CityNews has obtained a shocking photo of an alleged gang leader eating a gourmet meal of steak and lobster — and holding an iPhone — while awaiting trial for multiple murders at Toronto South Detention Centre.
All of those items, including the unopened bottle of Barq’s root beer accompanying his meal, are not allowed in jail.
The photo appears fairly benign, until it becomes clear that the person in the picture is an alleged murderer and gang leader. A publication ban prohibits CityNews from naming him.
The scandalous photo was found on another inmate’s phone during a routine search of a jail cell in March.
“That’s an inside job. That’s someone with the ability to go through security, delivering that surf and turf and the big bottle of Barq’s to the individual,” Kevin Egan, a lawyer with Mackenzie Lake told CityNews. Egan has filed several lawsuits against the province on behalf of inmates about their living conditions, jailhouse violence and deaths.
Documents obtained by CityNews reveal that the inmate and his cellmate were sent to segregation as punishment for having the contraband in their cells. However, sources say there was no investigation into how the inmates got the cellphones or the impressive meal.
Toronto South Detention Centre — one of the province’s newest and largest jails — has been using body scanners on inmates since 2016. However, employees are not scanned or searched upon entry.
Body scanners have since been installed in most other correctional facilities and can detect things like drugs, plastic phones and ceramic knives.
Officers at Toronto South confiscated contraband on 80 separate occasions between August and October, according to Brent Ross, spokesman for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
“We’ve had an example where guards are actually caught delivering contraband to a range (of jail cells),” added Egan. “In that case, they couldn’t convict the guard because they found so many drugs in the subsequent search that they couldn’t determine what drugs the guard had delivered and so she was acquitted.
“But it’s a significant problem and in Hamilton, we recently did an inquest where the jury recommended that the guards be subject to random searches when they arrive at work every day.”
The ministry just received those recommendations about Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre on Nov. 7 and is still reviewing them.
Corrections Minister Sylvia Jones refused to say whether the province would be adopting the practice of random staff searches.
“I don’t want to comment on a specific situation until I have all the facts,” she said during an interview at Queen’s Park.
Jones claims the ministry first learned of the gourmet dinner in the summer.
“I’m angry but I can’t comment on ongoing investigations,” she said. “I’m frustrated and angry but as soon as we learned about it in July, the Toronto Police Service launched an investigation.”
However, Toronto police were not aware of an investigation and told CityNews if the photo was taken within the jail, then it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to investigate.
Sources have since confirmed that on Friday night, after the ministry became aware of the CityNews story, an internal investigation was launched at the jail.
Meanwhile, a union executive for correctional officers was unaware of the photo until CityNews shared the image with him last Friday.
“This is the first I’ve heard of it. It’s absolutely ridiculous,” said veteran officer and OPSEU Local 5112 vice-president Gordon Cobb. “I’m absolutely appalled by that. There’s an inmate sitting in there with a steak, lobster and bloody cellphone? Our safety, inmate safety … it’s not good for anybody within the facility.
“That’s what’s making this jail so unsafe: the amount of contraband we have coming in and the amount of weapons that are being made (by inmates).”
Since learning of the story, several officers have reached out to CityNews expressing their disdain for so-called rogue guards.
“It’s a handful of guys that make the whole place more dangerous,” said one veteran correctional officer.
“They make my job even more dangerous,” said another officer.
“It’s time the ‘luggers’ are fired,” wrote a third.
“Staff can face a range of discipline should they be found to introduce contraband to the institution, including termination,” Ross said. “Police may also investigate and charge the individual with criminal offenses.”
He couldn’t say how many employees have faced discipline for these types of offences.