Ontario Civil


Criminal Law

Prisons and prisoners

Regulation

Corrections Officer’s negligence caused inmate’s injuries

Plaintiff gang member (inmate) was sent to defendant province’s pre-trial detention facility with policy of distributing members of same gang as evenly as possible throughout facility. Corrections Officer (CO), A, applied policy and housed inmate in unit with R, high-level member of rival street gang who was on trial for alleged crimes committed in altercation with inmate’s gang. Inmate requested protective custody on prior occasion, but not on current occasion. Inmate was attacked, dragged to another area, beaten viciously by several people. Inmate brought successful action against province for damages for negligence. Trial judge held that policy fell squarely within category of policy decisions and was not justiciable, that A’s failure to take circumstances into account while fulfilling policy’s distribution requirement amounted to negligent conduct, that inmate compatibility should have formed part of calculus, that inmate’s failure to request protective custody did not absolve province from liability, that A ought to have known R posed risk to rival gang members, that layout of facility allowed prolonged attack to go undetected, and that inmate’s injuries were direct result of A’s negligence. Province appealed. Appeal dismissed. Read holistically, trial judge’s “duty of care” analysis disclosed no legal error. Trial judge’s findings of breach of that duty and causation of damage disclosed neither “palpable and overriding” error of fact nor error concerning “extricable question of law”. Trial judge did not conflate concepts of direct and vicarious liability or otherwise fail to apply principle that province’s liability had to derive from actionable negligence of specific CO. Trial judge did not hold that institution-level conduct of gathering and sharing information could ground liability but considered inter-institutional knowledge and sharing of information about R within government in support of conclusion that A knew or ought to have known of threat posed to inmate. Any liability of province flowing from these facts flowed through A’s negligence in housing inmate with R. Trial judge’s finding that A breached standard of care had sufficient evidentiary basis. Trial judge’s finding that A should have known not to place inmate in same unit as R did not disclose “palpable and overriding error” justifying court’s intervention. Trial judge did not unreasonably conclude that negligence of COs caused inmate’s injuries.

Walters (Litigation guardian of) v. Ontario (2017), 2017 CarswellOnt 574, 2017 ONCA 53, G.R. Strathy C.J.O., H.S. LaForme J.A., and K. van Rensburg J.A. (Ont. C.A.); affirmed (2015), 2015 CarswellOnt 12001, 2015 ONSC 4855, Gans J. (Ont. S.C.J.).

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