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Court hears about pandemic conditions at Burnside jail as judge debates inmate's sentence

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Cells are seen during a media tour of renovations at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Halifax on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press - image credit)
Cells are seen during a media tour of renovations at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Halifax on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press - image credit)

A senior corrections official has given a glimpse of the conditions inside Nova Scotia's largest and busiest jail in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Capt. Andrew Miller is the security risk manager at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, better known as the Burnside jail. He testified Tuesday at the sentencing hearings for two of 15 men accused of attacking an inmate at the jail in Dartmouth on Dec. 2, 2019.

While COVID-19 wasn't declared a global pandemic until the following March, the lawyer for Colin Ladelpha told Justice Jamie Campbell that conditions at the jail were made worse by the pandemic, and that should lead to a reduced sentence for his client.

Miller told the court that an immediate consequence of the pandemic being declared was that in-person visits to the jail were cancelled.

He said authorities brought in three portable video units to increase the jail's capacity for allowing video meetings between inmates and their families and lawyers.

Miller said inmates were also each given $20 a week to make purchases at the jail canteen, money that wasn't offered before the pandemic. Inmates were also given two 10-minute phone calls for free each day to improve their contact with the outside world. The jail eliminated double-bunking in cells and worked with health officials and support groups to reduce the overall jail population by releasing as many non-violent offenders as possible.

Rise in violence

Miller told the court that Burnside was used as a pilot project for measures introduced during the pandemic. If they worked there, he said they were eventually implemented in the province's other jails.

Miller used terms like "fairly significant" and "exponentially increased" to describe the number of violent incidents, contraband seizures and weapons found in the jail in the last two years, but he did not provide numbers to support his assertions.

Crown prosecutor Scott Morrison said sentences for those convicted in the 2019 assault need to be high to send a message that this sort of behaviour cannot be tolerated. He said this case cries out for "denunciation and deterrence" and swift justice. Morrison described the assault as "brazen" and said for a time, the inmates had control of that section of the jail.

Sentencing arguments

Ladelpha is one of 12 men who was convicted of aggravated assault following two trials that ended last month. He is the first of the accused to face sentencing. Hours later, the judge heard sentencing arguments for a second man, Omar Orlando McIntosh.

The Crown is proposing a sentence of between five and eight years for Ladelpha and McIntosh, with credit for the nearly three years he's spent in custody since the assault, meaning a minimum of two more years in a federal prison.

Ladelpha's lawyer, Billy Sparks, said his client should be sentenced to the time he's already served. Sparks said Ladelpha does not have a history of violent offences and has had to cope with schizophrenia and substance abuse problems.

McIntosh's lawyer, Patrick Eagen, is also arguing for time served for his client. Eagen told the court that McIntosh is originally from Barbados and faces deportation.

More sentencing hearings coming

When given a chance to speak, Ladelpha, 34, said he's not a violent person, but he admitted he hasn't always made the best decisions.

"This is the first time I've ever really been in jail and it's going to be the last time," he told the court.

In his hearing, McIntosh told the judge that this is "the first time I've been in jail in my life." McIntosh has been in Canada since he was seven and now has a five-year-old child of his own. He told the judge he will never see his son in Canada again.

Campbell said there are some sentencing principles coming out of Ladelpha's case that will be applied to the other men facing sentencing, so the judge said he needs time to make his decision. The matter will return to court Dec. 22 for sentencing. McIntosh will learn his fate the day before, on Dec. 21.

The other 10 men convicted of aggravated assault will be sentenced over the coming days and months.

The one inmate convicted of obstruction, Geevan Nagendron, will be sentenced next month. A 14th accused, B.J. Marriott, intends to plead guilty to aggravated assault during a court appearance next month. The 15th accused, Sophon Sec, has yet to have his charges dealt with.

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