Although my 23 hours in a Calgary jail on December 30-31 were unpleasant, many Canadians — including Tamara Lich, Pastor Timothy Stephens, Pastor James Coates, Pastor Tobias Tissen and Pastor Art Pawlowski — have suffered far, far worse.
On Friday December 30, I was working at my office when I received a phone call from Calgary Police Services detective Mark Weir at 1:25 pm informing me that a Canada-wide warrant for my arrest had been issued by Winnipeg Police, with criminal charges arising from events that had taken place more than 17 months earlier.
I was shocked and surprised, to say the least. No law enforcement agency, the Winnipeg Police or otherwise, had contacted me in the previous 17 months. Detective Weir told me to drive to the Spyhill Arrest Processing Facility in the far north end of Calgary to turn myself in. He said that I would appear before a Justice of the Peace, and that I could drive back home the same day.
I arrived at this “Facility” (jail) at 3:45, parked my car and rang the doorbell. The door was opened. Inside I was met by Mr. Weir and another Calgary Police Service detective, both wearing plain clothes but each armed with a revolver, and a third police officer in uniform.
“OK, so you are under arrest,” said Mr. Weir. He informed me of my right to speak with a lawyer and my right to choose to have my legal proceedings conducted in French. I was not handcuffed but asked to put my hands on a wall while they searched me for weapons. I had none, of course.
Not having ever gone through this process before, I naively inquired whether I could take my computer in with me to get some work done while waiting. The three policemen kept a straight face while saying “no,” but I now wonder if they were laughing on the inside, about my request.
We had a brief discussion about whether I should take my attaché bag (with my computer and documents) in with me to be stored inside, or whether to leave this bag in my car. It was not extremely cold outside and they said I would not be long, so I opted to leave that bag in my car. They escorted me back outside to put the bag in the car.
Back inside, we passed through two heavily secured doors (one of them was opened by way of technology that read the fingerprints of the police officer who touched the handle) and came to a counter behind which another officer entered info on to her computer. They said I could wear only one layer of clothes on my upper body; did I want my undershirt or my dress shirt? I opted for the latter, thinking it might look better when appearing before the Justice of the Peace. I was then searched again by a different officer, who seemed to be looking for anything that might be stitched into the fabric of my shirt or pants. He searched just about every inch of fabric. They took my coat, belt, shoes, cell phone, and wedding band, but let me keep my glasses. They took a photo of me.
Next was a brief medical exam. The paramedic asked a series of general questions about my health and whether I had any medical conditions, and about my consumption of alcohol and prescription drugs. When she asked if I was using cocaine, heroin, fentanyl or other drugs, I laughed briefly before stating I had never even tried these, let alone being a regular user. I found it odd that this medical exam took place in the presence of one or more police officers, and wondered if some people might fear answering these drug questions honestly under those circumstances. My blood pressure was a bit high, the paramedic told me, but she said this was normal under the circumstances.
I shared that I was once told by a doctor that I do not have high blood pressure, but do possess the ability to give it to others.
Next I was led into a concrete cell, about 12 feet by 12 feet. Bright fluorescent lights on the ceiling were on 24 hours a day. There was a concrete “bench” or seating place along the back wall, not separate from the wall. White walls and a grey floor; the bench was also grey. There was a toilet and sink (but no toilet paper) and a video surveillance camera on the ceiling to ensure lack of privacy.
Some time later (there was no clock, so I never really knew how much time had elapsed) I asked to speak to a lawyer and was led from my cell into a small phone booth, which was locked once I got inside of it. I pity anyone with claustrophobia who might find themselves in that small phone booth with the door locked.
There was an old-fashioned phone with metallic keys to punch in the numbers. After speaking briefly with duty counsel (predictable advice: “don’t say anything to anyone”) I was left in the locked phone booth, so I chose to call my wife. A note to the young: It pays to have phone numbers memorized, if ever you land in jail. You won’t have your phone with you, and can only call people whose phone numbers you can recall.
At around 6:30 pm I was offered a sandwich, which was pushed through a hole in the door of my cell. Meat and cheese on white bread, I gave it a seven or eight out of ten. I only knew it was 6:30 because I asked the guard for the time.
I finally got taken out of my cell to another room for fingerprinting at around 11:00 pm. I was photographed again, and asked where I was born. When asked whether I had any tattoos or scars, I didn’t bother pointing out the small and nearly-invisible scar on my right wrist that had resulted from a minor motorcycle accident in Greece in 2002.
To my grave disappointment, I was then told that the Justice of the Peace only sits through to midnight, and that there was no way that I would get an appearance before then. I would have to spend the night in the cell. I was already very disappointed that a special family gathering on the evening of Friday December 30, which had been planned weeks in advance and to which we had all been looking forward, had to be cancelled. News of needing to spend the night in jail only added to this grave disappointment.
I had been reassured repeatedly by Calgary Police on Friday December 30 that I would be released promptly after turning myself in. I had a terrible night, trying to sleep on concrete without a cot, mattress, pillow or blanket. The bright fluorescent lights in my cell were never dimmed. No matter the position in which you lie down, it becomes very uncomfortable after a few minutes.
Providentially, in the month prior to being put in jail, I had just finished reading two books by two different Dutch resistance activists who worked to undermine the Nazi-occupation regime in the Netherlands during the Second World War. Both authors spent time in jail, one in Dachau (Hitler’s first concentration camp, used to jail and abuse critics of the regime) and the other in a Nazi-run jail in the Netherlands. What each of those two freedom fighters endured was absolutely horrific, and terrible beyond description. Having these examples in mind made my 23-hour over-night stay at the “Arrest Processing Facility” jail infinitely more bearable as I compared my circumstances to theirs. I also thought frequently about the many weeks that Tamara Lich, Pastor Timothy Stephens, Pastor James Coates, Pastor Tobias Tissen and Pastor Art Pawlowski spent in jail, here in Canada.
I had another sandwich or two at some point in the early morning of Saturday December 31.
Then my worst moment came. While speaking on the phone with Legal Aid duty counsel, he told me that I would be transferred to a different jail, the Calgary Remand Centre. He insisted that I would be in that jail for up to six more days while waiting for Manitoba Justice staff to fly to Calgary and pick me up and transfer me to a Winnipeg prison.
I felt terror and despair, not so much about conditions at the Calgary Remand Centre (I’ve heard they are unpleasant) but about all of my family plans and work commitments in the upcoming week. For example, I would miss out on the remaining time that my university-aged son was spending with us in Calgary over Christmas break. An important Justice Centre meeting had been scheduled for January 4, and there is always a great deal of work that needs to get done.
I told duty counsel that I had been reassured repeatedly by Calgary Police that I would be released on Friday (now “yesterday”), to which he said “Well, sometimes police lie, just to get you to turn yourself in, it saves them a lot of work.” I insisted that he must be mistaken.
I explained that it would be senseless to transport me to Winnipeg when my wife, kids, residence and employment are all in Calgary. I asked him to tell the Crown prosecutor that I would gladly pay for my own flight to Winnipeg for any court appearance there, which would also save taxpayers the expense of having two guards fly from Winnipeg to Calgary to pick me up and escort me to a Manitoba jail. Duty counsel said that my chances of getting released that day were one in a million.
Duty counsel then dug further into the file and stumbled across some email or other info indicating that Manitoba Justice had agreed to me being released in Calgary. I was relieved to say the least. This aligned with what Mr. Weir had told me. The terror and despair began to subside.
I was taken back to my cell again, to wait for a few more hours. I was given another sandwich around 12:00 noon, my fourth and final one during the 23-hour stay.
At around 1:00 pm I was taken from my cell to a room where a closed-circuit television system had me appearing on a screen along with the Justice of the Peace, Legal Aid defence counsel, and a Crown prosecutor. The Crown and defence presented a joint submission for my immediate release, which was granted.
Naively, I hoped that there would be some better waiting area for me, now that I had been formally declared a free man. No such luck. Back to my cell I was taken, to wait another hour and a half for the court to fax the official release documents to the jail. At about 2:30 pm I was finally taken from my cell back to the place where I had turned in my wedding band, phone, coat, belt and shoes. Getting my possessions back and signing documents took another 15 minutes or so.
I was escorted out of the facility by a policeman at 2:45 pm on Saturday December 31, free to spend New Year’s Eve with my family. Shortly thereafter, I was met by a colleague who recorded a short video on his cell phone, now posted here.
I drove back home and was thrilled to be reunited with my wife and kids. These events were very hard on them, especially for the younger children.
Never in my life have I appreciated a mattress as much as I did when I went to bed that night.
Since Google reviews are all the rage these days, I should say that the staff at this jail were polite, professional and as friendly as possible considering the circumstances. Also, my computer is working just fine, even after its overnight stay in a very cold car on a Calgary winter night.
I am not intimidated by this experience. I will continue to advocate for the return of our Charter rights and freedoms which were taken away from us in March of 2020.