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This article was published 1/10/2019 (391 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
An Ontario man arrested in Winnipeg after allegedly breaching a court order he abstain from alcohol spent a week in jail after he came up 35 cents short on his bail.
"I was supposed to be there overnight," said Ryan Quill, now back at his Deer Lake First Nation, Ont. home. "It’s so bizarre. It’s almost like they were trying to keep me in there, that’s the way it felt."
Manitoba Justice is reviewing its policies to find out how a shortage of pocket change could land someone in a system where prisoners are kept at an average cost of more than $200 a day.
The incarceration began when Quill, 37, was in Winnipeg for a medical appointment on Sept. 20. Police, responding to a report of a disturbance, arrested him on suspicion he had been drinking.
Quill appeared in court that same day, a Friday, and was granted release on $500 bail, with a requirement he provide a $20 cash deposit. But when he wasn't released and was still in custody during the weekend, Quill began to wonder what had gone wrong.
Quill thought he had cash totalling $20 when he was arrested, but after inquiring why he was still in custody, learned he was 35 cents short. With no friends or family in Winnipeg to help him and only intermittent access to a phone, he was left in the lurch until Monday when Legal Aid lawyer Gary Robinson followed up on his case and found he had not been released.
"I went to (the Law Courts) to talk to the magistrate and they called the (Winnipeg) Remand Centre... who told them he was five cents short on his $20 cash deposit," Robinson said. "The magistrate actually gave me a nickel and I got a receipt (showing Quill) had his $20."
The following morning Robinson received an email from the magistrate saying there had been a mistake, and that Quill still had a balance of 30 cents owing.
Robinson returned to the courthouse and paid the 30 cents, but learned Quill was in the process of being transferred to Milner Ridge Correctional Centre, northeast of Beausejour, to make room for incoming remand prisoners.
"We asked the corrections officer ‘please don’t transport him,’ but I guess they weren’t high enough to make any decisions," Robinson said.
"It was like, 'You are going to stay in custody until we get our 35 cents,’ which is not very nice… And then we get all these mistakes along the way." –Legal Aid lawyer Gary Robinson
Robinson said he assumed Quill would be released upon his arrival at Milner Ridge, but later learned the institution had no mechanism in place to electronically access Quill’s cash deposit.
"Which is inconvenient if you aren’t from Manitoba and you don’t necessarily have someone available here right now to help you and you wait until the money works its way through, so that’s a systemic problem," Robinson said.
Robinson returned to the courthouse and paid Quill’s cash deposit himself. Quill was driven back to Winnipeg and released on Sept. 27, a full week after he had been taken into custody.
Quill said he couldn’t find a hotel room and spent the night on the street before reaching family members who helped pay for his return home.
"I really missed my bed," he said. "So much running around and bull... over 35 cents. It was torture."
While in custody, he was deprived of prescription medication he takes to ease an addiction to OxyContin, he said.
"My heart was going so slow and then at times it would go so fast. It was so scary... I couldn’t eat for almost the whole time," Quill said.
In similar situations in the past, Robinson said he’s seen remand centre staff "chip in a buck" for prisoners who fell short on their cash deposit.
"But whoever processed him Friday, it was like, ‘You are going to stay in custody until we get our 35 cents,’ which is not very nice… And then we get all these mistakes along the way.
"I’ve never seen it this insane, where it’s gone on day by day like this."
"I’ve never seen it this insane, where it’s gone on day by day like this.” –Legal Aid lawyer Gary Robinson
According to Statistics Canada figures for 2016/2017, the average cost to house a prisoner in a provincial institution was $213 a day.
Quill’s case and the problems in the system that led him to be held in custody "longer than was appropriate," are under review, said a Manitoba Justice spokesperson.
"It is clear that this matter was not handled appropriately, and so justice officials are looking into it further so that we can make adjustments to policies or procedures to ensure it doesn’t happen again," the spokesperson said.
The Crown ultimately stayed the breach charge against Quill, but not before he secured his release.
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.
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