Lawyers file injunction to have Sask. Pen inmate moved to mental health institution

Herald file photo.

Lawyers with B.C.-based Prisoners’ Legal Services have filed an injunction on behalf of a Saskatchewan Penitentiary inmate, arguing that he is at risk of death if not transferred to the Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC) in Saskatoon to receive mental health treatments.

The injunction was filed in federal court in Vancouver on Feb. 27. According to the affidavit, 32-year-old inmate Joey Toutsaint has a long-history of self-harm and attempted suicide, and has allegedly spent more than 2,000 days in segregation while serving his sentence at nine different federal prisons, including Kent Institution in British Columbia and the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert. He is currently serving an indeterminate sentence after being declared a dangerous offender in 2014.

None of the allegations in the affidavit have been proven in court.

In May 2018, Toutsaint filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, arguing he was being discriminated against on the basis of his mental disability and his Indigenous identity. His representatives say they’re worried his health won’t hold up long enough for the case to be heard, and that the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) isn’t doing enough to help.

“We were concerned about his well-being until the human rights complaint can be resolved,” Prisoners’ Legal Services (PLS) executive director Jennifer Metcalfe said. “We’re hopeful that he’ll be okay in the time that it takes for a judge to decide his injunction.”

In his affidavit, Toutsaint alleges the CSC continue to put him in segregation, even though CSC psychologists and mental health professionals acknowledged in reports and referral forms from March 29, 2017, Jan. 15, 2018, Jan. 24, 2018 and Dec. 7, 2018 that he had a variety of mental health concerns. Those concerns include anxiety, depression, anger issues and a history of suicide attempts.

Toutsaint’s PLS advocate, Nicole Kief, wrote in her own affidavit that beginning in September 2018, she spoke with Toutsaint’s Saskatchewan Penitentiary mental health clinician about transferring him to RPC, a mental hospital with the security provisions required to also function as a federal corrections institution. Toutsaint had previously spent short stays in RPC on in 2016 and 2017 and spoke highly of their programming.

Kief says she spoke to the clinician on Sept. 5, 2018, and with Toutsaint’s Institutional Parole Officer (IPO) on Sept. 11, then sent an email to both the next day, and eventually got in touch with the Regional Director of Health Services, although they did not immediately make a referal. Kief was later told Toutsaint did receive an RPC transfer referral in January, however his mental health team did not support the move.

A report completed by a different Saskatchewan Penitentiary mental health clinician on Feb. 5, 2019 noted that Toutsaint suffered from depression and anxiety, and acknowledged he had a history of self-harm. However, the report’s author also wrote that Toutsaint “reported no current concerns with suicidal/self-injurious behaviors at the time of the interview,” while also noting that his segregation log behavior was rated “poor.”

“In the absence of disconfirming evidence, there does not appear to be sufficient reason to conclude that Mr. Toutsaint’s capacity to remain in segregation has been exceeded,” the clinician wrote.

Kief said it’s “unconscionable” that CSC would continue to place Toutsaint in segregation, despite concerns about his mental health.

“If he isn’t considered inadmissible to segregation, it is hard to imagine who would be,” she said in a media release.

On Jan. 19, Cambridge Health Alliance staff psychiatrist Dr. Jon Wesley Boyd released an independent review of Toutsaint’s file, which included in-person meetings in 2018, and a 70-minute phone interview with Toutsaint on Jan. 3, 2019. Boyd wrote that the Toutsaint’s Interdisciplinary Management Plan did not adequately ensure his safety or his mental well-being, and that Toutsaint should never be placed in segregation.

“Instead of continuing to be kept in a general prison with a management plan, I believe that Mr. Toutsaint would be best served by being moved to a psychiatric facility where mental health staff are available at all hours of day or night, and also where all staff are trained in how to cope with individuals with chronic serious mental illness and/or who are chronically at risk for attempting to kill themselves,” Boyd wrote.

Toutsaint was raised in the Black Lake Denesuline Nation in Northern Saskatchewan. He had little contact with his birth father, and his mother was hit and killed by an impaired driver when he was 15. Afterwards, he became involved with a gang, and entered youth custody in North Battleford at the age of 16. In his affidavit, he alleges that guards abused him on a number of occasions while he was still a youth.

He entered CSC custody upon turning 18 in 2005, and spent a short time at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary. He was transferred to Edmonton Institution in 2006. In his affidavit, Toutsaint alleged that he was physically and sexually assaulted while in Edmonton Institution.

In October 2018, the CBC reported that Edmonton Institution had the highest rates of self-harm among inmates out of any male maximum-security prison in Canada. In 2018, 11 staff members were fired, suspended or left voluntarily after CSC launched an investigation into “alleged staff misconduct” at the facility.

When contacted, a CSC spokesperson declined to comment on the specific circumstances of Toutsaint’s case citing privacy concerns. However, she wrote that institutional staff and contractors are required to inform a health care professional when any offender appears to have physical or mental health problems. CSC policy also requires a healthcare professional to conduct a mental health screening within 24 hours of admission, as well as throughout an inmates sentence.

In order to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital like the RPC, inmates must meet specific clinical admission criteria as listed in the CSC Integrated Mental Health Guidelines. The CSC also performs risk assessments before transferring an offender to another facility. All referrals to health care facilities, including psychiatric hospital care, are to be reviewed by an Interdisciplinary Mental Health Care team comprised of clinical, operational and case management staff.

“The safety and security of staff are paramount when making decisions about inmate accommodation,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. “All transfers are made in accordance with the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, and CSC performs risk assessments before transferring an offender to a facility. Transfers play an important role in CSC’s ability to manage the inmate population within our legal framework, and are key to meeting the organization’s priorities.”

Correction: A previous version of this article gave the incorrect date for when legal advocate Nicole Kief began corresponding with inmate Joey Toutsaint and the CSC about a potential transfer. Kief first spoke with Toutsaint in September 2018, not 2015 as was stated in the article. The article also incorrectly stated that Kief had not heard a response from the CSC after September 2018. Kief was in contact with Health Services Regional Director Kathy Neil after September. The CSC also told Kief that Toutsaint did receive a Regional Psychiatric Centre referral, however his mental health team was not supportive of the transfer. Kief was also misidentified as a lawyer. She is a legal advocate. The Daily Herald apologizes for the errors.