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A federal inmate who says he was shackled in a cramped transport van for almost eight hours — despite a heart condition and other ailments — is suing the government for compensation.
The lawsuit comes after a federal ombudsman called the prison service's escort vans inhumane and unsafe, and recommended they be replaced.
Edwin Nott, a 65-year-old inmate who identifies as Metis and uses a walker, is serving a six-year sentence at the medium-security Bath Institution in eastern Ontario.
According to Nott's claim filed in the Federal Court of Canada, he was handcuffed and bundled — along with his walker — into a "sardine-can style" compartment of a van to take him to an appeal court appearance in nearby Kingston, Ont., on Feb. 7, 2018.
Nott says he spent a total of about seven hours and 50 minutes in the "spine-numbing" space he calls a "barbaric cage" due to a lengthy wait for his court appearance.
He alleges he experienced chest pains requiring the use of nitroglycerin spray medication, seriously reduced blood sugar levels, no access to a bathroom, dehydration, ruptured blood vessels on both wrists and continuing numbness in his hands and fingers from the handcuffs. Nott also claims humiliation, embarrassment and continuing mental distress.
Nott, who is pursuing the claim without help from a lawyer, seeks $1 million for his alleged pain and suffering.
In a statement of defence, federal lawyers deny Nott's allegations, saying Correctional Service of Canada staff "reasonably employed the security measures required" for his safe and secure absence from the prison.
The defence statement says Nott sought medical attention at the prison shortly after the trip, complaining that his hands swell while wearing cuffs. "Some redness was noted, but no swelling or abrasions were noted."
The defence does acknowledge Nott's medical history included angina, hypertension, high cholesterol, arrhythmia, sleep apnea, back injuries and osteoarthritis.
The report from correctional investigator Ivan Zinger, the federal prison ombudsman, says he "sat scrunched and stooped" in the back of a prison transport van during a visit to a British Columbia facility.
The aluminum and stainless-steel compartment where shackled prisoners sit en route to court or medical appointments "is totally devoid of any comfort or safety feature, including seatbelts," Zinger wrote in his 2016-17 annual report.
"The experience left me feeling as if personal safety and human dignity did not matter to the designers or operators of such vehicles."
The vehicles, essentially modified family minivans, were never designed or crash-tested with a metal compartment of this size, he noted. "Should there be an accident, as occurred in New Brunswick in 2013, individuals within the compartment would literally be thrown around inside, which could result in critical injury or even death."
Zinger said his office and some Correctional Service staff who operate the vans had brought these design and safety concerns to the service's attention in the past. "This mode of conveyance does not befit safe and humane transport."
He recommended the prison service remove the fleet over the next two years and replace them with vehicles meeting industry standards in policing.
The Correctional Service responded with an intention to replace the security escort vehicles "to reflect recent industry advancements in their design and configuration," while ensuring safety and security.
Lindsay Holloway, a spokeswoman for the prison service, said part of the fleet has since been replaced with larger vehicles, similar to those used by the Mounties.
"We are currently working with the vehicle supplier to develop a security escort prototype that is both similar in size to the ones used by the RCMP and adapted to the correctional environment."
Once the proposed design has been refined and consultations with security partners have taken place, procurement will begin in 2019-20, she added. The Correctional Service anticipates all small minivans serving as security escorts will be removed from duty by March 31, 2022.