Exceptional privileges raise questions of fairness

As Manitoba incarcerates a prisoner of international renown who is accustomed to power and privilege, one persistent question emerges: is Peter Nygard being pampered?

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/03/2021 (801 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As Manitoba incarcerates a prisoner of international renown who is accustomed to power and privilege, one persistent question emerges: is Peter Nygard being pampered?

The treatment of Mr. Nygard, the most prominent prisoner the Headingley Correctional Centre has confined in its 90 years, will test the justice system’s penal professionalism. And initial indications suggest the system is failing its test.

Legal expert 'shocked' by imprisoned Nygard's phone privileges


CASUAL observers aren’t the only ones wondering why fallen fashion tycoon Peter Nygard has been provided his own phone in jail while awaiting possible extradition to the United States.

Local legal experts say they are unaware of any other case like it in Manitoba.

“I was shocked,” said University of Manitoba law professor David Ireland. “I’ve never been aware of an inmate having exclusive access to their own phone.

“Certainly, in my experience of dealing with clients in custody, I’ve never had a client who had free access to a phone.”

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He has a cell to himself that is large enough for three inmates. He has two mattresses, a plastic chair, a personal television and a cell phone he is allowed to use from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Suffice to say, not all of Headingley’s 548 inmates are accorded such thoughtful hospitality.

There are two ways the Manitoba justice system can err in a high-profile incarceration. One error would be to grant favours because the prisoner is a person of influence and has great lawyers, which are the current public accusations.

But it would be equally wrong for the justice system to swing to the other extreme and subject Mr. Nygard to inhumane treatment because of the heinous nature of allegations against him, which include sexually exploiting many girls at events he dubbed “pamper parties” at his luxury resort in the Bahamas.

Headingley’s responsibility is to respect the human rights of Mr. Nygard. And his rights are pushed to their legal limit by Mr. Nygard’s lawyers, who include Toronto-based Brian Greenspan, known as one of Canada’s most effective legal representatives for those who can afford him.

The correctional centre’s role is not to punish Mr. Nygard, who has never been convicted of a crime. It’s to keep him from fleeing while the Manitoba Court of Appeal decides whether he can be released on bail.

Headingley’s responsibility is to keep Mr. Nygard safe and healthy until the court makes its decision. That’s not special treatment. That’s the institution’s duty under directives that include the United Nations Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners.

The wellbeing of Mr. Nygard is a particular challenge because, as his lawyers argue, the 79-year-old prisoner is in poor health and, as a man accused of repeated sexual offences, he would be vulnerable to attack if housed within a general prison population in which sex criminals are traditionally at the bottom of the social pecking order.

This accounts for Headingley giving Mr. Nygard his own cell with privacy and protection from his fellow prisoners. It’s also why the institution allows him virtual visits with his personal physician, who says his infamous patient is at risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Chris Young / The Canadian Press FILE Brian Greenspan is one of Peter Nygard’s lawyers.

The prevailing directives in the penal industry say facilities such as Headingley are obliged to provide “equivalence of care” in prison medicine. It means the jail is obliged to provide prisoners with medical care of a quality equivalent to Manitobans who are not incarcerated. The two mattresses? Apparently Mr. Nygard has a back problem and difficulty sleeping.

What is more difficult to understand is why Mr. Nygard has a television and a phone that he can access 16 hours a day. Neither would seem essential to his health or safety.

Mr. Nygard isn’t yet on trial, but Manitoba Justice is. So far, local justice officials have refused to publicly answer why this single prisoner is awarded exceptional privileges such as a personal television and cell phone.

Unless officials change their communication strategy and address the allegations of unequal treatment, Manitoba Justice will remain guilty in the eyes of the public of kowtowing to its famous prisoner.

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