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PRISON ADMINISTRATION - Duty of fairness - Rights of prisoners

Tuesday, October 15, 2019 @ 9:24 AM  

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Appeal by a provincial prison inmate from a decision dismissing his habeas corpus application. Corrections officers determined that the appellant should be moved to Unit A at the institution. The appellant objected to being placed in Unit A, as inmates in Unit A spent far more time in their cells than those in some other low-security units. The evidence on which the decision was based included security level recommendations, assessment decisions and observation/incident reports by corrections staff, and four unidentified documents that were not disclosed due to concerns for the safety of informants. The appellant was not provided with this evidence. He was provided with the security level decision, which downgraded his security level from medium to low. The application judge found there was no procedural unfairness as to the appellant’s security assessment and unit placement because there was compliance with the Regulations and policy. The appellant argued that the application judge erred in law when she decided the unit placement decision was made in a manner that was procedurally fair. The appellant had not been released from custody.

HELD: Appeal allowed. The respondents failed to comply with the duty of procedural fairness that it owed to the appellant in relation to the unit placement decision. Although the appeal was moot, it should be considered. Whether corrections officials had a duty of procedural fairness to inmates in the context of unit placement decisions was a matter of public interest. The appellant established a deprivation of his residual liberty because of his placement in Unit A. From the inmate’s perspective, more than double the time locked alone in a separate cell was a significantly more serious denial of liberty. The appellant was not afforded procedural fairness. He was given no participatory rights in relation to a unit placement decision that had a significant negative impact on his residual liberty interests. He was not provided with the evidence or a summary of the evidence. He was not told why he might be or was assigned to Unit A in any way. He was not given an opportunity to make representations before or after the unit placement decision. The decision was made by corrections officials, acting based on reports and recommendations by other corrections officials and other undisclosed evidence. There was no evidence that could support the inference that providing an appropriate level of procedural fairness to inmates would result in an administrative catastrophe. There was no express language in the legislation excluding procedural fairness relating to unit placement decisions. The exclusion of procedural fairness was not a necessary implication.

Mercredi v. Saskatoon Provincial Correctional Centre, [2019] S.J. No. 347, Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, R.K. Ottenbreit, P.A. Whitmore and B. Barrington-Foote JJ.A., September 9, 2019. Digest No. TLD-October142019003