Volume 91, Issue 49

Tuesday, November 25, 1997



Student slammer: Max security for protestors

By Sara Marett
Gazette Staff

When a group of female protestors joined a demonstration last week in Guelph to protest Bill 160 as Education Minister Dave Johnson visited the city, little did they know their actions would land them in a maximum security prison.

Sarah Vance, a 23-year-old Guelph student, was one of seven women arrested with breaching the peace at the protest which involved over 1,000 people. "I was just standing on the side of the road when I was approached by a police officer and arrested," Vance said.

There were not enough cells for the women at the Guelph police station, so they were taken to the Wellington Detention Centre for men – a maximum security facility, Vance explained.

"At the police station, we were stripped of our outer clothing, boots and jewelry," Vance said.

The women were told this was done so they would not hurt themselves, said Fred Fenwick, spokesperson for the Guelph police department.

A breach of peace charge does not involve a fine, any mark on one's record or a court date, Fenwick explained. "You are removed from the situation for your protection and the protection of the property. It was necessary for us to hold them until the protest was over," he said, explaining why the women were not released after being arrested.

Four hours later, the women were taken handcuffed to the Wellington Detention Centre, still without outer clothing or boots, Vance said. Fenwick said this was because there are only three female cells at the station – not enough to hold all seven women.

"When [the police] made this decision, they knew full well the protocol at Wellington involved strip searches – it was meant to intimidate us," Vance said. Fenwick said there was no other option for the police at the time.

When they arrived at Wellington, Vance said the women were told not to speak loudly as they could provoke a riot among the male prisoners. They had mug shots taken and were strip-searched in front of female facility workers. "We had to remove every article of clothing, shake out our hair, lift our breasts and bend over backwards to make sure we were not concealing any contraband," Vance said.

After being dressed in prison clothing we were put into "24-hour lock-down" and released five hours later, Vance explained.

Ross Virgo, spokesperson for Ontario Correctional Services, said Wellington must use this procedure for everyone admitted to the facility, regardless of the nature of the crime committed. "The risk of someone bringing contraband into the facility is far too great to make any exceptions to the rules."

Const. Dale Gear of the Ontario Provincial Police in Guelph said bringing the women to their facilities was not an option because they only have two small holding cells. He added escorting the women home instead of locking them up was not an option due to lack of manpower.

Fenwick said the situation is currently being reviewed by the GPD while Vance said she is seeking legal counsel.

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Copyright The Gazette 1997