Muzzled civil servants & Prison reform ~ Then & Now!

Muzzled civil servants & Prison reform ~ Then & Now!
Posted on September 25, 2016 | Barry Dennison | Written on September 25, 2016
Letter type:

Author's Note:

Author's Note:

Inspired by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's vision of democracy and his stated belief in Canadian talent that makes this a strong country.   The PM has invited all Canadians for their input and now has put forward his postive agenda.  Scientists were reportedly
'un' muzzled by Mr. Trudeau.  What about the rest of the civil service?

Reader note:  Video at the bottom of this OP/Ed piece.  See: The late Roger Caron, author of the book, "Go Boy".  Barry Dennison, a guard at Collins Bay Institution, l982 St Lawrence College Symposium.  

Video includes, Arthur Trono, Regional Director/Deputy Commissioner, Media spokesperson, Dennis Curtis. 

For the Prime Minister to claim such a level of 'freedom of speech' is inspiring!  

Yet, the past is marked with brutality when lower ranking civil servants call on the Correctional Services of Canada to be more honest with the public and Parliament.  

Does the Prime Minister of Canada endorse the concept of civil servants participating in public discussions, including talking to the media?  A 'taboo' today because it was yesterday!  A tradition no longer needed? 

So we need a Prime Minister to provide leadership, as he has done before on many issues, to rescue those who have been under attack by administrators in a governmental agency, people who seek to destroy the life and career should a person believe in a democracy with a 'participation' element [at all levels of society].
To essentially "Edward Snoden'ize" a person by calling them criminal, crazy and hunt them down like a rabid dog. To ostracize and publicly shame a person, despite having divulged no secrets whatsoever [that would harm the USA].  Instead, Snowden came across with information that benefited society [as President Obama has acknowledged]. 

[Note:  Selling secrets of a state or state agency is a whistle blower, not, expressing concerns about a governmental agency not living up to its own policies, prinicples and procedures and covering it up.[as seen in the l990's Arbour Inquiry into the P4W, when male guards stripped female inmates].

In my situation, opinions of the people you work with is what you see and hear on this l982 video.  Extremely rare, if ever, has a former inmate and a uniformed Correctional Officer appeared together.  

Indeed, in l982 while working for the Correctional Service of Canada [CSC] I spoke to the media about 'inmates/guards meeting with prison management and video taping those exchanges, with the video directed to to university researchers [Masters, Phd] to use research approaches to obtain data on every aspect of the prison culture. 

Have written about it here @

As for my comments to the media as an CSC employee back then, all were centered around the university/prison research project. Corrections Canada accused me of "Breach of the Oath of Secrecy", breach of the Code of Conduct with a suspension. Only to withdraw them the next day.  Other disciplinary actions totaling thousands of dollars were returned by Public Service Commission adjudicators over the next 3 years. 

For every comment I to the media about ideas that would encourage an improvement for inmates and guards, the governmental agency used its' power to give suspensions [known to be ethically or legally-challenged] were used to destroy their whistle blower. Ostracizing me to the max.  Isolation tactics [just as used on inmates].   Corrections put me under the microscope at home, with the Asst' Head of Security moving into the apartment across the hall.  Guards in my parking lot at home in an attempt to intimidate.    

Numerous attempts by the goon squad [in the guard staff] who used inmates to 'set me up [ie. refuse to do what Dennison tells you. We'll claim he can't run a living unit [or do his job with inmates]." 

But they under-estimated the support for the university/prison link  
by the inmates.  

As senior guards talked to inmates [they don't normally say a word to] try to influence a situation,  I simply called in two inmate leaders into the area to speak to the inmate being used in a cruel dangerous game.  It was stopped in a very calm way.  The inmates were not Inmate Committee, instead one biker, one Italian mafia figure.  

The administration could then see there was mutual respect between me and gang leaders [ie. French, Aboriginal, 10+, Blacks] in the inmate population.  These same inmates wrote letters to the Whig editor in support of the university/prison connection].  

The inmates invited the Warden and this Corrections Officer to a meeting to talk, but the Warden ordered it stopped.  The 10+ group at the then Prison for Women also invited me to their meeting. Added to the list of supporters writing were Queen's University AMS, Queen's U Law, Sociology professors, Vice-Principal as well as professors at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University

As well, honest guards who refused to participate in such games, called me at home to give me advance warning of a set up, so each one was easily quelled.  Through this, the administration  saw my rapport and for 'reasons to protect me', sent to work in solitude [towers, yard patrol for one year, pure isolation].  With both overtime and regular time cheques were withheld for months, causing extreme stress on how one pays bills.  

What started all this?

Three years earlier, the administration [called a "Work Board" who assigned inmates jobs, including a security manager who saw no red flag when assigning an inmate to work in the kitchen [with access to knives], an inmate doing time for murdering 2 people with a knife [as reported in the Kingston Whig Standard]. 

The next day, then Media Spokesperson Dennis Curtis stepped in and the headlines changed to, murdered employees "knew the danger of the job!" and "... we can't control knives 100% of the time."

This is when I saw the Correctional Services of Canada's mandate of "keeping staff and inmates safe",  as a farce and complete failure [in '82 & 2016].  By virtue of accepting employment with the prison service, we were all "expendables" and gagged with the order to remain silent. 

Cruelty to Inmates

Forms of cruelty involved a human sex trade.  Young inmates who were punished beyond what the law intends. Working there at 19 years old, I helped carry inmates [then] my age to the hospital [or segregation] after being raped. Some, raped for days on end and we found them unconscious in their cells [bleeding from the rectum]. 

Other inmates in trouble with others in the population will commit suicide or act out to create disturbances.  We finance a draconian prison system in Canada, with circumstances too numerous for this one OP/Ed piece.

Central to the prison industry is "CORCan",  created by Corrections Canada, whereby inmates can pusue an academic education or training in vocational shopes.  Costing taxpayers a reported $17,000 per year, per inmate.  

Notwithstanding, 'zip' guns are reportedly today found by staff in prison, as well as knives carved or melted from material in a machine or carpentry shop.  The Corrections Canada still puts these on display in their museum with a curator!   

Fast forward today, after being blackballed by a governmental agency, serving over a 30+ year sentence because I tried to put something very positive forward that would put everyone on an equal footing.  Those lives, guards + inmates, did mean something to me as human beings.  

My CRIME against the State

Will invite readers to watch a video [below] taped at Kingston's St Lawrence College, in 1982 where I and the late Roger Caron were invited to participate in a public forum.  Then Regional Director [Ontario] Art Trono and Communications Director asked college organizers if they could attend. 

After, the Regional Director had no qualms with what I said.  Yet, in the end, suspended me $1,000 for wearing my uniform in public.  That hit page l in the Whig Standard and papers in cities across Canada via the [late] Southam Inc,  Globe + Mail,   CP.  A year later the suspension was overturned by a Public Service Adjudicator [reported in a small byline in obscure page 34]. 

The newspaper article [here] was done by the Brockville Recorder and Times.  The only newspaper to write about my suggestions and positive input that could transform lives.  Meanwhile, Southam News chain ran stories on the suspension for wearing a uniform and being suspended for 'speaking out'.

Can't critique without suggesting ideas!

Look for more on this topic of civil servants being gagged, yet I find prison reform involving 'one sector of society [universties] to assist another growing criminal segment in society!    

This, as I prepare to write Prime Minister Justin Trudeau whom I hope would care about one citizen's experience and viewpoint, with ideas that can help his government move Canadian penology forward in a less Harper'esque kind of way.  

We're encouraged to express ourselves in Canada, but civil servants get punished and all regular citizens receive the dreaded, Minister 'form letters' who explains government objectives in a letter [not even to mention the proposals being submitted to his Office].  

Oh well, after all, I'm still talking about the same prison reform idea after 30 years.  

Holding on to one's goals, hopes and aspirations is encouraged by the government and at the same time the government taketh away.  

Ideals!  Hopes!  

In the end, I'll talk about better overall  security, better opportunity, cut drugs out to presenting a higher intelligentsia [in number] that the inmates will instinctively learn from. 

Despite all that call for change, I do support the current Commissioner who has had a life long experience and education in the current prison system.  While a product of generations of administrators, Mr. Don Head still maintains an attitude of ostracizing someone deemed a whistle blower.  Even if it improves circumstances.  

The CSC do the best they can in many ways, just that outside professional opinions are needed to lend a hand, not to criticize, just respectfully critique!  

Perhaps I was naive to believe that we live in a country where people can to speak freely without fear of retribution.  It's the testament to the quality of democracy we Canadians share. 

Upon hearing of this university/prison idea, Correctional bureaucrats, said, "You'd have the public challenge our decisions."

No, instead the academics research will later inform, the Minister, any Parliamentary Standing Committee on Corrections on the reality of prisons [across Canada].  

To follow up with Minister Ralph Goodale's pledge to form a governing committee for federal security agencies [one assumes that includes prisons, RCMP + CICIS]

Dear Minister Minister Goodale, while farm programs are important, the Minister's suggestion is consistent with the way provinces have legislated civilian boards to oversee the public policy side of policing. 

Such a Board would act as a conduit between the Minister and Prison Commissioner, with the Commissioner appearing regularly before his Board of Directors to answer questions, and advise as needs and challenges arise. 

A welcome measure since the political interference of the Harper conservatives was stark.   [ie. -  Minister Stockwell Day telling Corrections who to dismiss in the Ashley Smith case, to ordering the CSC changing fresh milk to powdered milk for prisoners]. 

In 2016, we have the technologies to save the lives of staff and inmates, reduce tensions and costs, and most importantly establish a working  Parliamentary Standing Committees on Corrections, so the Minister can pursue this and other initiatives. 

Prime Minister Trudeau, please, SAVE OUR SOULS!  

Give the middle class and in this case, Canada's under class real tools with which to make real progress. 



Letter Response

The Prime Minister wants to know that everything that comes his way has the public's support.  That he is a man of the people and will lead by the wishes of the people by lifting from an abyss and instead harness and embrace an idea from the lower eschelon. Opposed to the elite thinking 'What's best?"   

So, any 'like' on the youtube link or here would be a counted vote in favor!  Just really UNofficial-like!  :)    


About The Author

Barry Dennison's picture

Journalist [print/broadcast] specializes in legal affairs and human rights advocacy.