'When I found out he was in court, shackled and naked during a court hearing, I was quite shocked'
The judge and lawyers watched and listened as Michael Nehass pleaded for a towel when he was brought naked and shackled to a video court appearance in Whitehorse, after spending 28 months in isolation.
Now Nehass’s father has filed a complaint on his behalf with the Yukon Human Rights Commission over his son’s treatment.
On Jan. 22, three guards in riot gear held Nehass to the floor of a special cell, naked and shackled, where he was to appear by video in a case management conference.
Nehass has been held on remand since December of 2011 for charges laid in Watson Lake, Yukon.
He’s since racked up several more charges in four separate incidents, including shattering a guard’s nose, threatening to assault a police officer, causing damage to property and attempting to escape.
Nehass has previously been convicted for beating a man with a baseball bat while an accomplice cut the man's finger off.
At the January hearing, Nehass represented himself. He called for a change in his status, and ranted incoherently about mind control, indigenous rights and his personal sovereignty.
In his submission to the Human Rights Commission, Russell Nehass says his son is a member of the Tahltan First Nation and an intergenerational survivor of the residential school system. He has a Grade 7 education and suffers several mental disorders.
But Russell says his son's condition has deteriorated since his most recent incarceration, which he calls 'psychological torture.’
He claims Michael is held in a segregation cell consisting of a bed, a toilet and a light, which is never fully turned off.
Russell says his son has only been outside four times in the last two years, does not get to take regular showers and was fed only bologna and cheese sandwiches for several months.
He says he’s had difficulty visiting his son, even after scheduling visits 24 hours in advance, as required by the Whitehorse Correctional Facility. Russel says he was unable to see his son for nearly a year.
His complaint also says Michael has also has not been allowed visits with the Yukon Civil Liberties Association.
Russell says the jail staff failed to inform him Micheal attempted suicide.
He believes his son's low literacy levels and accusations of systemic racism against First Nations people are being used against him to justify calling him insane.
‘I was quite shocked’
It still hasn't been explained why Michael was being held naked on the floor with the camera rolling in open court.
“I was quite shocked, actually,” says Leslie Robert, program coordinator with the Second Opinion Society.
“I knew of him being in segregation for 28 months, so that in itself, I found very shocking… and then when I found out he was in court, shackled and naked during a court hearing, I was quite shocked.”
The Second Opinion Society advocates for people with mental health problems, although in this case, Robert’s not sure Michael’s mental health is the issue.
“We can't just say well this person is mentally ill, because maybe the bad side effects are caused by the segregation and inhumane treatment in jail.”
Robert says people like Michael need to be dealt with by people with proper training.
She also says people in Whitehorse should revisit the community consultations that were done in 2006, before the new jail was built.
At that time, many called for the jail to be a place of healing and rehabilitation.
“Even though they're there for punishment because of their behaviour, they certainly have to be treated with respect and humanely, so I... would like the community to to look to find out what is going on in this new jail and how does that conform to what the community was asking for and the recommendations that were made in 2006.”
Nehass’s case is due back in court later today.
He's asking for a second opinion and a new psychiatric assessment.