location: publications / books / Prisoners of Isolation: Solitary Confinement in Canada / Chapter 3 Solitary Confinement in the Age of Corrections: Cruel and Unusual Punishment in the Twentieth Century / Solitary Confinement in the BC Penitentiary / The Criteria and Process of Confinement

The Case of Donald Oag

On his transfer to the British Columbia Penitentiary in January 1973 from Millhaven, Donald Oag was placed in the special correctional unit. At that time a notation was made in the unusual-incidents diary that on his way to British Columbia he had tried to stab one of the airline stewardesses with a fork. Oag gave evidence that he was told sometime after his transfer to the penitentiary that he was being held in SCU because of this alleged attempted stabbing. When I interviewed Donald Oag in the fall of 1973 he adamantly denied that this incident had ever taken place. He told me that prior to boarding the plane he had been given a sedative and remained under sedation for the entire journey. I pursued the matter and was told by a member of the classification staff that the stabbing incident was the reason for Oag's confinement in SCU. I wrote to the penitentiary authorities requesting that proper inquiry be made into this allegation. That inquiry substantiated Donald Oag's assertions; the alleged stabbing had never taken place. The allegation was removed from Oag's file, but he was not released from SCU. At the trial, the assistant director of security said that Oag was not released because of a 'value judgment that his attitude towards incarceration was not satisfactory.'47

Further evidence of the unprincipled and arbitrary nature of the decision to place a man in dissociation can be seen from the evidence relating to Oag's reviews in 1974. The assistant director of security testified that, prior to 1974, he received a weekly report from the officer in charge of SCU which he forwarded to the inmate-training board. That board, which met weekly, would review the report, and any comments made about a particular prisoner would be entered in the prisoner's file to constitute what was termed at the trial 'the running score.' However, there was no formal monthly review of each prisoner by the board, and it was left to the initiative of the chairman of the board, classification officers, or other staff to suggest such a review. When Mr Dragan Cernetic became director of the penitentiary in January 1974 he set up a new procedure whereby a subcommittee consisting of classification and security staff reviewed each case on a monthly basis and presented its report to the inmate-training board for consideration.

Early in 1974 Oag had been charged in outside court with stabbing another prisoner while in SCU. In February, the inmate-training board stated that Oag was required to remain confined under section 2.30(l a) pending the disposition of his criminal trial. In March, the review committee recommended that Oag remain in SCU pending the outcome of the criminal trial. In April and May the committee reported that Oag did not present a behaviour problem and that he accepted that he must remain in SCU until his trial. After the May review Oag was acquitted of the stabbing, but was not released from SCU. Subsequent entries in Oag's running score show that he had protested his continued detention, been 'disrespectful' to the guards, and developed 'behaviour problems.' These entries provided new reasons for keeping him in SCU. Using a prisoner's justifiable protest at not being released as the reason for further dissociation constitutes a Catch-22 for the prisoner in SCU.

Page 2 of 5