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Storm erupts over prisoner race ID
Inmates' ID cards name skin colour

Richard Brennan
Queen's Park Bureau
Jan. 10, 2003. 05:05 AM

Ontario's only privately run jail is being accused of racial profiling by requiring inmates to wear detailed photo identification tags that include their race.

The Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene, run by a U.S.-based private corrections company, is the only facility in the Ontario corrections system that does it.

"This is a perfect example of systemic racism ... and I have no doubt it is a breach of the Ontario Human Rights Act and I have absolutely no doubt that it is unconstitutional," Toronto lawyer Julian Falconer said yesterday.

"Compelling inmates to bear their race ... is completely abhorrent to our value system and this is a perfect example of why leaving our jails up to private interests guarantees all kind of injustices," said Falconer, a prominent voice on race relations.

The practice was revealed by Liberal critic MPP David Levac (Brant) and confirmed by a spokesperson for Public Safety and Security Minister Bob Runciman and by an official with the jail.

Runciman spokesperson Jamie Wallace said a senior ministry official will look into the appropriateness of the card, even though the information has been gathered since the maximum-security jail opened in November 2001.

"We will have a talk with MTC (Management and Training Corporation-Canada) and with the superintendent and find out why they are using this particular information
and make sure it is consistent with ministry policy," Wallace said.

Doug Thomson, administrator at the Central North Correctional Centre, defended the practice of keeping racial information, adding it is a system used in the company's
U.S. jails as another tool to keep track of inmates. "We are not interested in profiling. We just want to make sure we have the right inmate identified for both
internal reasons as well as when inmates are released," he said.

The photo ID card includes an inmate's name, date of birth, eye and hair colour, weight, height and race.

"IDs of any type can be manipulated and you want to make sure you have the right information. It's not geared for anything else but making sure you've got the right inmate," Thomson said.

The jail, which houses more than 1,000 inmates, got into hot water last March when an inmate was mistakenly released. Besides that, staffing was called into question when 100 inmates attempted to escape in September.

Union officials, opposition critics and lawyers interested in human rights lined up to condemn what the private operators are doing.

"It's disgraceful ... they don't even do this in Milhaven (penitentiary), said Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby.

"What's the point? This is demeaning, and I'm certain it is a violation of their constitutional rights," Ruby said.

"We treat people with dignity ... it's contrary to every Canadian value ... it is shameful. Prisoners lose their right to privacy but they never lose their right to dignity," Ruby said.

Levac has demanded that the government move quickly to force the operators to remove race from the personal statistics because "it absolutely strikes of racial profiling."

Said NDP MPP Rosario Marchese (Trinity-Spadina): "This is beyond the pale, it is illegal, it is egregious, it's racial profiling and it's got to stop."

Barry Scanlon, an official with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), said the union will be filing an official protest demanding that the practice stop.

"It is inappropriate and illegal and it is just shows that they brought America up to our prison system," Scanlon said. "This is another example of what happens when you let a private operator from a foreign country run one of your prisons," he said.

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