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Mi’kmaw man says poor treatment he received at the PEI Correctional Facility left him hospitalized and in fear of his life

The Halifax Examiner with Martha Paynter 08 December 2018

A Mi’kmaw man in hospital says that the treatment he received in the Prince Edward Island Correctional Facility left him in in fear of his life.

Charles Wallace, 42, alleges that he was bullied, called racial slurs, and denied healthcare by correctional officers. After a month of excruciating pain, Wallace was transferred back to Nova Scotia for a court date, and collapsed in the Pictou jail. He has been diagnosed with pneumonia and E Coli poisoning, illnesses he believes were caused by the abuse and neglect he suffered in the jail and by the filthy conditions of the facility. 

Wallace’s partner, Dani Stoilov, says that Wallace was initially pulled over in October in PEI for driving offences (driving with a suspended licence and other breaches). Wallace, who has been in and out of Federal and Provincial facilities for “half his life,” was remanded to the PEI facility.

Wallace acknowledges that he has a long history of imprisonment. In 2016, Wallace was involved in an assault at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility (Burnside) that was caught on camera. But, he says, no one deserves the treatment he received in the jail in PEI. He points out that in all the time he has been incarcerated, he has never experienced conditions and abuse like he did in the PEI facility.

Within a few days of entering the facility, Wallace “cheeked” a pill (held a pill in his mouth and returned to his cell with it). He alleges the officers searching him put him in a headlock, and used excessive force to drag him to segregation while yelling racial slurs at him.

Wallace describes the cells in segregation as cold and damp, with a mattress that is thinner than a newspaper. When the floors get dirty, he says, they paint over the filth instead of cleaning the cell. He believes it is these conditions that made him sick.

In segregation, he says he was taunted and tormented by the correctional officers. He was called a “dirty Indian” and other racial slurs. He says officers threatened him to his face. He was denied phone privileges and was unable to call his partner. After days of asking for a shower, he finally gave himself a sponge bath with milk.

After Wallace called a lawyer and the RCMP to complain about his treatment, he alleges that the guards encouraged other prisoners to attack him, calling him a “rat” openly in front of the other prisoners. In another incident he describes, on Thanksgiving, the officers taunted him by eating a turkey dinner in front of his cell.

Wallace claims that because of the guards saying that he is a rat he was threatened and bullied by the other prisoners. Every day when he would stand at his door for medication, the other prisoners would bang on their windows and yell threats at him. He alleges he was attacked by another prisoner, and had a tooth punched out of his mouth. Because of these threats, he had his “back constantly to the wall.”

Wallace also says that since the first day of his incarceration he asked to smudge and to be able to go to sweats. It took weeks before the jail allowed him access. In 2017, Anthony Peter-Paul won a human rights settlement in New Brunswick after he was denied his request to practice his spirituality. Indigenous prisoners and advocates have consistently challenged the failures of facilities to accommodate religious practice and ceremony. 

Within a few days of arriving in segregation, Wallace became ill and was in excruciating pain. He says he was denied healthcare, and the officers laughed at him. When he was taken to healthcare, he was given Voltaren gel.

In pain and desperate for healthcare, Wallace chipped a piece of the thick paint from the floor and slit his hand and wrist. He wrote “help me” in blood. The nurse took a look at the deep wound and “shrugged it off.” Weeks later, when he saw a doctor, he was told he should have had stitches.

Finally, weeks after he began getting sick, Wallace was taken to the hospital for a scan. The scan didn’t immediately turn anything up, so he was returned to the jail, where he continued to get sicker and sicker. Using the electronic tablet supplied by the jail, he repeatedly wrote to his partner that he was in so much pain he could barely think or type.

At the end of November, Wallace was transferred back to Nova Scotia to the North East Correctional Centre in Pictou for a court date in Antigonish. A day or two after his court date, he woke up, walked down the stairs, and collapsed from the pain in his chest and lungs. He was rushed to the hospital, where he has been for the past two weeks.

Stoilov says:

It killed me inside to know what he went through and is still going through when it could have been prevented. Along with how he was treated. It makes me sick. No one should have to endure what they put Charles through.

I’ve had so many sleepless nights hoping and praying for his safety, health, and well being. I wish I could be there for him more than anything, to help him out and be there for the support he needs. 

Due to the strain on his lungs, Wallace’s lungs collapsed. He has had numerous surgical procedures to try to drain the fluid and blood clots that he says built up because of the weeks he went untreated. After a week of tests, the doctors determined that along with pneumonia, Wallace had an E. coli infection that in rare cases affects the lungs. E. coli poisoning happens when fecal matter is eaten or inhaled, and Wallace believes the filthy conditions in the jail and tainted food led to this infection.

Martha Paynter, a nurse, PhD nursing student, and the director of Women’s Wellness Within — an organization that provides support for incarcerated and criminalized women — believes the neglect alleged by Wallace is a human rights violation. She writes:

I understand this man was being held in segregation. The Mandela Rules are clear — no one experiencing physical or mental illness should be held in segregation. It is dehumanizing and clinically harmful.

He was remanded. Although approximately two-thirds of prisoners in Canada are on remand, it should be a last resort. Remand places untried and unconvicted people at risk of the harms of incarceration, one of which is exposure to infectious disease.

The prioritization of “security” over health translates into a lack of access to hygiene products to prevent infection, and delays in recognizing illness and accessing treatment. 

In 2015, Veronica Park died of pneumonia in Nova Institution for women, “which prison nurses failed to notice in time, despite her having visited the medical clinic more than seven times during the weeks before her death.” 

In 2011, women prisoners at the PEI facility complained about the conditions in the facility, including “cramped quarters, no seats on the toilets and allegations of verbal abuse by guards.” In February of 2018, a prisoner died at the facility from “health issues.”

Wallace is still recovering in hospital. “No matter what, I’ll never be the same,” he says.

I’ll be questioning any food that isn’t home-made. I’ll be looking behind my back, and sleeping with one eye open. I have never feared for my life and now I do, all because of the staff and healthcare at the PEI provincial jail.