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Yan Morvan, Bobby Sands: Belfast, mai 1981. Published by André Frère Éditions, 2018. Source & source.

Photographs by Yan Morvan from Derry and Belfast, in the weeks after the death of Bobby Sands.

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“Constructive Action Required,” Globe and Mail Editorial, July 14, 1948. Page 06.

The second riot at Burwash Industrial Farm in less than a year, following a violent disturbance in the Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women, and now the trouble at Guelph Reformatory, all strongly emphasize the difficulties of administering this type of institution. Obviously, nobody likes being in jail, and there could seldom be noted a general spirit of contentment among the inmates. Nevertheless, experience has shown that conditions in a penal institution are generally poor before mischief-making leadership is able to create trouble. The climax of the outbreak ordinarily comes after a long period of increasing frustration, and represents a degree of desperation. By then, consequences have become insignificant in comparison with the conditions being endured.

The administration of a system of jails and reformatories, therefore, requires a particular sort of person with a high degree of competition. He should be a man who is able to lay down a clear and practical policy, and be certain that it is being carried out. He should be at once stern and kindly; wise in his understanding of human nature, and discerning in his judgement. Above all, he should know his job, and the complex problems of running institutions which are both punitive and reformative, to the end that those who have broken the law will be aware of the penalty, and at the same time desirous of leading a more constructive life upon release.

Despite the disturbances which have taken place recently, we have confidence in the officials of the Department of Reform Institutions, and in their capacity to deal with the situation. Their reputation and experience is substantial, and they are held in respect even by those who have had just cause to be critical of the Ontario prison and reformatory system. Numerous innovations and improvements have been put into effect in many aspects of the system, and the Ontario Plan for reformative institutions has been widely studied.

It is evident, however, that further reforms of a sweeping nature are overdue. Too little attention has been paid to salaries which will attract the right type of person into this important work. There has been an indication that personnel policies are erratic and even unjust. The discipline among prisoners cannot be maintained if morale is not present in the staff. These problems are basically administrative and the public expects the Government to take constructive action before further trouble develops. It is essential that the department’s officials be able to justify the progressive policies they have fostered through their consistent application in all parts of the system.

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“Three Outbreaks in Less Than Three Weeks Is Record of These Ontario Institutions,” Toronto Star. July 13, 1948. Page 02.

6 Outbreaks in 3 Years in Three Reformatories

Six serious outbreaks of trouble have occured in the past three years at three of the reform institutions administered by the Ontario government. Two incidents were at Burwash, three at the Ontario reformatory at Guelph, and one last month at Mercer reformatory for women in Toronto.

Following are the dates:

July 18, 1945 – Three guards injured at Guelph during outbreak of trouble among inmates. Hon. George Dunbar, minister of reform institutions, blamed it on small potatoes served inmates.

July 12, 1946 – Donald Parks, 18-year-old orphan, killed by guards attempting to escape from Guelph.

Oct. 2, 1947 – Riot of 124 inmates at Camp No. 1 Burwash. Five prisoners escaped.

March 10, 1948 – Dr. Stuart Jaffary, school of social science, University of Toronto, reported on investigation he made into Burwash riot. He made 13 recommendations for improving conditions, and said that responsibolity for the Octobver riot ‘is clearly on the administration and not n the inmates.’

June 25, 1948 – 100 girls at Mercer reformatory stage riot by throwing dishes and using chair legs to hit Toronto police officers called to quell disturbance. Trouble continued for several days.

June 28, 1948 – Riot at Camp No. 2 at Burwash. Tear gas used. Hunger strike by inmates.

July 12, 1948. – Trouble at Guelph reformatory. Tear gas used. 311 inmates kept under close guard in yard.

Image captions (from top left to right):

Mercer, June 25 – 100 Girls Riot, Protest Treatment;
Burwash, June 28 – Tear Gas Used on Hunger Strikers;
Guelph, July 12 – Tear Gas Used, Over 300 Refuse to Work;
For the Third Time In Three Years, Guelph Reformatory, seen from the air, has Trouble

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“Mercer Has Strap, Dungeon – Girls Seek Death – Ex-Inmate,” Toronto Star. June 26, 1948. Page 02.

“It’s unbelievable what’s going on in Mercer reformatory,” Mrs. Daisy Hoffman of Ontario St. said today. She said she was released at 2 p.m. Friday after serving two months on a liquor charge. ‘It’s a torture chamber,’ she said. ‘The proof girls suffer terribly.’

Mrs. Hoffman gave the girls’ side of the story emphasizing their cruel treatment. ‘On June 16,’ she said, ‘a 19-year-old girl, named Agnes, who has a seven-month-old baby there with her, got 18 straps across her back and shoulders. They told her they would take away her baby. The same day another girl who was 17 years old was given 12 straps for a slight disturbance. Both girls were put in the dungeons on Monday. These are dark rooms in the basement with no windows or light, with cement floors. The girls sleep on iron bars – there are no beds. They only get one blanket. The water they use is rusty.

Says Two Try to Suicide
‘After being strapped, Helen – the 17-year-old girl – was brought to her room and the next day was sent to work. All her recreation was taken away and she is allowed no visitors. Agnes was in the dungeon until Friday and went to work that morning at the reformatory factory. While working at a power sewing machine she tried to commit suicide by plunging needles into her wrists.’

Mrs. Hoffman went on to say that another girl of 16, from Ottawa, had a fight on Friday – a week ago Friday – and was put in the dungeons last Sunday. ‘She was told that she would get a strapping the next day. On Sunday she cut her arm with a cup – trying to commit suicide. She was given no hospital attention at al. On Monday, as scheduled, she got 14 straps.

Thrown Downstairs
Mrs. Hoffman told what she saw during the riot yesterday and how it came about. ‘Wednesday evening,’ she said, ‘the girls went in a ‘squealer,’ slit her face and beat her. One of the matrons grabbed one of them and started chocking her. There was 10 matrons against this one girl. Another girl cried out the window ‘Help! A girl is chocking.’ A matron grabbed her and threw her down the stairs. The matron threw seven pails of cold water on her to revive her and took her to the dungeon. That night the girls planned a riot because they had all been threatened with the strap. 

‘Yesterday, the girls wouldn’t go to work they had a sitdown strike in the dining hall. When a matron came, the girls threw the dishes around and somebody pulled the fire alarm.’

Pulling Girls By Hair
Mrs. Hoffman said she had been confined to her room for six weeks. She was not allowed out at all. ‘I thought the place was on fire when I heard the alarm,’ she said. ‘I started to cry for help and a matron told me that it was not a fire but that she would let me out. I saw the detectives pulling the girls by the hair. Most of the girls were bleeding but only one detective had blood on his face. I saw a detective knock a girl down in the floor which was covered with broken dishes, and a matron told him: ‘You can’t hit her like that’. He released her then but knocked another one down. I told a matron that she was wonderful.’

No Fresh Air in Seven Weeks
Mrs. Hoffman said she had memorized messages from the girls to their parents. She could not carry out written messages because ‘I would be searched and then the girls would be strapped.’

Concerning her own treatment, Mrs. Hoffman said: ‘I had been locked for six weeks in my room. I was kicked around and threatened, but I am too old for strapping, so I did not care. I had no fresh air for seven weeks. All the exercise I had was walking to the bathroom. I lost 25 pounds in two months. The food was bad ‘and the meat smelled nearly, all the time.’

Mrs. Hoffman told of two other girls who received severe treatment. One was handcuffed with her hands behind her back for three days, according to Mrs. Hoffman. ‘The cuffs were so tight that her arms were all swollen,’ she said. ‘A nurse called the doctor and she took the handcuffs off. Later a matron beat Margaret.’

‘Another girl,’ said Mrs. Hoffman, ‘was put in her room for several days, when she was told she would have to stay twenty days longer than her sentence called for. The girl had started crying and she was ordered into her room for solitary confinement. The girl was due to leave the reformatory on July 27.’

Mrs. Hoffman told of the experiences in the reformatory. ‘They told me they were going to keep me indefinitely if I did not apologize and work for the Matron who had kicked me.’ Mrs. Hoffman had an argument with this matron and was ordered to apologize. ‘I did not apologize,’ she said. ‘I told them they could not break the law and that I would only work when I was treated like a human being. Whenever we complained the matrons said it was government order.’

Would Be Cautious
‘I do not know Mrs. Hoffman’s record, but I would be very cautious about accepting her charges as facts,’ said A. R. Virgin, director of reform institutions, today. ‘There has never been criticism against the superintendent of Mercer reformatory concerning cruelty to prisoners,’ he continued.

‘The fact that for years there has never been trouble indicates that the institution has been run efficiently,’ he said. ‘Certainly, anything that appear to be severe treatment is inquired into immediately.’ 

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“‘Siege for Days’ Seen in Mercer After Riot, Girls Scream Defiance,” Toronto Star. June 26, 1948. Page 01.

‘A state of siege that may last several days’ has developed inside Mercer Reformatory between police and guards and almost 100 women inmates who have been locked in their cells since a major riot Friday, Inspector Herb Harrison said today. More than 24 hours after the uprising, city and provincial police are still on duty as the belligerent women continue to yell and scream defiance at authorities, he said.

Friday more than 100 policemen were rushed to the old King St. W. institution when teh riot broke out during breakfast. At least two policemen were hospitalized, but have since returned to their homes. Det. Sergt. Sam Welsford had a wrist broken when he was clubbed with a baseball bat.

Toss Food Back
After struggling against clubs, fire hoses and innumerable missiles thrown at them, police and women attendants succeeded in locking the most serious offenders in the cell blocks.

When they continued to shout and break windows, their shoes were taken from them. Late last night and continuing through until late this morning, the prisoners kept up their shouting and swearing.

‘Food has had to be carried to them and everyone has been fed, although some just tossed it back out again,’ one official said.

To relieve city and provincial police now stationed within the building to check further disturbances, 15 male guards from the Ontario reformatory at Guelph are being brought to Toronto.

A. R. Virgin, provincial director of reform institutions, could not be reached this morning. His secretary said ‘he was too busy to talk.’

‘Tire Them Out’
Late this morning almost a score of city police and provincial officers were stationed in the building.

‘It looks as if it will be a matter of tiring them out,’ one official said. ‘They have shown no inclination to want to obey the regulations.’

Parcels addressed to inmates and brought to the buildings by the post-office department were being refused, it was learned.

A uniformed policeman patrolling the west wing near the kitchen was met with jeers and shouts of ‘There goes the law,’ every time he passed the windows.

Close to midnight last night, Chief John Chisholm and Inspector of Detectives Archie McCathie visited the reformatory, and left word that city police would stand guard until provincial authorities could muster enough men to take over.

While it is believed some punishments will be meted out to those taking part in the disturbance, provincial officials would not comment. They said a complete investigation must be held.

Under the reformatory act, the authorities have some powers to administer punishment but major penalties can only be applied by bringing accused before courts.

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“Seize Food for Poor, Butler Urges – Avoid Riots, Decide Later How to Pay,” Toronto Star. April 2, 1932. Page 01.

“Philadelphia, April 2. – Hunger faces 250,000 Philadelphians with the city’s relief fund of $5,000,000 virtually exhausted and food riots imminent.

And 59,629 families entirely dependent upon the Lloyd unemployment committee for an average of $4.50 a week, their bare existence, will be doomed to untold suffering unless the state or other sources lend a hand.

‘The impending catastrophe is too shocking to contemplate,’ the Llyod committee reported in a recent statement.

City and state officials, realizing that 250,000 persons won’t sit down quietly and starve to death, believe food riots are imminent. Major General Smedley D. Butler, campaigning for the Republic nomination for U.S. Senator, has called upon ‘courageous governors’ to declare martial law to prevent such riots.’

‘Commandeer the supplies necessary to save our people,’ he said, ‘and let the debating societies decide later or at their political leisure how to pay for it.’

The committee pointed out that in a great bulk of cases there is not only an absence of current earnings, but also an exhaustion of accumulated savings and credit.

‘It may well be considered the greatest calamity in the history of the commonwealth.’

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“The men on hunger strike have gone beyond the time allowed in detention centres so they are behind bars. But since they aren’t actually considered criminals they aren’t allowed with the general population, Khan said.

“They are isolated and they are separated from the regular population. They are also just in maximum security prison and spend 18 to 21 hours in their cell,” she said. “When they are released from that cell they are not actually allowed outside … they are only brought to a bigger cell where they can exercise or walk around.”

Isolation, a lack of outdoors, bars, and criminalization as a result of incarceration has serious physical and psychological impacts.

“To me, the way immigration detentions is right now, it’s cruel and unusual punishment. So we really need to look into this immigration detention situation,” Clark said, nearly two years after his detention.

Although their health is being compromised by the hunger strike, the detainees know all too well that coming out from behind bars isn’t always an option. Two men being held by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) died in Ontario this spring. Another man died at the Edmonton Remand Centre in May.

Fifteen people have died in immigration detention while in CBSA custody since 2000, according to the End Immigration Detention Network.

Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay (photo via Wikimedia)
“We don’t get any information about the deaths and the families have actually received very little information about what actually happened, what happened before, what’s the investigation like,” Khan said. “The CBSA is not required to [provide it].”

In 2014/15, there were 6,768 detainees in Canada, including both detainees in CBSA holding facilities and in provincial jails, according to the Office of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

“CBSA is required to consider all reasonable alternatives before detaining someone. Under Canadian law, detention is only allowed when: identity is not certain, there is a flight risk or a danger for the public,” said Scott Bardsley, press secretary for the Office of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, in an email to VICE.”

– Geraldine Malone, “Immigration Detainees Go on Hunger Strike to Highlight Canada’s Disturbing Detention Policy.” Vice News, July 13, 2016.

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