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Manitoba Justice

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The Winnipeg Remand Centre

Any penitentiary or remand centre would be an unpleasant place. However, among prisons, the Winnipeg Remand Centre was the worst or certainly one of the worst prison facilities in Canada. The John Howard and Elizabeth Fry Society of Manitoba made a report on the facility dated April 28th 1983. It stressed the depressing nature and deplorable conditions of the Remand Centre. It reported that:

"The abhorrent conditions under which presumptively innocent persons are detained in Manitoba are, on the whole, much worse, not better than that experienced by sentenced persons."

Bruce Henley was a custodial officer at the Winnipeg Remand Centre when Thomas Sophonow was there. He described the centre in graphic terms as, quite simply, a "hell hole". He said the institution was understaffed and overcrowded. It was impossible to take a shower unless inmates flushed the toilets. It was a terrible place at the time that Thomas Sophonow was there. There were instances of fraud involving the food supplies which resulted in miserable and inadequate food being served to the inmates. During the time that he was there, Thomas Sophonow lost 80 pounds, going down from 200 to 120 pounds. Mr. Henley thought that Thomas Sophonow had spent more time in the Remand Centre than any other prisoner. Apart from a day or so, he was detained in "B" Block, which was reserved for those charged with the most serious offences.

He was transferred to the Headingly Jail between the first and second trials for a period of approximately one month so that he could gain some weight. He describes his cell there as resembling that shown in the movie and described in the book, Silence of the Lambs. While he was at that institution, they checked the gallows on a weekly basis. This obviously had a depressing effect on him.

Counsel for the Province of Manitoba submitted that, although conditions at the Remand Centre were unpleasant, they were equally unpleasant for all who were there and should therefore not form the basis for an award of aggravated damages. I accept that submission. However, I must take into account the abysmal conditions that existed at that institution while Thomas Sophonow was there. They certainly must be reflected in the assessment of compensation but they do not constitute aggravated damages. It is simply that all the conditions of incarceration must be considered. For example, time spent in minimum security or a halfway house would not be as difficult to undergo as time spent in maximum security.

For Manitoba, it was also contended that Thomas Sophonow was responsible for his stay there. The position has been put forward that, as a result of his earlier record, it was impossible for him to obtain bail pending his trial. This submission cannot be accepted. The facts surrounding the killing were shocking and, if Thomas Sophonow had been granted bail, it would have truly shocked the conscience of the community. The alleged killer did not know the victim and allegedly came from British Columbia. It would have appeared that, if he were granted bail, his appearance at his trial could not be assured. Further, the nature of the crime was such that he would have been considered a danger to the community. In 1982, only these two factors would have been considered. The granting of bail in these circumstances would have been unthinkable.

His arrest and charge resulted inevitably in his incarceration in the Remand Centre pending his trial. At the Remand Centre, the facilities for exercise were minimal to non-existent. For the greatest part of the day, he was confined to his cell in B Block. He spent 13 long, difficult and hellish months in that facility.


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