Andrew Seymour, Postmedia News | July 8, 2016
Michael Wiwczaruk (above) alleges he spent 12 days in the dirty segregation cell after as many as 10 correctional officers repeatedly choked, kicked and hit him after he spat at a correctional officer and refused to follow orders at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre in May 2014.
A mentally ill former inmate at Ottawa’s jail has filed a lawsuit alleging he was thrown in a segregation cell following a beating by correctional officers that the jail’s own superintendent acknowledged was excessive.
Michael Wiwczaruk alleges he spent 12 days in the feces-smeared segregation cell after as many as 10 correctional officers repeatedly choked, kicked and hit him after he spat at a correctional officer at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre in May 2014.
According to Wiwczaruk’s statement of claim, the jail’s then-superintendent, Maureen Harvey, sent him a pair of letters in September 2014 after he complained to the province’s ombudsman about his treatment. The first letter advised him the ministry had completed its investigation and determined that his claims had not been substantiated.
That is not a licence to beat a prisoner.
However, five days later Harvey issued a new memo: “I am writing to you to inform you that the investigation has been completed and the findings of excessive force have been substantiated,” it read.
Harvey was dismissed from her job earlier this year after this newspaper reported about the jail’s continued use of shower cells, just days after then-minister of corrections Yasir Naqvi ordered their use to end.
None of the allegations in the lawsuit has been proven in court and the ministry has yet to file a statement of defence. A ministry spokesman said it would be inappropriate to comment on both a civil case that was still before the court and internal personnel matters on whether any correctional officers were disciplined for the alleged use of excessive force.
The use of excessive force allegedly occurred after the 28-year-old Wiwczaruk was in a confrontation with the correctional officers. The statement of claim said he swore at an officer who ignored his request to let him have an extended visit with his mother.
The correctional officer allegedly called Wiwczaruk a “punk,” according to the statement of claim. About 10 correctional officers then came to Wiwczaruk’s unit and challenged him about his conduct, allegedly asking him if he wanted to “start trouble” and be “thrown in the hole.”
“Go for it,” Wiwczaruk’s statement of claim said he told them.
Wiwczaruk admitted in his statement of claim that he refused an order to get on his knees because he felt the request was “improper and demoralizing.” He then spat at a correctional officer who called him derogatory names and was yelling so forcefully at him that the officer’s saliva sprayed his face.
Wiwczaruk’s lawyer said just because an inmate is “provocative” doesn’t mean correctional officers should provoke an altercation.
“That is not a licence to beat a prisoner,” said lawyer Paul Champ. “It’s about de-escalation, not escalation.”
The statement of claim said Wiwczaruk has spent time in juvenile detention centres and rotated in and out of both provincial and federal correctional facilities as an adult. (He’s currently serving a sentence on drug-related charges in another provincial jail and won’t be released until September, according to his lawyer.)
Wiwczaruk suffers from a psychiatric disorder, antisocial personality disorder and ADHD and has spent time at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre and a specialized jail for offenders with mental health issues, according to the statement of claim.
It also paints an unpleasant picture of his time in segregation.
Wiwczaruk said the segregation cell he was placed in was located behind the other segregation cells and was far dirtier, with floors and walls covered in feces and urine, he alleged.
Wiwczaruk said he was given nothing more than a bare mattress to sleep on at night; during the day, he alleged the mattress would be taken away and he’d sit on the dirty concrete floor.
Wiwczaruk alleged he was denied food for the first two days in segregation. Correctional officers would allegedly taunt him, including on one occasion when a female correctional officer asked if he was hungry, only to slam the cell’s food slot and tell him there would be no food for him.
It was four days before he got any toilet paper.
During his 12-day stay, Wiwczaruk claimed he was deprived access to the yard and telephone, and was unable to contact his lawyer, his family and the Ontario ombudsman, he alleged.
According to the statement of claim, Wiwczaruk was “locked in his cell 24/7” except for a couple of occasions when he was allowed out to shower near the end of his stay.
Wiwczaruk also alleges he was asked to sign a release that he wouldn’t pursue any criminal charges for assault against the correctional officers. He refused to sign it, he said. The lawsuit alleges Wiwczaruk has received no further updates on the investigation, and the ministry wouldn’t say Thursday whether any of the officers involved had been disciplined.
Wiwczaruk is suing for $700,000 in general and punitive damages, accusing the Ontario government and the unknown correctional officers of assault and battery, negligence and violations of his Charter rights.