OTTAWA — A report from Canada’s correctional ombudsman says a deadly riot at Saskatchewan Penitentiary last year was likely sparked by disputes over food and small prison cells.
Ivan Zinger released his annual report on Canadian prisons on Tuesday and said the riot on Dec. 14, 2016, in the medium-security unit of the prison was probably triggered by unresolved complaints over food quality, portion size and lack of protein.
“Current research suggests that a lot must go wrong, and for quite some time, before a prison erupts in violence,” Zinger wrote.
“Such a perspective implies that prison administrators have opportunity and warning to address precipitating factors and thereby prevent a full-fledged riot from occurring in the first place. In other words, prison riots are not random or inevitable events.”
Zinger says there was also “perceived mistreatment of inmate kitchen workers” by Correctional Service of Canada staff.
One inmate was killed and eight others were hospitalized with injuries caused by assault, smoke or pepper spray inhalation, or shotgun pellets.
Inmates set fires and blocked doors with fridges, washers and dryers, broke windows and smashed walls.
Nearly 200 of the unit’s 377 inmates took part in the riot, which began when several inmates refused to attend work and other programs.
“The ensuing rampage and destruction of government property rendered many of the living units ‘uninhabitable,’ ” Zinger said.
He also said the size of prison cells may have played a role in the riot.
“In search of some other plausible explanation for the incomprehensible violence and mayhem beyond bad or inadequate food, I noted that some of the cells in that forbidding and antiquated facility housed two inmates even though there is barely adequate space for one. Standing in the middle of another cell, I could reach out and touch the sides of both walls.”
He said the Saskatchewan Penitentiary and Stony Mountain Institution in Manitoba are not properly equipped and do not serve the prison’s majority population of Indigenous people.
“The antiquated conditions of confinement that prevail in these two institutions are not conducive to modern and humane correctional practice, nor responsive to the unique needs of Indigenous prisoners,” Zinger writes.
He called for an external audit of Corrections food services as well as for the reinstatement of a dispute resolution pilot program. Zinger also recommends findings from the National Board of Investigation review into the riot be circulated within the Correctional Service of Canada and be released as a public document when it is finished.