T.O. lawyer joins Guyana prison probe

Selwyn Pieters
Selwyn Pieters

Prominent Toronto lawyer and community activist Selwyn Pieters is taking a major role in Guyana representing law enforcement officials following the deadly riot at the prison in Georgetown.
On Tuesday, he announced on Facebook he will be playing an integral part in the Commission of Inquiry into the recent riot that left 17 prisoners dead and several injured.
“Effective today I am representing the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Prison Service in the Commission of Inquiry into the March 3, 2016, disturbance and fire at the Georgetown Prison on Camp Street that killed 17 prisoners and injured several others,” Pieters stated.
Pieters told his Facebook followers he made a trip to the prison to get first-hand information.
“The prison officers showed us evidence of where they were cutting off the lock of the door to launch a rescue mission,” he said, adding that “inmate Michael Lewis pointed out locations of interest including where he would have to lie down to get fresh air.”
Pieters later told The Camera from Georgetown that he’s the sole attorney appointed for the police and prison. He added that two lawyers, Christopher Ram and Glen Hannoman, are representing the Guyana Bar Association and Excellence Dalzell is the commission’s counsel.

Rioting inmates of the the Camp Street Prison, look out the prison windows in Georgetown, Guyana,
Rioting inmates of the the Camp Street Prison, look out the prison windows in Georgetown, Guyana,

A significant portion of Pieters’ work as a lawyer and notary public involves representation of persons in human rights, civil and criminal litigation matters in federal and provincial courts and the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
A graduate of York University’s Osgoode Law School and Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad and Tobago, Pieters who is of Guyanese heritage also serves as an attorney in Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana.
The commission is tasked with examining and reporting on the circumstances that led to the riot and the deaths and injuries.
Pieters said that during the visit to the prison by the commission, “in the Capital A division, the scene was one of mass destruction with piles of debris strewn all over the facility.

David Granger
David Granger

“Capital A was characterized by the stench of burnt mattresses and half burned items which included bottles, bowls, sheets and clothing,” said Pieters who has been a staunch critic of racial profiling in Toronto.
Capital A is the section of the jail that houses prisoners who are remanded and those committed to stand trial.
The rioting was restricted to the Capital A block which houses 68 inmates. A total of 984 prisoners are incarcerated at the Camp Street Prisons which has a capacity of only 600 persons.
Minister of Public Security Kemraj Ramjattan contends that a routine search at the institution lead to the seizure of illegal items such as narcotics and a number of cellular phones resulted in the riot.
The Commission of Inquiry was ordered by President David Granger, a former brigadier of the Guyana Defence Force. Former director of prisons Dale Erskine, former justice James Patterson and human rights activist Merle Mendonca are the other members of the commission.
Patterson, who is commission chair, said five prisoners are to appear to provide evidence to help in the work. Already, the commission heard evidence from one inmate, Lewis.
According to the terms of reference, the commission is to enquire into all the “causes, circumstances and conditions” that led to the riots.
It also states that the commission will investigate, examine and report on the nature of all injuries sustained by prisoners during the disturbances; determine whether the deaths of the 17 prisoners were as a result of negligence, abandonment of duty, disregard of instructions, inaction of prison officers on duty; and determine if the staff of the Guyana Prisons Service were in conformity with standard operating procedures.
The inquiry must consider the views of stakeholders including prison staff, their unions, members of the judiciary, prisoners accommodated in the institution, staff of the Ministries of Health and Social Protection and Human Services and any other stakeholders as deemed appropriate.