Province gets ‘kickback’ from inmates’ collect calls, lawyer says

Update:

A phone inside the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. Inmates can only make outgoing collect calls inside provincial jails, and the province gets a commission from each one of those calls.
A phone inside the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. Inmates can only make outgoing collect calls inside provincial jails, and the province gets a commission from each one of those calls. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

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Michael Spratt may launch a charter challenge against Ontario policy of ‘punitive’ calls

A wall-mounted phone by the steel doors of a jail cellblock is a precious lifeline to the outside for inmates, but in Ontario, calling their loved ones comes at a price.

Inmates can only dial out by placing collect calls. There are no free calls, even if they are local.

Ottawa criminal lawyer Michael Spratt has obtained documents that show the government gets a commission from every collect call made from provincial jails.

“This is a kickback,” he told CBC News. “What I find unconscionable is that the government and corporations are making money off the backs of people who are presumed innocent and in custody.”

Michael Spratt, Criminal Defence Lawyer

Michael Spratt holds up his firm’s telephone bills, which run between $1,000 and $5,000 every month. Most of the costs come from collect calls made by clients in jail, he said. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

Through a provincial freedom of information request, Spratt obtained contracts related to Ontario’s “offender telephone management system” and shared them with CBC News.

The documents detail a seven-year agreement between Bell Canada and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. The contract shows Bell has agreed to pay the Ontario government a commission based on a percentage of all gross monthly revenue generated by the telephone management system until 2020.

Redacted Offender Telephone Management Systems contract

This is part of the contract between Bell Canada and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. The percentage commission that Bell pays the Ontario government each month is redacted. (Freedom of Information Request)

The value of the contract isn’t disclosed, but the deal states: “There shall be no charges payable by the ministry under the contract to the supplier unless otherwise agreed upon by the parties in writing.”

The documents include about 1½ pages of redactions, with the exact percentage of the monthly commission Bell is to pay the province scrubbed from public view.

The phone rate Bell charges is also hidden. But the contract does stipulate that Bell will charge the same rates and connection fees it provides to its residential customers.

“The redactions are telling,” said Spratt, who is concerned about the lack of transparency.

“What we often say in law is that it looks like a consciousness of guilt when you hide something … I wonder if the government feels a bit guilty about this revenue system.”

stats ontario jail phone calls

Here are some statistics on phone calls made from inside jails in Ontario. (CBC)

Commissions aren’t new

Ontario’s Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Marie-France Lalonde wasn’t available for an interview Friday.

In a statement, Lalonde said the current contract expires next year and they’ll “take these issues into consideration” when talking about its renewal.

She added the department is looking at ways to make it more “cost-effective” for inmates to communicate, especially when they’re far from their support network, and one solution could be to introduce pre-paid calling cards for collect calls.

In an earlier email, ministry spokesperson Brent Ross wrote that commissions have been collected since 1997.

Inmates in Ontario’s 26 provincial jails make an average of 239,000 local calls and 50,000 long distance calls while incarcerated each month. Ross said the commission collected goes into the province’s general revenue and is “used to offset tax-based expenditures.”

The ministry refused to answer CBC’s question about how much money it has made from collect calls from jail, but the phone bills sent to Spratt’s law firm paint a revealing picture.

Spratt said Bell sends his firm a bill each month ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. The tally of collect calls runs across 30 pages. His clients are usually calling from the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, but because of overcrowding many inmates are transferred and call long distance from out-of-town jails.

Phone bill for law firm Abergel Goldstein and Partners

The Ontario government will not disclose how much money it receives from collect calls made in provincial jails, but this bill is an example of how much Bell charges for collect calls from inmates. The province gets a commission from each call. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

His firm is charged $1 per local call, but a 20-minute long distance call costs $25. Most of the time the inmates call to speak to their lawyer, but sometimes clients will call Spratt’s firm so they can be forwarded to the cell phones of family members.

The phones from jail can only make collect calls to landlines, and Spratt said many families can’t afford the added cost.

That hardship is part of the reason why Spratt is considering using this access to information request as a basis for a future constitutional challenge.

“This was the first step in what I feel could be a constitutional challenge to punitive and unfair rates that disproportionately impact poor and vulnerable people in jail,” Spratt said.

In an emailed statement, a Bell spokesperson wrote that Bell does not discuss details of any business or government contracts.

Terms of Agreement between Bell and Ministry of Correctional Services

According to this document, Bell is expected to pay the province commissions each month. A ministry spokesperson said the government has been collecting commissions from collect calls since 1997. (Freedom of Information Request)

Toronto Real Estate Lawyer Receives 3.5 years Sentence in $2M Condo Fraud Case

Update: see previous posts – September 24, 2016 Ontario Law Society Raises Compensation Fund to $500,000, December 10, 2013 Ontario: Does the Law Society of Upper Canada Have To Raise the Maximum Compensation to Victims Under the Compensation Fund?

Meerai Cho, 66, has been sentenced to 3.5 years in jail after pleading guilty in a $2 million condo fraud investigation.
Meerai Cho, 66, has been sentenced to 3.5 years in jail after pleading guilty in a $2 million condo fraud investigation.  (Toronto Police handout)

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Meerai Cho, 66, pleaded guilty to criminal breach of trust

A Toronto real estate lawyer has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison after pleading guilty of defrauding condominium buyers of over $2 million.

Meerai Cho was charged in August, 2014, with 25 counts each of fraud over $5,000, possession of property obtained by crime and breach of trust.

Cho, 66, was working as a lawyer on behalf of the Centrust Group, and accepted deposits from buyers during the pre-construction of a residential building at 5220 Yonge St. that was never built. The money wasn’t returned and the loss is in excess of $2 million, police say.

Cho pleaded guilty to criminal breach of trust and was sentenced Wednesday to three and half years in custody.

Police are urging victims in this case to contact the The Law Society of Upper Canada compensation fund if they haven’t already.

Former mayor John Sewell criticizes plan to modernize Toronto police

Update:

Former Toronto mayor John Sewell, a member of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, addressed the Toronto Police Services Board on Thursday.
Former Toronto mayor John Sewell, a member of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, addressed the Toronto Police Services Board on Thursday. (Stephanie Matteis/CBC)

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Mayor, police chief urge caution before dismissing policing modernization plans

The Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) approved sweeping changes Thursday aimed at modernizing policing in the city and agreed to develop a “scorecard” to measure future success — but critics at the meeting remain skeptical.

The TPSB voted to adopt 34 measures contained in the report called Action Plan: The Way Forward, which was presented to the board last month.

That includes the possibility of closing some police stations, a move that those in the targeted 12 Division vehemently oppose.

Other measures include:

  • Embedding officers in neighbourhoods for three years at a time.
  • Equipping police officers with smart devices, including so-called eNotebooks that will allow them to spend more time out of their vehicles and stations filing paperwork.
  • Enhancing human resources efforts to make sure officers have “emotional intelligence” and that when a hiring freeze ends in 2019, the force hires in a way that reflects the city’s diversity.

The measures are aimed not only at making policing more efficient and more responsive — but also to rein in the cost of law enforcement, which has risen to $1 billion per year.

But a former mayor of Toronto, John Sewell, and several community activists believe the plan is flawed.

“It’s all up in the air. It’s just words,” said Sewell, who served as mayor for two years and is now a member of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition. “There’s no sense that anything is really being accomplished.”

In his presentation to the board Thursday, Sewell said there are missing elements in the plan, and to illustrate his point he quoted from the report itself:  “It is our hope that money does not become the focus on discussion in our final reports,” Sewell said.

‘We’re not wingin’ this thing,’ chief says

Another board member, Dhunn Noria, says the task force that came up with the report has spent $1 million already and plans to spend $3.5 million next year.

But according to the board’s agenda, the task force “has identified approximately $100 million in budget reductions and enhanced efficiencies over the next three years,” including a freeze on hiring and promotions between ranks.

The board also approved finalizing a scorecard in the quarterly reporting on progress, as described in the report.

“We’re not wingin’ this thing,” Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said.

Toronto police chief Mark Saunders

Chief Mark Saunders told the board the new action plan is going to have the “scorecards” of success. (John Rieti/CBC)

Sewell believes it would be next to impossible to measure change without knowing “what’s spent and where it’s spent.

“The reason you undertook this is, in fact, you’re spending too much money now,” he told the board Thursday.

Task force goals are impossible, critics say

Sewell was also critical of another section in the report on gang and gun violence, saying results will be measured in “positive outcomes achieved instead of numbers.”

With 74 units in the police force, Sewell said it’s reasonable to know “how much are we spending on guns and gangs,” and other units given that other city departments have to provide a breakdown of their spending.

And without a specific plan for changing how police interact with the community, modernization won’t matter, Sewell said.

Helen Armstrong from St. Stephen’s Community House agreed.

‘It’s all up in the air. It’s just words. There’s no sense that anything is really being accomplished.’– John Sewell

She said a recent survey of drop-in residents revealed they felt their rights were not respected by police and urged the police to consider “neighbourhood centred partnerships.”

Judith Hayes and Mike Mattos, both of the Mount Dennis Community Association in 12 Division, expressed fears that the division, and others like it might close.

“These are stories, our lives, our youth in Mount Dennis that need protecting. Locals don’t want to lose 12 Division having a base in our community,” Hayes said.

Ontario’s rebates on pricey electric cars draw fresh criticism

Update:

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk introduces the falcon-wing door on the Model X electric sports-utility vehicles during a presentation in Fremont, Calif.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk introduces the falcon-wing door on the Model X electric sports-utility vehicles during a presentation in Fremont, Calif. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

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Progressive Conservatives question changes after top Liberal staffer joins Tesla

The Ontario government’s recent move to boost rebates for electric vehicles is under fire, amid revelations that a senior Liberal staffer has been hired by electric car-maker Tesla.

Ian Myrans left his post as director of policy to Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray and joined Tesla this month. At about the same time, the government announced it was removing caps on its electric vehicle incentive program that had previously prevented buyers of Tesla models from getting the maximum rebate.

“This certainly doesn’t pass the smell test,” deputy PC Leader Steve Clark said Thursday during Question Period. “Was this just a coincidence?”

“You’ve got someone leaving the minister’s office and going to a company that is now benefiting from these decisions,” PC Leader Patrick Brown told reporters at the Legislature.

The Wynne government introduced a cap on electric vehicle rebates last year. It meant that buyers of vehicles costing more than $75,000 could receive a maximum subsidy of $3,000.

Earlier this month, the government tweaked the rules for electric cars costing $75,000 to $150,000. It means such vehicles as the Tesla Roadster are now eligible for rebates of up to $14,000.

Steven Del Duca and Glen Murray

Environment Minister Glen Murray, right, says the policy change on electric vehicle rebates was a decision of Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, left. (L:stevendelduca.onmpp.ca, R: Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Murray denied any connection between the change in policy and Myrans’s move to join Tesla.

“This is someone who followed all the rules,” Murray told reporters at Queen’s Park, calling Myrans “a man of immense character and great integrity.”

“As soon as he was approached about a job possibility, he immediately went to the [provincial] integrity commissioner to have those discussions before anything else happened,” Murray said.

He said the policy change was made by the Ministry of Transportation, and it was decided before Myrans was approached to work for Tesla.

The Wynne government first came under pressure for giving incentives for luxury electric vehicles when CBC News revealed taxpayers had handed $770,000 in subsidies to buyers of vehicles costing more than $100,000.

Tesla

Earlier this month, the Wynne government more than tripled the maximum rebate on electric vehicles that cost between $75,000 and $150,000. It means buyers of new Tesla models are now entitled to rebates of up to $14,000. (Tesla.com)

“If we’re talking about encouraging an average family to buy a Chevy Volt instead of a non-electric vehicle then sure, I think that makes a lot of sense,” NDP leader Andrea Horwath said Thursday. “But when you’re talking about millionaires and luxury vehicles it makes no sense whatsoever. I don’t think people in Ontario would support that type of rebate, it’s excessive.”

Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca wouldn’t confirm if Tesla models are the only new vehicles to which the rebate change applies.

“I’m not personally aware of the price point of every single vehicle offered by every single auto manufacturer,” he said. But he defended the principle behind the rebates.

“It is about giving people more of an opportunity to enter this particular segment of the market, as that segment of the market is growing, because I think there’s a collective understanding we need to do more to fight climate change, particularly in the transportation area.”

Airline Passengers Warned by the TSB to Wear Seatbelts During Flight

Update:

Veteran pilot Capt. Ian Smith says laser attacks on planes typically happen when an aircraft is landing or taking off, the two most critical times during a flight. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
While in the air, airline passengers should be wearing seatbelts to avoid injury. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

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The Transportation Safety Board found a failure to buckle up left 21 people injured when a Toronto-bound flight hit severe turbulence in December 2015.

The Transportation Safety Board warned air travelers of the importance of wearing seatbelts as it released a report Monday that found a failure to buckle up left 21 people injured when a Toronto-bound flight hit severe turbulence in December 2015.

The incident took place on an Air Canada flight travelling from Shanghai to Toronto when the Boeing 777 hit severe turbulence over Alaska.

See the YouTube video (Fasten your seatbelt – A15F0165 Severe Turbulence) of the incident in question.

“Most of the passengers who were physically injured were aware that they were required to wear their seatbelts, but chose not to,” the TSB said. “The injuries resulted from passengers coming into contact with aircraft furnishings, the ceiling, and the floor of the interior.”

The flight carrying 332 passengers and 19 crew members was expected to take 13 hours and 40 minutes to complete its journey.

Read more: 21 Air Canada passengers hurt by turbulence in ‘flight from hell’

During the flight, a bulletin sent from Air Canada’s dispatch service warned of a forecasted area of severe turbulence along the route, northeast of Anchorage, Alaska. About 35 minutes before the plane entered the area, the first officer directed cabin crew to stop service and secure the cabin.

Flight attendants secured all service carts, made announcements in multiple languages asking passengers to fasten their seatbelts and walked the cabin to check that seatbelts were fastened, the TSB said. The lighting in the cabin at the time was in “sleep mode” — a dim setting, the TSB said.

Just before the flight entered the area of turbulence, a passenger in business class got up to use the washroom, despite being told to return to their seat. When the first batch of turbulence occurred, the passenger was thrown up to the ceiling and onto the floor, the TSB said.

Airline passenger leg room
Airline passenger leg room has shrunk 10 centimetres in the last 20 years. (CBC)

A second phase of turbulence took place that was “light to moderate,” followed by a third phase that was “moderate to severe” during which the majority of the injuries occurred, the TSB said.

Most of the injuries sustained were sprains, strains, bruising and scrapes, but one passenger was seriously injured and required an extended stay in hospital, the TSB said. Three of the injured were children, it said.

“The acceleration forces encountered resulted in passengers who were not wearing seatbelts contacting various furnishings and surfaces in the cabin causing a variety of injuries,” the TSB said.

The TSB found that the lowlight conditions in which cabin crew checked if passengers were wearing their seatbelts may have impaired detection of unfastened seatbelts. It also found that the dark cabin suggested calm, reducing the expectation of injury.

The board said if seatbelt announcements do not contain sufficient detailed information on anticipated turbulence, and do not use language that conveys the expectation of compliance, there is a risk that passengers will not immediately fasten their seatbelts.

It also said the probability of seatbelt use decreases if passenger safety briefings lack information on the effects turbulence can have on individual passengers.

The TSB further found that while the flight crew’s decision to secure the cabin helped prevent further injuries, the crew were last given training on jet streams and turbulence in 2011 and 2012.

Air Canada said the TSB report noted that airline crews have limited means to compel passengers to comply with instructions to fasten their seatbelt.

“This incident is a reminder of why it is important to keep seatbelts fastened during a flight, and to follow the crew’s instructions when requested to buckle up,” said spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick. “The crew’s decision to secure the cabin and reduce speed contributed to preventing significant numbers of injuries and potential damage to the aircraft.”

The flight diverted to Calgary after the incident where the injured passengers were treated. People on board at the time called the terrifying roller-coaster ride a “flight from hell.”

The incident isn’t the first time the TSB has reminded travellers to listen to seatbelt instructions.

In 2011, 14 passengers and two crew members were injured when an Air Canada Boeing 767 flying over the North Atlantic pitched up and down for 46 seconds as it dodged another aircraft.

The report into that case noted that some passengers were not buckled up despite being briefed to wear their seatbelts, and that the seatbelt sign was on 40 minutes prior to the pitching.