Voices Inside and Out

Commentary: COVID-19 and Unrest at Donnacona

Episode Summary

Renford Farrier, a prisoner at Donnacona Maximum Security Institution in Quebec, describes how gas and rubber bullets were used to quell a protest by prisoners on April 20, 2020. He explains how the usual protocols of discussion and de-escalation were not followed before force was used on men who were posing no risk to the correctional officers. He questions why he was shot in the leg when he was complying with instructions and leaving his cell with his hands in the air telling them not to shoot. Discussed are the rising tensions behind bars due to the extended periods in cells, limited access to families, activities, programs and routine.

Episode Notes

As of the date of publishing this episode, we now know  that 2 federal prisoners have died of COVID-19, almost 300 federal prisoners tested positive (a rate 13 times higher than the general population in Canada), 5 penitentiaries are contaminated with COVID-19, 400 prisoners are being held in extreme conditions in medical isolation, and 100s more in cruel, prolonged solitary confinement-like conditions.  All visits by families, friends, and volunteers have stopped.  Programs have ended and prisoners are not able to make progress on correctional plans.  Temporary absences, both escorted and unescorted, have been suspended so progress toward being paroled for many has ceased.  Both prisoners and correctional staff are likely worried about contracting the virus. It is little wonder that tensions behind bars have increased.  

When tensions are high, is it more important to follow the protocols and attempt to de-escalate disputes before relying on force?

Was the amount of force described by Mr. Farrier more than was appropriate in the circumstances?

If the video tapes confirm that Mr. Farrier had his hands up and was attempting to comply with instructions when he was shot, what accountability and corrective action  is appropriate?

Should the video tapes of such uses of force be made public?