“Let your government be accountable, this is a democracy after all.”
— A comment posted on
Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s Facebook page
By the time this column is printed, I hope Jason Daniel Earle has been found.
As of this writing, he was still at large after having eluded his escorts last Saturday during a prisoner transfer in St. John’s.
Eighteen years old, he has mental health problems and, according to his father, has not been taking his medication.
Jason’s father is not the only one concerned about how his son escaped and what is being done to find him and get him the medical attention he needs.
The media and members of the public have questions, too.
So far, few have been answered.
The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has referred inquiries about the escape to the Department of Justice, since Earle had been in the custody of that department’s staff.
It’s too bad he wasn’t in RNC custody, because if he had gotten away on their watch, they would have provided the public with an explanation of how it had happened by now.
The Justice Department said, in response to queries Wednesday, that it has completed a review of the escape and that “all protocols and policies were practised appropriately. These protocols are based on best practices from across the country.”
It also said sheriff’s officers and both adult and youth corrections officers receive regular training in the use of force and restraints.
Let’s face it, mistakes happen. To err is human.
But what are the protocols? Why did they fail?
We deserve answers. Jason Earle’s family deserves answers. They have every right to expect his safety would be assured when he was in the care of the Department of Justice, and members of the public have every right to expect their safety is assured.
Instead, an ill person is at large and in need of medical intervention, and members of the public have been told to exercise caution if they spot him.
Not much to say
As a cabinet minister, Felix Collins seems to prefer crafted, non-attributed emailed statements over direct answers. Sure, he’ll get on the phone with a reporter and muse about why Newfoundland and Labrador deserves representation in the Supreme Court of Canada, but ask him when the court system will get its long-promised beefed-up security measures and he’s less expansive.
“I’ll be honest with you, I thought we’d have this up and running long before this,” he told The Telegram last month, adding, “I can’t prejudge when cabinet meets or when they’ll decide on it.”
As justice minister — the person ultimately responsible for security in the courts — perhaps he should try to exert some influence.
With all those members of the public, prisoners, lawyers, court staff and journalists down there, mingling freely in a cauldron of ramped-up emotion and roiling anger, it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt.
Surely this should be a priority.
In June, Collins spoke at a conference on law enforcement occupational health and safety and talked about the importance of keeping employees safe.
“Your jobs are inherently dangerous because you’re frontline responders who sometimes get involved in highly volatile situations,” he said to the delegates. “When someone else is trying to get away from the situation, you’re trying to get into it to help resolve it.”
Well, the same goes for people working in the justice system, whether it’s a sheriff’s officer serving a summons for someone to appear in court or a legal aid lawyer having to counsel someone with a violent criminal history.
And speaking of criminals, what’s the status of the peer review of the work of the psychiatrist down at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary? We haven’t heard much on that lately. Then again, Collins said when he ordered the peer review last spring that he wouldn’t even tell the public what the outcome was once the review was done.
When it’s done. If it’s done.
One thing’s for sure, that psychiatrist will soon have more patients on his hands as Prime Minister Stephen Harper implements his “tough on crime” legislation.
That legislation, as Correctional Service of Canada commissioner Don Head has noted, will mean thousands more prisoners added to prisons in this country that will then require thousands more staff and expensive additions and renovations.
Last year, Collins wasn’t balking at the legislation, which the feds said the provinces had asked for.
“It’s sort of a double whammy,” he said in October 2010. “We all knew there would be a price tag.”
Now he’s calling the new laws costly and overly punitive.
But even before all those fresh prisoners begin their lengthier periods of incarceration, there are problems to contend with at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary.
Just last month there was a mysterious five-day lockdown that the Justice Department was unwilling to discuss, calling it “an internal security matter.”
So, let’s get this straight — more prisoners, cramped quarters, insufficient facilities, overburdened courts, prisoner transfer protocols that obviously aren’t foolproof and security measures that have not been implemented.
Where’s the justice and accountability in that?
We need less politician-speak and more straight-up answers. There’s a difference between issuing departmental statements and actually saying something.
Someone needs to tell the minister that our open justice system needs to be open from the top down.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s story
editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.