NEWS

Ontario prison contacts police in sex-for-drugs probe

11/20/2012 08:28 EST | Updated 01/20/2013 05:12 EST
An Ontario women’s prison facility, already under the microscope for the 2007 death of teen Ashley Smith, has reached out to local police for assistance in an investigation into potential criminal activity involving a prison guard accused of trading drugs for sex.

Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) spokesperson Wendy Smith refused to comment on the allegations made by several inmates that a guard was involved in sex with an inmate in exchange for contraband. Nor would she say why CSC called police. But in an emailed statement Tuesday, Smith told CBC News “in all cases where an individual is suspected to be involved in criminal activity, police are advised.”

The CSC was conducting an internal investigation until Monday, when CBC News first reported on the case and revealed that the guard — who has been suspended — is related to a senior manager at the prison. The guard has not been charged.

A spokesperson for the Waterloo Regional Police confirmed to CBC on Tuesday that officials at the Grand Valley Institution for Women have contacted police.

"Waterloo Regional Police were contacted late on Monday, Nov. 19, by Grand Valley Institute," said Insp. Kevin Thaler.

"The contact resumed early this morning and it has been confirmed that we will be conducting a review at their request. No materials have been exchanged at this time, but it’s going to come for us for a review."

This fall, the prison suspended the male guard following allegations by anonymous inmates, past and present, that he used his position to trade sex acts in exchange for drugs and tobacco.

"At this point, I can't confirm any of the allegations," said Thaler.

Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, said since CBC first reported the story, her agency has been contacted by a number of additional complainants alleging similar behaviour by the same guard dating back a number of years.

"We've had contact from several women who were at Grand Valley Institution, some several years ago, some very recently, who have indicated that this was not... they weren't surprised by this information," said Pate.

Police said they don't know how long it will take to review the prison's investigation as no documents have been exchanged. Thaler added that there are other factors which could determine the length of the review.

"We’re spread pretty thin. Most investigators are carrying a pretty significant case load. So, I don’t know."

A spokesperson for Correctional Services Canada, Wendy Smith, said they are still unable to release any details of the case, but say they are committed to working with the police.

"I cannot comment on the specifics of any incident or individual due to the Privacy Act and that in all cases where an individual is suspected to be involved in criminal activity, police are advised," said Smith.

Pate says she's relieved police have been called in to be an "external set of eyes," fearing the internal probe by CSC may not be thorough.

"My hope is this means they are taking very seriously this concern. I'm heartened to hear that they've referred it to the police," said Pate.

"We are always worried, however, when it comes to these kinds of cases because we know that sexual abuse often is not well investigated in any sphere, certainly when it's investigated within a profession by another part of that profession — so we are hopeful this means the police will do a thorough investigation."

The prison has been under intense scrutiny since the death of Smith, who died while choking herself repeatedly with a piece of cloth in a solitary cell.

Pate also said one person called making a new allegation about a "possible" situation of similar abuse at a women's prison in Western Canada.

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