A young Indigenous man who was in solitary confinement for four years without trial has been moved from his cell, Ontario's correctional services minister told the legislature on Wednesday.
The move follows mounting public outrage over the case of Adam Capay, who has been languishing in an isolated cell in a Thunder Bay jail since 2012, and a push for action from his family. It also comes a day after the minister said he would not intervene.
"This individual has been moved from their cell," said Correctional Services Minister David Orazietti during Question Period. "They are no longer in that same cell. They are in a different location, with appropriate lighting and access to day rooms, spending time out of their cell for showers, phone calls and access to TV. It is my understanding, from speaking to officials, that the inmate is satisfied with the conditions they are presently in."
But according to jail officials, the move is only temporary and only took place because of construction in the segregation unit, which will last about six weeks.
Mike Lundy, a correctional officer at the Thunder Bay District Jail and president of OPSEU 737, told TBSNewswatch that a door is being added to the unit.
"When the construction project is done, [Capay] moves back to segregation I anticipate," Lundy said. "That's a management decision, but that is where I would anticipate he would end up."
But Yanni Dagonas, spokesperson for Orazietti, said the plans for renovation have been in place since last summer to fix some of the same issues raised by the human rights commission, like dimmer switches on the lights. Capay was moved to "improve his over-all living conditions," he said, adding that he will stay in his current cell for the foreseeable future.
Capay's trial has seen numerous delays because of changes in counsel, as well as a psychiatric assessment. Attorney-General Yasir Naqvi also addressed the case, saying the 23-year-old is facing "some very serious charges.
"What I can say is that I have been advised that the Crown has and will continue to work to bring these charges to trial as quickly as possible," he said.
"This is my older brother, and I will stand by him," Capay's younger sister Allison Jane Capay wrote in a Facebook post on Monday. She declined to comment on her brother's current situation, saying she didn't want to do anything to jeopardize his defence.
Capay's story came to light after Ontario's Human Rights Commissioner Renu Mandhane saw him on a tour of the Thunder Bay federal jail. A prison guard suggested that Mandhane speak with Capay.
Mandhane told VICE News she was led down a set of stairs into a windowless area, where she had a 20-minute conversation with Capay.
She found him in a cell at the end of a range, and conducted the interview through a hole in the Plexiglass that had been placed in front of the bars. Whenever a psychiatrist does come to speak with him, it's through that same glass partition. Capay told her the light was on 24 hours a day and as a result, he had trouble telling night from day. He showed her the scars from his attempts at self harm, Mandhane said.
Trying to see Capay at the jail is "heartbreaking," Alison told VICE News in an interview. The family notifies the jail ahead of time before making the five-to-six-hour journey from their home in Lac Seoul, but on many occasions, they're told upon arrival that Capay can't have visitors that day or that "visiting is cancelled for all prisoners today."
The guards tell the family there are "not enough guards to bring him out and up to the visiting area" or that they didn't give them notice far enough in advance, said Alison.
"The mistreatment [Adam] endured/is enduring is inhumane and unacceptable," Alison wrote in a Facebook post this week. "Something needs to be done.
"We knew where he was for the past [four-plus]years, we knew what he told us, but what were we to do?" Alison wrote. "The jail always gave us bullshit excuses every time we questioned Adam's time in solitary."
Lundy blamed his situation and others like it on a lack of resources in the jail.
"Whatever the reasons are, management has deemed that [he] needs to be segregated for staff safety, inmate safety, and even safety to himself," Lundy told VICE News.
Inmates in segregation are supposed to be in their cells up to 23 hours a day, leaving for an hour to shower, use the phone, and go outside. But Capay told Mandhane he's released only a couple of times a month for yard time.
"In an ideal world, he's supposed to be offered fresh air once a day for a minimum of 20 minutes, but due to the staffing issues at the Thunder Bay jail, it's not a daily offer," said Lundy, adding that he didn't know how often that actually happens.
"They give you just enough staff to get everything done with the expectation that there's not going to be any emergencies during the day," he said. "The minute we have a fight or anything like that, our day is shot, and then the inmates' daily rights are affected, like the yard and access to programs."
Now that Capay has been moved, he will likely have access to the prison yard.
Capay was sent to jail on misdemeanors, including vehicle theft, when he was 19, but was charged with first degree murder after an altercation left another inmate dead in 2012. He has not been to trial, but has been in solitary confinement ever since.
Last year, Capay's trial was postponed after defence lawyers filed a motion to have him examined by psychiatrist to determine whether or not he was fit to stand trial, according to local news reports.
Toronto-based criminal lawyer Tony Bryant, who was retained on Tuesday to represent Capay, said he's in the dark about why his client has been in segregation all these years.
His next court date is at the end of November.
While it's hard to say how much of a role long-term segregation has played, Mandhane recalled Capay apologizing at the start of their interview for his delayed speech and saying he'd lost some of his language capacity because of his confinement.
While Capay should have access to regular mental health treatment, according to Lundy, a psychiatrist only visits the jail for two and a half hours, five times a month.
When Mandhane asked how he spent his time, Capay told her he sometimes read, but mostly, "He kind of drifted in and out of consciousness," she said. "My sense is it was someone who was coping with a really terrible situation, and not coping particularly well."
Capay's case exemplifies many of the systemic issues in Canada's prison system. According to the ministry's data from October to December of last year, on any given day, 6 to 8 percent of the prison population in Ontario is segregated, and 19 percent of the population—4,178 people—was in segregation at some point during that three-month period.
The data also showed that 1,383 Ontario prisoners had spent more than 15 days in solitary confinement, which according to the UN amounts to "torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
The numbers were released just a day after the government announced a number of changes to the solitary confinement system, including bringing a number of consecutive days someone could spend in segregation for disciplinary reasons from 15 to 30. But most people who end up in segregation are there for non-disciplinary reasons, like personal safety, medical reasons, and alleged misconduct—only 4.3 percent of inmate placements were done for disciplinary reason, while 68 percent were administrative.
Thirty-eight percent of inmates who were in segregation had mental health alerts on their files, a figure Mandhane believes may be an underestimation.
"Who are the other Adam Capays? Who else is in the system that we don't know about?" said Mandhane. "I did kind of meet him by happenstance, and it's not clear to me whether he's an isolated case."
Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional information.
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