The Saskatchewan government is asking the provincial court to penalize Matthew Michel, an Anishinabe man they claim breached court rules following the publication of information and video from inside a youth jail showing staff immobilizing him with a restraint device while he wept, hyperventilated and asked for death.
Province says information in CBC News report came from confidential material disclosed as part of lawsuit
Jorge Barrera · CBC News
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s government is asking the provincial court to penalize an Anishinabe man for allegedly breaching court rules following the publication of information and video from inside a youth jail showing staff immobilizing him with a full body restraint device while he wept, hyperventilated and asked for death.
The August 2010 internal jail video captured several moments inside Regina’s Paul Dojack Youth Centre. According to the video and files obtained by CBC News, Matthew Michel, then 15, was bound for two hours in a device called the Wrap, which kept his body restrained in a forward sitting position at a near 45-degree angle with his hands cuffed behind his back.
Moe’s government is asking the Court of King’s Bench to impose a “substantial penalty” against Michel following reporting by CBC News about his treatment while in the youth correctional system, according to a recent notice of application filed in court.
Saskatchewan claims in the court filing that the “videos, pictures and documents” used in reporting by CBC News came “from the materials that Saskatchewan disclosed” as part of litigation filed by Michel against the provincial government.
Man alleges ‘torture’ in claim against province
Michel, now 28, is from Fishing Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan. He alleges in a statement of claim filed against the province that he suffers lasting trauma from the “torture” he underwent as a result of repeated use of the Wrap.
The Saskatchewan government denies any wrongdoing and says that its use of the Wrap properly followed regulations.
Saskatchewan claims that Michel improperly shared material and says it wants the court to either financially penalize Michel or stay or dismiss his lawsuit. A hearing is set for Oct. 31.
The Saskatchewan government began tracking the use of the Wrap on July 1, 2023, following CBC News’s reporting, according to an Aug. 9 letter from the former provincial minister of corrections Christine Tell, obtained by CBC News.
In an emailed statement, the Saskatchewan government repeated its core court filing argument around its claims that the material was improperly shared, and said it could not provide further comment as the matter was before the courts.
The Saskatchewan NDP said in a statement to CBC News that it would not comment on ongoing litigation, but said it believed the government was not “being honest and transparent” about its use of the Wrap.
“We were deeply shocked and upset upon reviewing reports and video involving Mr. Michel and the use of the wrap in Saskatchewan youth custody facilities,” said the statement.
“At no time, ever, should this be used as a primary device to enforce compliance.”
Court filing is intimidation: legal expert
John Hill, a retired lawyer who speciliazed in prison law, described what he saw in the videos as akin to “torture.” Hill called Saskatchewan’s court filing an “intimidation move” against Michel.
“They are punishing the young man,” said Hill, who taught law at Queen’s and Windsor universities.
Saskatchewan’s court filing claims that if Michel disclosed the information and videos to CBC News, he breached what is known as the “implied undertaking rule” governing civil cases.
Saskatchewan argues that documents disclosed during a civil court process should only be used for that litigation process — save for specific exemptions requiring permission from the courts and the party that turned over the records.
“A substantial penalty is warranted given the significant scope of the Respondent’s apparent breach,” said the province’s Oct. 2 filing.
“In this case, the scope and deliberate nature of the apparent breach call out for a significant sanction.”
Hill said the Saskatchewan government should have responded differently by pledging to improve the way it treats youth in its correctional system.
“Let’s face it, who did the real impropriety? It was the correctional officers at this institution where this young man was kept,” said Hill.
Videos show use of device on young offenders
The provincial government claims it “attempted to ascertain how CBC News acquired the documents and videos it used in its coverage.”
CBC News has not disclosed the source of the videos, photos and documents used in its reports.
CBC News obtained videos depicting 10 incidents involving the use of the Wrap on young offenders inside Saskatchewan correctional facilities between 2009 and 2012.
Five incidents at two institutions — Paul Dojack Youth Centre in Regina and Kilburn Hall Youth Centre in Saskatoon — involved Michel. They showed Saskatchewan youth jail staff used the Wrap to punish Michel and to force his compliance, according to internal records obtained by CBC News.
Sen. Kim Pate, who saw portions of the videos depicting the use of the Wrap on Michel, called Saskatchewan’s court application “a cynical and despicable move” aimed to “undermine and silence” Michel.
“If the courts agree to proceed with allowing the Saskatchewan government to further victimize Mr. Michel in this manner, we should all question whether Saskatchewan courts have any interest in remedying the ongoing and systemic racism and related injustices experienced by Indigenous People,” said Pate, a long time advocate of corrections reform, in an emailed statement.
“It will be a clear example of the sorry state of the legal system in Saskatchewan if this attempt to subvert justice is facilitated in any manner.”
WATCH | Expert explains how restraints on youth can lead to lasting trauma:
Restraints used at young age can cause lasting trauma, expert says
Featured VideoTrauma expert Gabor Maté explains why Matthew Michel’s experience could cause lasting trauma.
Therapist compares videos to Abu Ghraib prison
CBC News also showed several minutes from the youth jail videos to Gabor Maté, a prominent therapist and author who studies and writes about the relationship between trauma and childhood development.
“You know what a good analogy is? Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq,” said Maté, referring to the images of the U.S. military torturing Iraqi prisoners that emerged in 2004.
“Except these are kids … Traumatized kids.”
Charles Hammond, president of Secure Restraints Inc., which makes the Wrap, previously told CBC News that the Wrap is safe to use when deployed properly.
The Wrap ensures an individual is restrained in a sitting position to aid in breathing, but it should also be coupled with attentive health monitoring, he said.
Hammond said the Wrap should not be used for punitive purposes.
The province conducted an internal probe in 2020 into the use of the Wrap on Michel, which cleared the involved staff and institutions of any wrongdoing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC’s investigative unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him firstname.lastname@example.org.