased authority locally.”

Right direction?

A strong statement by the Pope, yes, but is it a sign that the Church is moving in the right direction?

I think it might actually be problematic.

In my view, decentralization of authority is one of the factors that allowed the abuse crisis to happen in the first place. Bishops were moving abusive priests around like checkers on a checkerboard and no one was holding the Bishops responsible for their actions.

One of the main players involved in the scandal is the ex-Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law. Cardinal Law, who now lives in Rome, covered up hundreds of incidents of sexual abuse within his Archdiocese in Boston.

Law has indicated that his practice was to refer the priests to psychiatrists and therapists before re-assessment as to whether to return them to practice. It is exactly this kind of decentralized mismanagement that allowed the thousands of abuse cases around the world to take place!

As a sign of how attuned Francis is to the problem the Church faces regarding sexual abuse, one of the first Cardinals the new Pope met with following his election was Cardinal Law. Abuse victims described the Pope’s actions as “rubbing salt into still festering wounds”.

Cardinals Council

Last week the Vatican announce Pope Francis has named a council of 8 cardinals to provide him with advice on reform of the Church. The National Catholic Reporter called it a “signal that major reform may be on the horizon”

I’m not so sure; at least not when it comes to responding to the demands of catholic priest sexual abuse victims around the world.

It took me less than 15 minutes to find statements attributed to 4 of the 8 Cardinals relevant to sexual abuse by priests.

Two of the Cardinals don't appear to understand the magnitude of the problem.

Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras

In a May 2002 interview, when he was Cardinal of Honduras, Maradiaga claimed Jews influenced the media to exploit the Catholic priest sexual abuse crisis in order to divert attention from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Cardinal George Pell of Australia

Australian media have noted Pell's "controversial" views on the catholic sexual abuse crisis. Quoting Pell as saying:

"...priest paedophilia and sex abuse scandals are not the greatest issue facing his church."

On the other hand, two of the candidates have made some hopeful statements and have taken steps to address allegations of priest abuse.

Francisco Javier Cardinal Errázuriz Ossa of Chile

In July 2010 Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, then Archbishop of Santigao asked the Vatican to rule on allegations of sexual abuse against a prominent Chilean priest accused of sexually abusing several teenagers.

Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston

According to Wikipedia O'Malley has settled more than 100 sexual abuse claims against priests and has a zero-tolerance policy against sexual abuse. The National Catholic Reporter quoted him as saying:

"Quite often, the victims who want to see the bishop are the ones looking for a path to reconnect with God [and] with their faith. Not all of them, but a lot of them are looking for closure. In many cases, when a victim asks to see the bishop, it's because they're looking for a path home."

So what should be done?

The Pope should have issued specific instructions to Bishops to report all abuse allegations to police and to disclose records of all priests disciplined for sexual abuse to child protection authorities.

A problem with the Catholic Church’s approach to the sexual abuse scandal is that they continue to protect the priests and deal with the issue internally. Once an allegation comes to light the Church should immediately involve the relevant authorities.

It appears that at least 2 of the 8 Cardinals tapped to provide advice to Pope Francis have a more enlightened view of the proper response to allegations of priest sexual abuse. It remains to be seen what views the other members of the commission take and whether Francis follows the commissions advice.

What do you think? How should Pope Francis handle the clerical sexual abuse crisis?

April 6, 2013

Is solitary confinement a form of institutional abuse?

Can you go a whole day without any human interaction at all? What about a week? How about four years?

Canada a leader in solitary confinement?

A recent article in the Globe and Mail caught my attention. Unlike the trend in other countries, the controversial use of solitary confinement in Canadian prisons is increasing. The number of prisoners sent to solitary last year was approximately 8,600 – up from 8,000 in 2010.

Mr. Ivan Zinger, executive director of the Office of the Correction Investigator (OCI), says he is particularly concerned that mentally ill prisoners end up spending more time in solitary rather than receiving the treatment they require. Mr. Zinger is advocating for an independent panel that would assess whether individual inmates in solitary were justifiably placed there.

This is not the first time that Corrections Canada’s overuse of solitary confinement has been criticised. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association called for a government response to the issue in 2009.

Ashley Smith inquiry

I have previously drawn attention to the horrific treatment received by Ashley Smith who committed suicide after being subjected to extended periods of solitary confinement.

Ashley was jailed at the age of 14 for throwing crab apples at a mailman. She was put into solitary confinement early into her sentence and she remained there for almost four years! Her confinement only ended because she committed suicide while her guards watched.

The inquest into Ashley’s death is still ongoing.

Dr. Stuart Grassian, a Psychiatrist and Professor at Harvard’s School of Medicine, is a world renowed expert on the psychological effects of isolation. The very first line of his paper Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement in the Journal of Law and Policy states:

“Solitary confinement – that is the confinement of a prisoner alone in a cell for all, or nearly all, of the day with minimal environmental stimulation and minimal opportunity for social interaction – can cause severe psychiatric harm.”

Dr. Grassian goes on to state that, in his observations, those prisoners with pre-existing mental illnesses who were housed in solitary experienced the exacerbation of their mental illnesses. Essentially the mentally ill, who were most likely to be placed into solitary, would suffer the most from isolation.

Moving forward

It has long been recognized that solitary confinement can have disastrous effects on the mental health of prisoners. It has been described as “long term torture”. The argument for solitary confinement is that it is an effective tool for disciplining inmates. But is it?

If one of the main purposes of the penal system is rehabilitation, and the effects of solitary confinement can wreak havoc on the mental health of prisoners, then the use of isolation as discipline really creates a system where prisoners end up becoming more dangerous to others and themselves.

Since the 90’s England has recognized the dangers and ineffectiveness of solitary confinement and has drastically cut back their use of isolation in prisons. In fact, according to an article in the New Yorker, there are fewer prisoners in isolation in England than there are in the State of Maine.


What do you think? Is it time for Canada to re-think the use of solitary confinement? Do you think a panel such as the one suggested by Mr. Zinger would be helpful? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

February 27, 2013

Breaking the Silence

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God

For those of you that have not seen the "Explosive” Documentary About Sexual Abuse at a School for the Deaf CBC is now showing the documentary Mea Maxima Culpa online.

Given the widespread media attention given to priest sexual abuse scandals around the globe I am concerned that the public is becoming desensitized to the issue.

That's why I think it's important that everyone watch this documentary to understand the lengths to which the catholic church has gone to protect sexually deviant priests and to protect the reputation of the church.

200 Abused Children Over 20 years

The film focuses in particular on the Lawrence Murphy case. It is believed that Murphy molested approximately 200 deaf boys between 1950 and 1974. Even after many of the victims reported the abuse, the Vatican did not even defrock Murphy. It was not until 20 years after the allegations were first raised that a Cardinal requested a canonical trial against Murphy. The trial was eventually dropped against Murphy due to his poor health. Murphy died in 1998 never having answered for any of the allegations against him.

Other Notorious Priest Abuse Cover-Ups

The film also looks at several other notorious cases of abuse and cover-ups in the Catholic Church, specifically those of Tony Walsh and Marcial Maciel.

Maciel was a Mexican priest who founded the Legion of Christ, a Roman Catholic institute that has tens of thousands of youth members. In the 90s allegations came to light that Maciel had been abusing young boys since the 40s and 50s. He is alleged to have fathered 3 children with 2 different women.

Formal complaints about Maciel to the Vatican were reportedly shelved by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith – a group headed by the future Pope Benedict. Pope Benedict later re-opened the investigation and in 2006 Maciel was finally “disciplined” – he was asked to live “a reserved life of penitence and prayer” and to no longer practice as a priest. He was transferred to a house in Florida, where he lived until his death in 2008. No canonical trial was commenced against Maciel.

The program is available online until April 2 so watch it while you have the chance.