Corrections officers worked on inmate's teeth, then shared video: lawsuit

·3 min read
Corrections officers worked on inmate's teeth, then shared video: lawsuit
Bruce Tilley/CBC
Bruce Tilley/CBC

A former Bishop's Falls inmate claims one corrections officer performed dental surgery on him while another recorded it, and he's suing them, three dentists, and the provincial government.

According to a civil lawsuit filed Dec. 4, Blair Harris, an inmate at Bishop's Falls Correctional Centre, was taken by corrections staff Oct. 16 to the Gander Family Dental Clinic for dental surgery. The statement of claim says during the surgery — performed by oral surgeon Dr. Louis Bourget, the first defendant — corrections officer Ron McDonald was permitted to do a procedure while Harris was sedated, while another corrections officer, Roy Goodyear, recorded it and later distributed the video.

"How it happened, why it happened, the circumstances surrounding it — we are so far in the dark," lawyer Bob Buckingham told CBC News on Tuesday. "I couldn't grasp it. It was almost beyond belief."

Harris had been serving 82 days at the time. He has since been released. Buckingham declined to say why Harris was incarcerated.

According to the claim, on Nov. 19 Harris was told by Daniel Chafe, provincial superintendent of prisons, that he had obtained the video, and a day later Harris was told both McDonald and Goodyear had been fired.

Harris has no recollection of the surgery, said Buckingham on Tuesday.

"He was fully sedated. He came to on the way back to the correctional centre after the surgery. So he was none the wiser until a couple of weeks later," said Buckingham.

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On Nov. 23, according to the claim, Harris was experiencing pain in his mouth and was escorted to a dental clinic in Grand Falls-Windsor. After being examined, says the claim, Harris was told there were teeth fragments remaining in his gums that would require a subsequent surgery to extract.

As a result, Harris has "suffered physical and psychological injuries including, but not limited to, pain, bruising, the need for a subsequent dental surgery, stress, anxiety, depression and fear for personal safety," according to the statement of claim.

The RCMP told CBC News a matter involving correctional staff at Bishop's Falls is under investigation.

Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

Buckingham said he's going to be seeking "a lot" on behalf of his client.

"The easy one would be to look at the correction officers. We're going to be looking at them for battery and assault, and we're going to be looking at breach of privacy because it was video taped and shared," he said.

"We'll be seeking punitive and exemplary damages and aggravated damages because this is the type of issue that should not happen, and messages have to be sent to people that these things cannot happen."

Along with Bourget individually, Harris's lawsuit also names Bourget's incorporated dental company, and the dental company of Gander Family Dental co-owners Dr. Alicia Keefe and Dr. Pat Redmond. A receptionist at Bourget's own clinic in Halifax told CBC News he was in surgery and unavailable to comment.

Department of Justice declines to comment

Along with Buckingham, Harris will also be represented by Stephen Barnes.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Dental Board told CBC News on Tuesday that Bourget is still practising. The board said it has not seen the video or received a formal complaint and want to see evidence before determining a course of action.

The Department of Justice on Tuesday acknowledged it has received the statement of claim.

"It is not appropriate to comment on matters before the courts or those anticipated to be before the courts," reads an emailed statement to CBC News. "As an employer, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador is required to maintain confidentiality related to employees' personal information and work history. We are therefore unable to comment further."

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