Canada's Prison System Can't Figure Out How to Handle This Violent Teen

He killed a man at 15. He's fought guards and bullied his fellow teen inmates. Now he's caught in a fight in Nova Scotia about where he belongs.

by Katie Toth
Oct 24 2017, 7:07pm

Asset illustration via Shutterstock / factoryonfire. 

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

To juvenile detention staff, he is an influential criminal "ringleader" who has bullied other inmates, fought guards, and caused chaos. To justice-reform advocates, he is a troubled young man in need of serious rehabilitation.

BP, whose name is protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, was 15 when he stabbed a man to death in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. He was sentenced in 2015 to seven years—four in juvenile detention and three in community supervision.

While in juvenile detention last September, he was part of a violent riot that caused him to be placed in an adult jail for almost a year, isolating him from any other inmates.

He has threatened therapists with violence. His case has attracted the attention of judges, psychologists, prison-reform advocates, a federal senator, and a workers' union who all seem to agree on only one thing: BP, who will turn 19 in December, is possibly the most difficult case the facility has dealt with.

Now, after a ruling by Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice Anne Derrick telling the province that BP should remain in the youth system, he's back in the Nova Scotia Youth Facility, leaving staff with "mixed feelings," according to Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia General Employees' Union.

"They're all flattered the judge thinks they're the only group that can handle this offender, but at the same time, they feel let down by their employer," he said. BP, a "big guy, from what I've been told," is "gradually getting back more and more privileges" in the facility, but MacLean claimed certain safety mechanisms have not been implemented to accommodate that.

"In some ways, there's no good call here," Wayne MacKay, professor emeritus of Dalhousie's Schulich School of Law, said. "Without proper rehabilitation—or at least efforts at it—he'll be worse yet again, probably. On the other hand, creating a [negative] dynamic within the institution itself is obviously not good either."

BP's childhood was plagued with violence and domestic abuse, according to the court documents. When he was 12 years old, his dad said it was time for him to make his own money. He started stealing, eventually turning to dealing drugs.

Except where otherwise noted, all quotes in this story from therapists close to BP will come from Derrick's Supreme Court decision. One of those therapists, psychologist Dr. Simeon Hanson, noted that BP saw the street as a "war" to feed his family, and kept using crime to pay for their food and clothing. BP was described in the ruling as "borderline intellectual functioning," which means he has below-average cognitive skills. But as a criminal, Hanson wrote, he showed "leadership skills and abilities." Hanson has since called for BP to be treated as an adult.

Hypervigilant to disrespect or attacks, intensely loyal, and protective of his family, BP continued dealing—and fighting those who stood in his way. By the age of 15, he already had 23 convictions, according to the Chronicle Herald.

One of those convictions was for his role in the death of Dan Pellerin, a father of two.

In 2014, Pellerin was brutally stabbed by two males in the Halifax suburb of Dartmouth. A motorist passed by the scene and turned around to help Pellerin, reports said at the time. The two men ran away. Pellerin was barely breathing. He died of his multiple stab wounds, according to reports.

Trevor Hannan, 25, is expected to be tried for the murder in 2019. With the other person charged, BP, pled guilty to second-degree murder and went into custody, with courts recommending a special sentence that involved intense therapy multiple times a week.

"I know everyone here is thinking I'm an animal, but I'm a human, and I'm paying for my decisions," he said at his sentencing, according to the Herald. "I wish I could go back and change how I reacted."

Once he was in juvie, BP was described by Hanson as "very good at getting respect through the use of violence, threats, and intimidation" and "building a reputation… climbing up the ranks to be the kingpin." He committed an assault in 2015. He said he was "sent by God to clean up the streets" and had no remorse about killing. He was found with weed and a weapon. But BP also engaged "particularly well with therapy" and was learning how to see the link between his violent thoughts and the resulting behaviors, Hanson wrote. Staff reports also pointed to good grades in his courses and an interest in music therapy. Hanson suggested that until February of 2016, BP was making progress.

In early 2016, however, things started going downhill for BP: He got in a fight with another inmate, his addictions counselor stopped working at Waterville Youth Centre, and his grandfather died. In the summer, he said he wanted to cut back on therapy sessions and start going at "his own pace" with his school assignments, which some staff found "puzzling." Therapists asked Nova Scotia's only youth forensic psychiatrist—who said their relationship with BP was "not very good"—to give the teen a new consultation. He didn't, and neither did another doctor.

In late August, BP was moved into a new pod of rooms with his older friend JC and some other inmates. The boys rioted a few days later. The group attacked officers in a violent melee—guards' noses were broken, one's teeth were dislodged, and another's eye socket was cracked. The guards involved had to take several months to recover.

As a result of the riot, BP was sent to Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, an adult center where he was mostly isolated, except for visits from staff and counselors. He had been fighting to get back into the youth facility since February this year.

Derrick's decision came after an earlier ruling by Justice Peter Rosinski in March, which said temporarily housing BP in adult jail was fair. In that decision, he noted that, for months, BP had wanted to move from isolation into an adult facility, not a youth one: In October after the riot, BP told Hanson that moving him back to Waterville would be "the worst mistake they ever made" and that if he was forced to come back, staff "better be prepared."

MacLean isn't sure they are. He wrote a letter to provincial justice minister Mark Furey, saying the facility "is not prepared to receive this offender." MacLean also wrote that many of the health and safety concerns staff brought up after the riot "have not yet been satisfied."

After the riot, MacLean said, the union asked for several safety improvements. They wanted the furniture to be weighted down so it couldn't be thrown, wooden doors replaced with metal doors, and a button that officers use to open all the youths' cell doors in the same pod at once—MacLean called it the "gang open button"—removed.

Those changes haven't happened, which mean "it's definitely increased tension from before he was there," according to MacLean. "Our staffers still remain vigilant and they're trying to work toward some solutions."

The Nova Scotia Department of Justice did not answer specific questions from VICE about Maclean's claims. But it did respond with a statement. "Correctional Services have a plan in place that will respect the direction provided by the court, support the youth, and keep our staff and offenders safe," according to the emailed statement. "Recommendations from a risk-hazard assessment have been implemented to ensure the safety and security of staff and young people at all times."

MacLean explained that he was also concerned that only two officers are working with BP. He'd like to see three staff around BP at all times but said that request was turned down for budget reasons.

El Jones, a justice reform activist and former poet laureate of Halifax, Canada, is concerned about something else: BP's prolonged status of isolation while he was in the adult jail.

"A lot of people say we have a very soft youth justice system, and it's just coddling them," Jones said. "This case is revealing that we don't."

In the past year, BP's time in adult jail didn't look like what we typically think of as "solitary confinement." He had space. He was able to go outside. He received books, games, and a Nintendo Wii. But some experts believe just being alone can pose a problem—a study of adolescent rats showed that social isolation could be damaging to young brains.

"How is he supposed to stimulate his mind? How is he supposed to develop social skills?" Jones said of BP's time in the adult facility. "We're not doing anything to change the behaviors that come from trauma."

In his time at the adult facility, he was alone—except for his guards—in a wing that temporarily holds youth. And his therapy sessions were drastically cut, from multiple sessions a week to a few sessions every two weeks. Then, officials say, he punched a corrections officer in the face. After that alleged incident, his therapists only talked to him through a telephone behind a pane of glass.

On September 12 of this year, Derrick wrote she couldn't tell the province where BP should be housed, but also suggested that Waterville was the only place in the province that could give him the therapy he needs. "The violent incidents of September 4 and March 16 indicate that Mr. BP needs more services," she wrote. "Instead, he has been receiving less."

"What he did is very alarming, nobody's ignoring that," Jones said, referring to the murder of Dan Pellerin and the later riot. "But we don't just violate the rights of one person because it's… easier for everyone else."

"People get out" of custody, Jones said. "Without... interventions, we're setting up more crime to occur."

MacLean said that since BP's return to the youth facility, he has been slowly "regaining his privileges" and that he currently has "minimal interaction with other inmates." Nothing negative has happened yet, according to MacLean. "I'm all for the rehabilitation of this young man; however, not at the cost of the safety of my members," he said.

BP was in court on Monday, according to a representative for the Crown Attorney, pleading not guilty to charges of assault and of assaulting a peace officer this March. Meanwhile, sentencing dates have been set for December 18 and January 31, over BP's role in the Waterville riot. The Crown Court has asked the judge to sentence him as an adult, according to Derrick's document.

Follow Katie Toth on Twitter.

Nova Scotia
justice system
juvenile detention system