Please enable Javascript
Skip to Content
Photo essay: Inside Canada’s West Coast prisons
August 23, 2018

Members of the Senate Committee on Human Rights conducted a fact-finding mission to Western Canada penitentiaries and held public hearings as part of their study on the human rights of prisoners. This photo essay offers rare glimpses behind the barbed wire and fences of Canada’s prison system.

Stan Daniels Healing Centre
Edmonton, Alta.

Ceremonial objects sit on a table in a room at the Stan Daniels Healing Centre, which provides support for Indigenous men convicted of crimes. Programs such as “In Search of your Warrior” focus on violence prevention; lessons are instilled through ceremonies and teachings provided by Elders. The aim is to help Indigenous men take responsibility for their actions and understand how abuse, intergenerational trauma, grief and loss have affected their behaviour.

Public Hearings and Town Hall, ACT Aquatic and Recreation Centre
Edmonton, Alta.

From left, committee chair Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard and Senator Kim Pate speak with Lisa Neve, once considered the most dangerous woman in Canada. She was imprisoned indefinitely in 1994 after becoming the second of just five Canadian women to receive a <a href=''>dangerous offender designation</a>. Her designation was overturned in 1999 and she was released. Ms. Neve testified before the committee during a public hearing in Edmonton.

Edmonton Institution
Edmonton, Alta.

From left, committee deputy chairs senators Jane Cordy and Salma Ataullahjan, and Senator Pate stand in a health unit cell, where prisoners are held before receiving medical attention. Prisoners have often mentioned the lack of health care when speaking to the committee.

Senator Bernard peers out of a window in a health unit cell. Long wait times for prisoners to see doctors and dentists, and a lack of mental health services are consistent themes the committee heard.

A prisoner paces in an outdoor recreation yard.

A bird perches atop razor wire fencing surrounding the perimeter of Edmonton Institution.

Prisoner representatives are seen wearing sandals. The men told senators, “we wear sandals because we don’t need to be ready to fight.” They say their unit is an anomaly in a prison now notorious for correctional officer mistreatment of each other and of prisoners.

Edmonton Institution for Women
Edmonton, Alta.

A woman in a medium-security Pathways house — a program for Indigenous prisoners —prepares fried potatoes with a chained-up knife. She was cooking to share with the 10 other women in her unit. To be eligible to live in this unit, Correctional Service Canada requires women to demonstrate readiness and commitment to rehabilitation; the next step from this unit is usually for the person to be reclassified and transferred to minimum security or released.

From left, senators Bernard, Ataullahjan and Cordy squeeze into a cell in a secure unit. Women prisoners who can afford fans place them beside tiny window slits to try to combat stifling heat; staff also complained about the heat. Health and safety concerns require staff offices to be air conditioned, but there is no air conditioning elsewhere in the prisons.

Kwìkwèxwelhp Healing Village
Harrison Mills, B.C.

Kwìkwèxwelhp Healing Village is the only correctional facility in Canada that contains a longhouse, which plays a part in the healing and rehabilitation of Indigenous prisoners. Ceremonies welcoming new residents and wishing farewell to departing staff and to those being released take place here. Senators were honoured with a blanket ceremony here during the visit.

Senator Cordy takes in an artwork in progress at a workshop.

A prisoner carves a traditional cedar mask in a workshop.

Kent Institution
Agassiz, B.C.

Senator Pate stands in an outdoor recreation yard in the Kent Institution’s segregation unit.

The view from a segregation cell.

Pacific Institution and Regional Treatment Centre
Abbotsford, B.C.

A prisoner in the psychiatric unit watches television in a common area. The prisoner said he often heard voices in his head. When asked what they said, he responded that they tell him to hurt himself, but he is working hard not to.

Senator Ataullahjan peers into a cell used for female prisoners who have been involuntarily detained under mental health regulations in a hospital unit at the Pacific Institution.

A view of a cell in the psychogeriatric unit, which houses older prisoners. The cells contain custom fittings such as raised toilet seats, grab bars and beds that can be moved up and down. Younger, able-bodied prisoners volunteer to assist the incapacitated prisoners.

Correctional officers turn off interior lights to reduce glare when they look into cells during cell counts.

Fraser Valley Institution for Women
Abbotsford, B.C.

The Fraser Valley prison has a special partner program with the Langley Animal Protection Society called the “Doghouse”—a dog daycare and kennel where prisoners can learn job skills.


Public Hearings and Town Hall
Abbotsford, B.C.

Senator Pate hugs a witness who testified before the committee during a public hearing.

Mission Institution
Mission, B.C.

This man says he reads the newspaper in the library every morning in an effort to stay connected to the outside world.

A payphone and shoes at the entrance area of a minimum-security living unit that is shared by six men.

Emma’s Acres
Mission, B.C.

Emma’s Acres is an agricultural social enterprise where victims and people convicted of violent crimes work side-by-side on a 3.2-hectare farm. The vegetables grown on the farm are sold at farmers’ markets or donated to the families of homicide victims.