(Nicholas and Prairie on Orange Shirt Day in September 2017. Just the day before their mother passed away. Nicholas was unable to attend the funeral. Submitted photo)
Prairie Dinardo is urging people on social media to write to her younger brother, hoping to cheer him up, as he sits alone at the Regina Correctional Centre.
Nicholas Dinardo, 26, of Piapot First Nation – located northeast of Regina – has been in solitary confinement for nearly eight months
“Some days are really bad, it’s really hard to hear my brother call and say he’s going to kill himself and I don’t know what to say,” she said. “He was held in solitary confinement in the penitentiary for seven months previous to this [and], honestly I think it was the solitary confinement that broke my brother.”
Shortly after being remanded into custody in September 2016 on an assault charge, Dinardo assaulted an inmate with a broomstick. As a result, he was placed in solitary confinement on June 8, 2017. The trial was held for that prison assault last week. Dinardo told APTN Investigates that her brother was formally involved in gangs when he was younger and in and out of the foster care system and youth facilities.
“Any solitary confinement beyond 15 days constitutes torture ”
“We know isolation should never be used on young people or on those with mental health issues,” said Bob Hughes, from the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism. “Any solitary confinement beyond 15 days constitutes torture and causes mental distress for anyone.”
Hughes is working with the Dinardo family and has visited Dinardo several times since he was placed into solitary. Hughes said this past fall, during a trial for the prison assault, a judge at the Regina Provincial Courthouse stated Dinardo did not look well and ordered a mental health assessment.
That court-ordered a mental health assessment led to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia by the correctional centre. Hughes said he is concerned that Dinardo’s mental health is deteriorating.
APTN Investigates asked the government of Saskatchewan to provide details about Dinardo’s jail conditions and what mental health resources are available to him. A spokesperson wrote back stating they are unable to comment on individual inmates but they sent an email response.
“For your reference, administrative segregation is a tool for corrections staff to use to ensure the safety and security of staff and offenders in correctional facilities, and any use of it is related to these concerns.” The email said in part. “The standard for administrative segregation in Saskatchewan is to provide inmates in administrative segregation with an hour outside of their cells, during which they are not allowed to interact with other offenders. Offenders on administrative segregation continue to have contact with their lawyers and others, such as family.”
BC ruling could open door for provinces
A recent ruling by a Supreme Court justice in British Columbia declared indefinite solitary confinement in federal prisons unconstitutional and according to Dr. Ivan Zinger with the Office of the Correctional Investigator, that decision may open the door for recourse against similar provincial statues.
That evidence would have to be brought forward, wrote Zinger in an emailed response.
“The provinces can look to that decision and more likely to the pending legislation that comes from the federal government for precedent in terms of how they should conduct themselves,” said Jay Aubrey, legal counsel with the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA). That organization brought the lawsuit against the federal government.
“If they don’t do that, then the decision about the federal legislation can be a precedent that lawyers can use for individuals to challenge the circumstances of their confinement.” she added.
The court decision held that sections of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA), which deal with indefinite solitary confinement segregation laws, not only violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms but also discriminates against Indigenous, mentally ill or disabled inmates.
The BCCLA has been long concerned over the use of solitary confinement in Canada, representing and winning a lawsuit in spring 2013 for BobbyLee Worm, a Cree woman who spent 747 consecutive days in segregation in a federal prison.
“It is sort of the extreme version of the decision or the category that needs the most protection under this judge’s analysis because of the fact [that] it’s creating mental illness and its making it much worse for people who already have it,” Aubrey said.
Family fears Dinardo suicidal
“He was on the same remand unit when Waylon Starr hung himself in corrections,” said Prairie Dinardo.
According to news reports, Starr was a young Indigenous man from Saskatchewan who was sent to the Regina Correctional Centre and held in segregation. He was requesting cultural services before he died but never received it.
Just like Dinardo, Starr suffered from mental illness.
“Nicholas didn’t know Waylon very well, but that suicide happened on the same range, at the same unit as him…another young Native guy,” She added.
Dinardo’s sentencing trial for the prison assault is scheduled for Feb.15.