16-day trauma in Nova Scotia dry cell persists, though court finds solace: ex-inmate

Dry cells are when inmates are kept alone under surveillance in a cell with no running water so that their human waste can be examined for concealed drugs.

Judge John Keith’s ruling ruled that the law ignores the fact that a substance suspected of being hidden in the vagina would not necessarily be expelled while in custody. He said this creates risks that women will remain unfairly detained.

Adams was placed in a dry cell at Nova Institution for Women in Truro, Nova Scotia on May 6, 2020 and remained there until May 22 on suspicion of smuggling methamphetamine into the hospital. establishment in her vagina.

She describes a heartbreaking and disappointing situation, where she could not expel drugs because there were none and yet she remained detained and closely watched, especially when she went to the bathroom.

Adams, who was released from prison in January, said feelings of “losing control of my body” come back from time to time. She worries about being around others when using the restroom and finds that confined spaces trigger claustrophobia.

“As an adult, I felt like I had finally regained possession of my body. This experience took that away from me again, ”she said. “If I feel like I’m being forced in any way, it will trigger the same feeling (like the dry ceiling),” she said.

According to the facts described in the court decision, Adams was caught using crystal meth at a community residential facility in Cape Breton on May 2, 2020 and was returned to federal prison.

After body scans were dispatched from Cape Breton, the warden ordered him to lock him in the dry cell, despite Adams’s history of anxiety and suicide attempts. Adams said that once placed in the dry cell, she did not initially ask for a consent form to authorize an x-ray of her pelvis because she was not sure that option was possible. Six days after starting her dry cell, a doctor told prison staff that he would not take an x-ray of her vagina because it was happening under coercive circumstances.

It took eight more days for Adams to arrange for a prison doctor to do a Pap test. An entry in the doctor’s report stated that there was no foreign body in Adams’ vagina. Yet she remained in the cell for two more days.

Adams said she hopes Ottawa doesn’t pursue a simple “tinkering” of the legislation and continue to allow women in dry cells.

“It’s very invasive. There are other ways, ”she said, wondering why prison authorities have invested in toilets to collect and analyze human waste for drugs instead of having x-ray machines.

Kyle Lawlor, a spokesperson for the Correctional Service of Canada, said by email that the service is closely reviewing the court’s decision.

He said dry cells were one of the tools used to prevent contraband entry into institutions and that the agency was looking for new technologies “to better facilitate the detection of contraband.”

Sheila Wildeman, a law professor at Dalhousie University, is urging Ottawa to consult widely with detainee rights advocates before simply tinkering with the dry cell law.

“Resources invested in the criminalization of drug use and the hopeless war on drugs in Canada’s prisons and prisons would be better invested in giving people the support they need to be healthy, including through a safe supply of drugs, ”she said in an email.

She notes the testimony of a former head of Edmonton Institution in 2011 before a federal committee that inmates who put drugs in prison into their bodies usually do so in small amounts for personal use, to manage. withdrawal or anxiety about their imprisonment.

Dry cells have also been criticized in reports from two federal correctional investigators – Howard Sapers in 2011-2012 and Ivan Zinger in 2019-2020 – Sapers recommending that it last for a maximum of 72 hours.

Meanwhile, Adams said she was more than willing to continue her battle in court, should Ottawa appeal. “Until we get the result that we are looking for, I will go as far as possible,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 18, 2021.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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