The Justice Department is asking reporters to lie to Whitehorse Correctional Centre staff and visit the prison by pretending not to be media.
The baffling response follows a story last week that revealed an official department policy has banned reporters from visiting the prison.
“If you just get on the visitors’ list and don’t identify yourself as a reporter, you can still get on the visitors’ list with any inmate as long as they agree to it,” said department spokesperson Dan Cable.
Two weeks ago, Cable had a very different tone, asserting media are not family or support workers and, thus, not entitled to speak to inmates.
“You’re not for the purposes of rehabilitation,” he said. “You’re for some other purpose.”
A media ban has been in place at the prison since January 11. Accompanying the new policy were regulations that allow prison staff to record all phone conversations by inmates.
The ban on visits and the recording of phone calls makes it impossible for inmates to alert the public about mistreatment in the justice system without fear of retribution.
Cable’s comments on Monday are a complete turnaround from the department’s original position, which was an unequivocal refusal to grant reporters access to the prison.
Officials don’t have time to waste arranging interviews for inmates, he said.
If reporters should lie about their jobs, what is the point of having the blanket ban?
“The purpose is the facilitating of the interview – we just don’t want to do it,” said Cable. “But you can go up there and be a visitor of the person.”
“Facilitating” means providing a media room, although nothing more than a sit-down with an inmate was requested by the News in the lead-up to the policy being revealed.
The flip-flop on media access allows the department to use the media ban policy when it feels like it. If a news reporter were to request an interview with a inmate, the department could simply deny it and the reporter would have no idea that the department condones surreptitiously visiting the prison.
The media ban wouldn’t fly for federal prisons, according to the Correctional Investigator of Canada, who serves as the ombudsman for Correctional Service of Canada.
It would even be considered an infringement of their charter rights.
Federal prisons allow for reporters to visit inmates as long as it wouldn’t cause instability in the jail, said Howard Sapers in an interview last week.
The reason a blanket ban on media visits isn’t in place federally is because it would contradict the Correctional and Conditional Release Act, passed in 1992. That act brought federal corrections in line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, said Sapers.
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