APTN Investigates is taking viewers inside corrections facilities to see what’s really behind the overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada’s justice system.
While Indigenous Peoples make up just under five per cent of the Canadian population, they now account for more than 32% of all incarcerated inmates.
In this special four-part series, the APTN Investigates team brings viewers with them behind the walls of some of Canada’s most notorious prisons. Inside Corrections looks to understand why Indigenous Peoples are the fastest-growing prison population in the country.
Footage obtained through access to information requests reveals the Correctional Service of Canada’s (CSC) response to prisoners in mental health crises.
Federal inmate Joey Toutsaint has spent 2180 days in solitary confinement and is the primary subject of the footage.
The CCTV footage was taken by CSC staff after a use of force incident or after Toutsaint exhibited self-harming behaviour.
The footage, while graphic, offers insight into how the CSC responds to prisoners who are experiencing mental health challenges as a result of prolonged isolation.
APTN Investigates was given special access to the Millhaven Institution, where Toutsaint was held in custody at the time of the interview.
He says his experience in federal custody is something no person should ever have to endure.
Toutsaint entered the prison system at the age of 15, spending most of his life in custody. He is now 36 years old.
“Just locked up all day, you go through a lot, a lot, a lot of mental breakdowns, suicidal thoughts and self-harming,” he said, from inside the maximum-security facility.
Indigenous inmates continue to be overrepresented at all levels of Canada’s correctional system.
Isolation, self-harm and suicide are all more likely to occur with Indigenous inmates, according to a report released by the Correctional Investigator of Canada, Ivan Zinger.
“I think we concluded that very much so, that there are systemic barriers and biases and systemic racism in federal corrections that is very much embedded in practices and policies,” said Zinger.
The impact has a detrimental impact on each Indigenous person who is serving a federal sentence, he added.
In 2018, the federal government introduced Bill C-83, an amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
The legislation was introduced after the Supreme Court of Canada found that the use of solitary confinement violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Additionally, it found that isolating inmates for more than 15 days would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
After administrative segregation was banned, a new form of isolation was introduced. It’s now referred to as a structured intervention unit (SIU).
Jennifer Metcalfe is the executive director of the Prisoner’s Legal Services and represented Toutsaint in a human rights complaint.
She says the main difference between administrative segregation and a structured intervention unit is the additional two hours a prisoner receives outside of their cell.
“The new regime that replaced it requires CSC to offer at least four hours out of a prison cell each day and two of those four hours are supposed to include meaningful human contact,” she said.
Joey Toutsaint says the introduction of the new legislation has yet to make a positive impact on him.
“I’m really struggling, I just don’t know what to do sometimes,” he said. “I don’t even know why I’m trying sometimes, but I’m trying hard to get the help that I need.”
Senator Kim Pate has advocated for prisoner’s rights for decades and she says the legislation is in immediate need of oversight.
“In fewer than five percent of all of the placements in the structured intervention units was the law followed consistently,” she said.
Pate says the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in Canada’s correctional system is a continuation of removing Indigenous people from their communities.
“Does it surprise me he’s there? No. Is it atrocious? Is it inappropriate? Is it unlawful? Should it be revisited? Yes,” said Pate.
Last month, Toutsaint was transferred to Saskatchewan Penitentiary.
In 2009, Toutsaint was labelled a dangerous offender and given an indeterminate sentence.
There’s no telling when, or if he will ever get out.
“No matter how much I try, they don’t want to give me a chance now,” he said. “They’re just always looking for an excuse to keep me in jail.”
To hear John Derek Mills tell it, the Vancouver police went rogue. At his trial he called them “crazed cowboys.” He says they were shooting indiscriminately into a getaway car and that put his companion and her two children in danger.
For Mills this was the inciting incident.
Protect the child. It’s all he recalls thinking when he scooped up a two-and-half-year-old child. He bolted from his car, jumped into an empty police cruiser and proceeded to take VPD on what was termed then the longest and most violent police chase in Vancouver history.
For over 30 blocks, with a child in his lap, Mills sped through the city at a speed of up to 120 kilometres an hour.
For him it was self-defence. He was only protecting the child.
But the trial judge wasn’t buying it, calling the evidence presented by the defence not reliable.
Several police officers testified that at various points of the chase Mills held the gun to the child’s head. Using the child as a shield as he attempted to flee.
According to one officer Mills yelled, “stop or I’ll shoot the kid.”
The judge found Mills guilty on multiple charges, including firing at police, taking the child hostage and threatening the child with his gun and causing bodily harm to the child due to criminal negligence.
At sentencing the last words from the judge labelled Mills “an extreme danger to the public” and gave him life, eligible for parole after seven years.
He was convicted March 13, 1998. Twenty-five years ago, this week.
Mills admits to his crimes. Except for one. He did not take the child hostage. He did not threaten her. In almost three decades Mills’ story has not changed. He maintains the cops’ reaction was excessive.
“What they said isn’t true. I can’t prove what they were thinking” Mills told APTN investigates in an interview conducted at Archambault prison in Quebec.
On June 5, 1996, Mills decided to knock of a drug store because he and his girlfriend were broke. Her children needed to eat.
“I felt so guilty that I wasn’t able to provide for them. The girls were so good like you didn’t hear a peep out of them the whole time. I found some change that I dropped. I got them some chips and some juice. Sheena, she just grabbed them like she was ravenously hungry and then that really kicked into high gear. If you have a choice between a robbery and a starving kid, what would you choose?”
Mills and his girlfriend had just arrived in Vancouver from Edmonton. They spent the day applying for social assistance. But were denied. But at the time in B.C., you had to be a resident for at least six months before you were eligible.
His girlfriend was taken into custody the night of the crime but did not serve any time.
During the trial, police admitted to destroying the getaway car. A car Mills insists was riddled with bullets.
On cross-examination defence got one eyewitness to admit maybe the accused did not have the gun to the child’s head. He also testified that he had heard 14 gunshots in total.
This and other discrepancies have Mills hoping for a new trial. He is waiting for his ex-girlfriend to come forward to back up his version of events. He claims a witness came forward to a local paper and informed them he had seen the car before it was crushed, and he did see bullet holes.
He knows he’s dead in the water without new evidence. He has a parole hearing next month but without admitting to all his crimes the chances of him getting out are almost zero. Mills conceded he will be in jail for a very long time
A Saulteaux woman says she was wrongfully convicted for murder and is seeking justice after spending more than 25 years in prison. Odelia Quewezance was convicted of second-degree murder in 1994 for a crime she says she didn’t commit.
Extreme isolation. Excessive confinement. No services. That’s just some of the criticism aimed at Canada’s only “Supermax” prison. Is the so-called Special Handling Unit (SHU) backsliding on Canada’s commitment to rehab Indigenous offenders? APTN Investigates.