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Superjail scraps race notation
Inmates' ID cards named skin colour

Jan. 10, 2003. 05:27 PM

Canada's only privately run superjail has ended the practice of noting the race of inmates on their photo ID tags following complaints it was a violation of human rights and consistent with racial profiling. The decision came within hours of a report in the Star on the measure used at the Central North Correction Centre in Penetanguishene, Ont., said Doug Thomson, the jail's administrator.

"We've decided today in reviewing it to remove all the information, not only race, on the back of the card," said Thomson.

"The only thing that will remain on the cards is the photo ID, last name, the first name and, of course, his institutional number."

Given the criticism, Thomson said it was important to re-examine why physical descriptors such as race, weight and eye colour, had been included on the tags.

Part of that review will include the controversial notations of white, black, hispanic and other racial identifiers, Thomson said.

The identification system is used in U.S. jails also run by Management and Training Corp., the American-based private corrections firm that runs the maximum-security, 1,100-bed Ontario superjail.

Human-rights lawyers and others were outraged by the practice but Thomson denied there was any racist intent. Nor had prisoners complained, he said.

"We're not collecting any information for racial profiling whatsoever," Thomson said.

"The intent of the inmate identification is to enhance security for us and for the public safety in knowing who the right inmate is."

Brent Whetung, an aboriginal who works in intelligence at Warkworth institution and spent eight years as a guard, said he was dismayed to learn of the racial notations and that the government would allow it.

"What's next? Are we going to have driver's licences come out with what race we are? Where do we stop?" he said in an interview.

Legal protections for human rights don't end at the jail door, Whetung added.

Despite the jail's decision to remove the race information, a spokesman for Bob Runciman, the minister responsible for Ontario's jails, said the ministry had asked the provincial privacy commissioner to investigate.

Jamie Wallace said the ministry's internal race-relations co-ordinator will also investigate.

"The goal here is just to ensure that the ministry policies on race relations are clearly articulated," said Wallace.

Last month, a provincial rights panel ordered several officials - including an acting deputy minister - to take sensitivity training after finding ministry workplaces to be "racially poisoned.

Keith Norton, the head of Ontario's Human Rights Commission, was gathering information and had no immediate comment on the ID controversy, a spokeswoman said.

Liberal public safety critic David Levac said the government should have known about the tags and not waited until the "furor hit the fan" before acting.

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