Prison Monitoring More Widespread

The use of radiofrequency monitoring to detect cell phone usage inside Warkworth Institution has been known for some time.  Also known is the OPP has an ongoing criminal investigation to determine if unauthorized monitoring of cell phone conversations in the parking lot or surrounding area constitutes a violation of the Criminal Code or Industry Canada regulations.  

We have now learned that such monitoring may have been more widespread.

Northumberland 89.7 has obtained documents under Access to Information and found that in an email dated March 11, 2016, Correctional Service National Headquarters proposed to respond to a Globe & Mail inquiry by stating: The Correctional Service of Canada entered into a contract in 2015 to perform radiofrequency monitoring to confirm the presence of cell phone " inside institutions".  The carefully worded response uses the plural in reference to institutions.  Further it confirms that the decision to monitor was taken at the national level in 2015. 

On September 15, 2015, then-Warden Scott Thompson apologized for staff intrusion into private calls calling the use of the device picking up the calls a "pilot project".  Northumberland 89.7 has learned that the person hired to conduct the surveillance, Peter Steeves, billed Warkworth over $2,000 for work performed in May of 2015 and over $7,300 for monitoring in June. 

Further, documents reveal that the National Headquarters of the CSC paid over $8,000 for work conducted at the Grand Valley Institute for Women in Kitchener in September 2015. Additional documents received by Northumberland 89.7 show the work was for security upgrades not involving radio frequency monitoring despite the production of the invoice said by CSC to be relevant to such surveillance.

Fallout from the 2015 operations include allegations from staff that their personal communications were under surveillance.  The union for correctional officers complained there were too many detections of cellular devices for it to be just inmate population.  The contractor admitted pick up of private conversations for which the Warden issued an apology. 

From the documents reviewed it is obvious CSC never tested the range of the surveillance equipment before using it.  Further, it now seems that if similar contracts were issued for surveillance at Grand Valley Institution, the monitoring may have been more widespread than CSC has revealed.  

It was not the action of a rogue Warden but a decision to monitor taken at the national level without adequate assurances that only calls behind prison walls would be captured.  In repeated attempts by journalists to questions of usage elsewhere, the standard reply has been: "For safety and security reasons, CSC cannot disclose which technology and design features are in use at any specific facility." 

Monitoring private phone calls without a court order could result in criminal charges. The result of the OPP investigation has been turned over to Crown counsel to decide if charges will be laid.