BRITISH COLUMBIA

Inmates, society launch lawsuit over B.C. jail disciplinary system

05/12/2015 06:06 EDT | Updated 05/12/2016 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - Travis Kelly had already served his 15-day sentence in segregation for talking about throwing excrement at a British Columbia jail guard when his conviction was overturned on appeal, says a notice of civil claim.

The document filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday says the Investigation and Standard Office, which hears inmates' appeals in disciplinary cases, ruled insufficient evidence was submitted to support the charge and guilty verdict.

"Even if you don't care about prisoners' rights, which I think everyone should, if you want prisoners not to commit more crime when they come back out into the community, we should treat them fairly while they are inside," says Jennifer Metcalfe, a lawyer with the West Coast Prison Justice Society.

Metcalfe says Kelly's case is far from unusual, and now Kelly and two other inmates are hoping to put on trial the way the province's jails hand out discipline.

Kelly, Christopher Trotchie and Travis Bara, with the help of the society, have filed a B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit that alleges the current disciplinary system in provincial jails is unconstitutional.

The allegations have yet to be proven in court.

The lawsuit claims correctional staff preside over disciplinary hearings even though they are not independent of the institution laying the charge or of the colleagues involved in an incident.

It also alleges staff often presume guilt and rely on a standard of proof that is less onerous than what's required in criminal court, which is proof "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Conviction rates for disciplinary offences at some jails have been as high as 92 and 94 per cent, as they were at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam, B.C., in 2012 and 2013, the three inmates say in their statement of claim.

In contrast, about 52 per cent of inmates' appeals were successful from 2005 to 2008, it adds.

"It's a hollow victory because they've already suffered the penalty," says Metcalfe.

The Ministry of Justice said in an email it has not been served with the lawsuit, but when it receives the document B.C. Corrections will review the claim and respond through the appropriate court process.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to rule sections of the relevant provincial law unconstitutional and order B.C. Corrections to appoint independent and unbiased adjudicators in all disciplinary hearings.

They also want the court to order B.C. Corrections to adopt the burden of proof for disciplinary hearings that is "beyond a reasonable doubt," while declaring the lower burden of "balance of probabilities" an infringement of the charter.