Somali inmates say guards beat them
Bartamaha – More than a dozen Somali inmates labelled as gang members were segregated and allegedly beaten last month by members of the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre’s tactical unit, sparking an internal review.
Mustafa Malamud, who was behind bars on an assault charge, says he was one of 13 inmates forced out of their cells, kicked, stomped and beaten on Oct. 27.
“They went from cell to cell basically beating up everybody and constantly asking you whose house this is,” Malamud said in a phone interview after his release. “They wanted you to scream out, ‘It’s your house, it’s your house.’”
The alleged beating is said to have taken place after the inmates were moved to an area of the jail that Malamud says is no longer used and doesn’t have video cameras.
Tony Brown, a Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services spokes-man, said that area is still in operation and does have security cameras.
Brown said the inmates were “disruptive,” but he wouldn’t go into details.
Brown said when staff and a crisis negotiator weren’t able to calm the situation, the jail’s Institution Crisis Intervention Team — a team of more heavily armed guards trained to deal with violent situations — was deployed to move the inmates.
Brown said no one was injured and the team acted in accordance with ministry guidelines. He said the jail received a complaint about the incident from a member of the public.
A superintendent reviewed the incident and found that the “matter was handled appropriately,” Brown said.
Malamud said jail staff told the inmates — about 90 per cent of them of Somali descent — that they had been segregated because of their alleged gang ties. The ministry would not confirm the reason for the move or where the inmates were relocated to.
“A lot of people think this was racial profiling,” Malamud said. “I didn’t want to throw around the race card, but I didn’t see one Caucasian male in there.”
Once the inmates were moved, they were not fed lunch and couldn’t shower or go to the yard, Malamud said.
Protesting their treatment, some inmates began to bang on the bars of their cells.
That’s when, Malamud said, the jail’s tactical unit marched in.
Malamud said he was forced to the ground by an officer who came to his cell.
He was hit in the back of the head and then had his head banged against the wall several times, he said. Then, Malamud said, a jail guard jumped on his back “like it was a trampoline.”
Once the alleged beating was over, Malamud was taken to a segregation unit.
Ahmed Saqi, 27, who has been in jail for five months for drug trafficking, said he was taken to the same area of the jail. Saqi said he didn’t resist the guard and put his hands up.
He was still beaten, he said.
After Saqi was strip-searched and handcuffed, a jail guard stepped on his head and his back, he said. Then, Saqi said he was beat with a stick before he was taken to a segregation unit.
“Everybody was crying for their life. We were terrified,” Saqi said in a phone interview from the Innes Road jail. “I can’t sleep because I think these guys can come back at any time.”
Abshir Bogor, a 26 year-old inmate, said the guards told him nothing would happen if he co-operated.
Bogor, who was doing time for drug possession, said he was punched several times in the back of the head before a guard jumped on his back.
“They dragged me out of my cell like a dog and beat me down,” said Bogor, speaking in a phone interview from the Innes Road jail. “I was really shocked what they did to us. We were treated like we had no rights.”
He, too, was handcuffed and taken to segregation.
Some of the inmates tried to call an anti-racism number to report the violence and the apparent targetting of Somali inmates. One got through before the jail’s phone line was disconnected, Malamud said.
Malamud also spoke to a jail supervisor about the alleged beating, but was brushed off, he said. “This was supposed to be kept on a hush-hush notice — just forget about it and let it be. This was a little bit too much and nobody wanted to forget about it.”
Garfield Dunlop, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives’ community safety and corrections critic, criticized the department for being a “secret ministry” and accused them of ignoring the problems in Ontario’s jails.
“It could have easily happened, but will the government do anything about it? Absolutely not,” Dunlop said. “They couldn’t care less as far as I’m concerned.”
Dunlop said the culture of jails in Ontario has to change. Inmates aren’t given access to adequate rehabilitation and guards are viewed by the ministry as the “loser cousins” of police, he said.
“The employees aren’t happy because they get no recognition from the government,” Dunlop said.
The alleged beatings took place in a jail that is often the subject of complaints to Ontario’s Ombudsman.
Linda Williamson, an Ontario Ombudsman spokeswoman, said the Ottawa-
Carleton Detention Centre placed sixth on a list of the province’s 20 most-complained-about organizations.
The ombudsman’s office received 234 complaints about the jail between April 1, 2009 and March 31, 2010. Only two other jails had more complaints during that time, Williamson said.
The jail has a long history of problems, including overcrowding. Some judges, citing the deplorable conditions inside the detention centre, began handing out three-for-one credit for time served.