In the hole

For more than a decade, Vince Chudy has been managing his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with medication. 

For more than a decade, Vince Chudy has been managing his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with medication.

But not long after arriving at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre in April, he had that medication taken away.

The withdrawal symptoms were awful, he says. They made him shaky, gave him headaches and made it hard to sleep, eat or focus.

Later he was put into segregation for 15 days, for something he insists he didn’t do. He was locked in a cell for 23 hours a day.

Chudy is one of two former jail inmates whose human rights complaints against the facility are now being told publicly.

Both Chudy and former inmate Stacey Burke say they were discriminated against based on, among other things, their disability.

Details of Burke’s complaint were not available in time for today’s deadline.

* * *

According to his complaint, Chudy was sentenced to jail on April 15 for breaches of bail and probation. He would be there for about two and a half months.

Shortly after arriving, a nurse accused him of trying to “cheek” his medication, meaning not swallow it.

In the complaint Chudy insists that’s not what he was doing.

He just has trouble swallowing pills, he said, and normally has to take them crushed up.

The nurse cut him off from his medication entirely, he says.

He says he asked repeatedly to see a doctor, but was denied.

He accuses the nurse of saying his condition was not important, and “that’s what you get for hiding your pills.”

While at the jail, Chudy was sentenced to 15 days in segregation for a crime he says he didn’t commit. No details of what he was accused of are in the documents.

Alone in his cell, he said the lack of medication took its toll.

He was told he could read, but that’s hard to do with uncontrolled ADHD, the complaint says. “The complainant says that segregation is a horrible place. That there is nothing to do all day except stare at the walls. There is no TV, no clock or calendar, just four walls, a toilet, a bed and a small window.”

Eventually he did get his medication back, but only after he filed the human rights complaint, he says.

The Yukon Department of Justice has refused to comment on either the Chudy or Burke complaints.

* * *

The Yukon Human Rights Act protects people from being discriminated against on 13 prohibited grounds, including things like ancestry, sex, and physical or mental disability.

The same act says there’s a duty to accommodate people with special needs.

The Yukon Human Rights Commission said in July that it had “identified the treatment of people with mental illness in the Whitehorse Correctional Centre as a pressing human rights issue that requires immediate attention.”

The accusations by Chudy and Burke are in addition to a complaint filed by the father of Michael Nehass.

Earlier this year Nehass was brought naked to a video court appearance. He was pinned to the ground by guards in full riot gear.

In his complaint, he claims to have been held in segregation at the jail for 28 months.

The commission can only talk about complaints when they are officially heading to adjudicators for a hearing.

Documents suggest multiple complaints have been filed by inmates. The commission’s executive director, Heather MacFadgen, wouldn’t say whether more are working their way through the system.

After investigating the three complaints she can talk about, information was sent to the panel of adjudicators on Oct. 28, MacFadgen said. It’s that panel’s job to get the ball rolling for a hearing to be held.

The commission finally got the response it needed this morning, a month and a half later.

The letter, which provides some deadlines for everyone involved, is a critical first step towards a hearing.

It comes after the commission publicly raised a concern over how slow things were progressing.

Other cases have moved considerably quicker. For instance, a current human rights case involving a Yukon lesbian couple and a dispute over birth certificates was sent to the board on Sept. 22 and the commission heard back on Oct. 15.

While there’s no rule on how long the panel has to respond to a complaint, the policy is that request be handled “expeditiously,” MacFadgen said.

Darcy Tkachuk, chief adjudicator of the Yukon Human Rights Panel of Adjudicators, said his office doesn’t usually comment on individual cases.

The panel does its best to move things along, he said in an email.

“The time required to satisfy the legal procedures arising in any complaint may vary from case to case because of a number of factors, including the complexity of the case, specific issues arising in the complaint, the availability of counsel and witnesses, and a number of other circumstances and considerations.”

* * *

A segregation cell at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre is 3.8 metres by 2.4 metres, or eight by 12 feet.

In 2013, 887 inmates were held at the jail. Of those, 59 people were held in segregation at some point, according to the Yukon Department of Justice. That’s about seven per cent.

According to the department, most people were only held for 72 hours.

The Department of Justice has refused to comment on either the Burke or the Chudy human rights complaints.

What information they are willing to provide related to Nehass’s case changes.

When news of Nehass’s treatment in front of the judge first made headlines the department went on the offensive.

They provided statistics on segregation that they said proved Nehass had not been held for 28 months.

In May 2014 spokesperson Dan Cable said that the longest anyone has been in segregation over the course of the past year is seven months.

The longest uninterrupted stretch in solitary that anyone has served is just shy of four months, he said.

Fast forward seven months. The spokesperson has changed and so has the story.

Caitlin Kerwin has refused to provide updated numbers to the News. She’s also silent when asked why Cable was able to release the information and she is not.

* * *

Either way, the numbers provided by Justice are longer than many experts suggest is appropriate.

This week, the federal government said it will not abolish indefinite solitary confinement for prisoners, despite the recommendation of an inquest jury following the death of 19-year-old Ashley Smith in Ontario.

Also, retired Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour said solitary should be abolished beyond three days or so.

In 2011, a UN special rapporteur said no one should be in solitary for more than 15 consecutive days and that it should be banned completely for young inmates or inmates with mental health issues. “Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment when used,” the UN concluded.

While the national discussion continues, Nehass remains in jail. According to his complaint and his supporters, he has been in segregation for years.

A letter from the Canadian Judicial Council to Nehass’s father included an apology from Justice Leigh Gower, the judge in charge when Nehass appeared naked. According to the Yukon Civil Liberties Coalition, Nehass’s father does not consider that an appropriate apology because it was not given directly to Nehass or his family.

Nehass was in Supreme Court this week. The judge set a March 2015 trial date on the charges that landed him in jail in the first place, from 2011.

Nehass was agitated for most of the hearing. He believes in a vast government conspiracy involving most top-ranking positions in the territory, including the judge, top jail officials and RCMP.

He speaks passionately about his belief that he is in jail to stop him from telling what he knows.

After the trial date was set, Nahass was visibly upset.

“What’s going to happen? I just sit in the box until then?”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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