The Roy McMurtry Youth Centre in Brampton opened in May, to provide a positive environment for rehabilitation. But inmates complain of inappropriate strip searches, cold sleeping conditions and safety fears.RICK MADONIK/TORONTO STAR
Within two hours of arriving at Ontario's new "superjail" for youth last
month, the 16-year-old boy said he received a standard-issue tracksuit and the
beating of his life.
The 17-year-old Toronto youth wonders why officers at The Roy put him on a
range with a youth convicted of attempted murder.
A 17-year-old diabetic youth from Toronto claims he was repeatedly denied
insulin and food while at Roy McMurtry Youth Centre.
A Toronto teen arrived at the Jarvis Street youth court last month with black eyes, bloodied clothing and abrasions on his swollen head – an alarming testament to the escalating violence inside Ontario's new "superjail" for kids.
The slight 17-year-old says he was brutalized regularly by fellow inmates throughout the 13 days he spent at the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre in Brampton awaiting a bail hearing.
"From what we understand, nothing was done to prevent or stop the attacks," his lawyer, Veronique Henry, told the Star.
"When they come in with injuries like my client did ... you can't say this child is crying wolf."
More than 160 teens have filed 250 formal complaints about the facility with Ontario's Children and Youth Advocate since late summer. Most of these detainees haven't even been convicted of the charges facing them but are awaiting a bail hearing or trial.
Despite a sweeping internal review, prompted by concerns from the advocate's office and brought to light in the Star last month, allegations of violence have risen 15 per cent. An ambulance was dispatched to the 192-bed, state-of-the-art superjail eight times within a six-month period, suggesting injuries so severe, they couldn't be treated at the jail's medical unit.
For Henry's client, the conditions were so dire, he attempted suicide.
"These kids, and boys in particular it seems, are terrified – just terrified," she said. "We can't run a justice system like this."
During the past few weeks, four teens who have been detained at the jail shared their stories with the Star.
They described a brutal hazing from fellow inmates while staff turned a blind eye, being deprived of medication, being locked in isolation for days wearing only boxer shorts, and being subjected to excessive use of force by staff. The identities of these teens are protected by the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
When a reporter tried to interview a fifth teen who told his lawyer he would like to share details about the abuses he suffered, a halfway house funded by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, which also oversees the jail, called police to launch an investigation.
The reporter hadn't even contacted the youth directly but notified a supervisor at the home of her intent to interview the youth.
A ministry spokeswoman couldn't explain why police were called. She denied a claim that the teen's file had been flagged with a note for police to launch a probe in the event a reporter tried to contact the youth.
When asked about specific allegations of abuse at the jail, Minister Laurel Broten told the Star, "It's upsetting to hear."
Broten pledged, "It's something that I'm going to look into further."
A week later, the ministry responded by email:
"Where there is an allegation of a serious occurrence at any of our youth facilities, including RMYC, they are taken very seriously and an investigation is initiated and appropriate action is taken. These investigations include review of relevant records, including health care and operational documentation, interviews with residents and staff; and video when available."
Irwin Elman, Ontario's advocate for children and youth, said he's still waiting on the results of eight investigations dating to September.
While the province has addressed some of the facility's shortcomings in meeting detainees' most basic rights by handing out pillows and blankets and monitoring food temperature, persistent concerns around the jail's culture and its ability to deal with young people are reaching a tipping point.
The Roy, as the $93 million jail is referred to by staff and its young detainees, is named for Ontario's progressive former chief justice. While McMurtry plays no active role in the facility's operations, he said he's discussed concerns outlined by the youth advocate with the ministry and is certain fixing those problems will be a priority.
Toronto attorney Laurie Galway has represented roughly 50 youths who have come through the jail.
Many complained about fighting in the facility that wasn't being stopped immediately.
The union representing jail workers blames insufficient staffing.
"Every day we're running short," said Bruce England, a youth services officer at the Roy and president of OPSEU Local 290. "People that are working 3 to 11 are getting ordered to stay from 11 to 7 because we don't have the staff."
The 23,000-square-foot jail currently employs 166 permanent front-line youth services officers.
The ministry said an analysis of the staffing model is underway.
Ontario's youth advocate, meanwhile, is watching closely.
That an entire division of a provincial ministry in cooperation with hundreds of institutional staff can't do better for this group of young people "is a little bit mind-boggling," Elman said.
"When we take kids into custody, we become their guardians, as a province.
One of the primary considerations is to keep children safe."
Diana Zlomislic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-869-4472.