A lawyer is expected to launch a lawsuit against the Government of the Northwest Territories following allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct between North Slave Correctional Complex staff and an inmate, News/North has learned.
“We expect to sue the GNWT as operators of the institution … on the basis they are vicariously liable for the harms suffered by our client,” said Steven Cooper, a partner at the Alberta-based law firm Cooper Regel.
In an exclusive interview with News/North earlier this month, Kelly Canadian, the complainant and Cooper’s client, detailed dozens of alleged sexual encounters, occurring both inside and outside of the jail, involving two male staff members over the last two years.
Given the early stages of the lawsuit, News/North has chosen not to name those accused at this time.
Canadian, a 26-year-old openly gay man, alleges one relationship began in September 2016 while he was serving a nine-month sentence for theft and assault.
It was then, Canadian says, that an employee at the jail began inviting him into his office, where the two would be left alone and unsupervised.
“He would start hinting at things, making jokes,” said Canadian during an interview on Nov. 13.
“Then one day he just asked me to do something for him.”
Canadian said he was asked to perform oral sex on the Corrections employee – the first of many sexual encounters alleged by him. Canadian, who has served multiple stints at the jail for assault, petty thefts and probation violations, says the relationship continued “over a few sentences,” with the two engaging in sexual activities 40 times from 2016 to 2018.
Canadian said about half of those encounters occurred inside the correctional complex, while the others happened while not in custody.
Sometimes, Canadian alleges, the employee would send him money via Interac e-transfers.
In February, Canadian said he knew he had to tell someone.
He said he reported the relationship that month, resulting in the staff member being suspended for roughly three weeks. But Canadian said he backed out, telling investigators it was a lie after bowing to “pressures.”
Canadian said the employee returned to work after the investigation was closed.
He reported the employee a second time in late October, resulting in him being suspended from duty again, said Canadian.
When News/North attempted to confirm the employee’s suspension, the justice department’s senior spokesperson, Sue Glowach, stated in an email, “the (GNWT) does not comment on human resources issues.”
Under the justice department’s professional conduct guidelines, relationships between offenders and staff “should demonstrate honesty and integrity,” and employees are told to avoid “conflicts of interests with inmates, offenders and their families.”
While corrections staff are required authorization before entering into “personal or business relationships,” with inmates, ex-inmates and their friends and family, sexual relationships are not specifically listed within the guidelines.
The exchange of gifts or items of value between staff and inmates, however, is explicitly prohibited.
‘Angry and confused’
Canadian said the relationship left him feeling “angry and confused.”
“(The employee) would … not acknowledge anything he did and just … not feel anything – like he wasn’t wrong,” said Canadian.
Canadian added it seemed like the staff member believed he could get away with the alleged inappropriate sexual conduct.
“I think he felt I didn’t have a voice,” he said.
This will not be the first time Canadian has filed a grievance against the jail .He said he experienced harassment from jail guards after being sentenced for theft and assault in September 2016. Canadian told CBC that staff repeatedly hurled homophobic slurs at him. While incarcerated, he filed a complaint with the NWT Human Rights Commission.
In November, Canadian received $5,000 after his case was settled out of court, the CBC report stated. By going public, Canadian reportedly breached a confidentiality clause within the settlement, which could result in him having to return the money he was awarded.
After being released from jail in June of 2016, Kelly Canadian said another man employed at the jail – a guard who Canadian knew from his time in custody – reached out to him on a gay dating app. The guard, Canadian alleges, sent him explicit photos and made it clear he knew Canadian from jail.
Following those exchanges, Canadian was jailed again at the North Slave Correctional Complex, where the employee was still working.
Canadian said the employee would ask him to masturbate in his cell – where he was housed by himself – while he watched from behind the cell door. Canadian alleges the employee would write him notes, and that he’d write back to him. He says no one in the jail knew what was happening. Canadian said he and the guard would also meet outside of the jail when he was not in custody.
The relationship culminated with a meeting in the correctional complex parking lot where Canadian said he confronted the guard on March 16, 2018 – a incident that was mentioned in court in August when Canadian was sentenced for an assault and probation violation.
Canadian said he reported this second staff member in October, around the same time he reported the other relationship.
The justice department would not confirm nor deny whether the guard was suspended or whether he is being investigated.
In emails obtained by News/North, Canadian corresponded with a probation officer between Nov. 7 and Nov. 13. An “investigation” involving Canadian is mentioned by the employee, who was arranging further interviews with Canadian.
Just days after sitting down with News/North, Canadian was arrested and remanded back to the correctional complex. He’s alleged to have sent one of the employees he had sexual relations with harassing Facebook messages in October.
In a jailhouse interview Wednesday, Canadian called the charges against him “payback.” He said neither of the two employees he’s accused of inappropriate sexual conduct have returned to work.
During his last talks with investigators, Canadian said he provided them with printed copies of 27 Interac deposits sent to him during the first relationship. He alleges the staff member sent him upwards of $2,000 over the two-year span.
His lawyer said he aims to file a statement of claim to the NWT Supreme Court within a month.
“In these types of situations, we tend to focus on the institution (NSCC),” said Cooper.
Cooper said all institutions, whether churches, schools or clubs, “are uniquely in a position to vet people who are front-line workers, whether they’re full time, contract workers or even volunteers. While they have the benefit of operating the program, they also have the risk and the liability when the program fails the people it’s intended to serve, and that’s exactly what we say happened here,” said Cooper.
The lawyer confirmed the allegations made by Canadian are of a sexual nature but wouldn’t go into details, saying the GNWT will be the focus on the statement of claim when it is filed.
Cooper added if an institution like the North Slave Correctional Complex allows power imbalances – such as the one alleged by Canadian – to happen “in the exercise of their authority, then they are going to be responsible for the damages that result.”
He added industries are still ineffective in identifying potential predators in order to protect vulnerable people like Canadian.
“Mr. Canadian is the latest example of the failings of government in these situations,” said Cooper.
While Cooper is poised to commence legal action against the GWNT, the primary defendant, he said others could potentially be named in the lawsuit moving forward.
Cooper stressed his client’s claims are allegations at this point, which remain unproven.
“We still have to prove everything that my client is saying – and we intend to do so.”