Prisoner protest
Warden denies fasting inmate in danger

by Chris Meyers Almey
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 04/97) - An inmate at the territorial jail said he has been on a week-long hunger strike fighting for prisoner's rights in general and the rights of aboriginal prisoners in particular.

Describing himself as a "stubborn Irishman," Gordon Maher, lodged in the Yellowknife Correctional Centre for dealing drugs and bootlegging since Halloween, is due to be released in a month.

"They're (the authorities) not taking this seriously," Maher said in a telephone interview Thursday. "I'll make them take it seriously. I'll make myself ill."

YCC Warden Ron Near said Maher has been drinking pop and juice, so he at least has had sugar to give him energy. Near is confident the situation is not dangerous, calling Maher's action a "semi-hunger strike."

One of Maher's complaints is that prisoners attending a Catholic church service don't have to provide a urine sample as do those who want to go to a sweat lodge ceremony in the prison yard.

Another prisoner, Irvin MacPherson - who was also protesting the violation of aboriginal prisoners' rights - ended his fast Wednesday.

There are conflicting statements of the seriousness of Maher's situation.

He said he had four small containers of juice and a couple of glasses of an orange drink before switching to water after two days. He said he quit drinking water Wednesday

Near said that Maher has access to a psychologist, a psychiatrist and a medical doctor as well as a couple of nurses.

Maher, 40, said he refused to see the psychiatrist and psychologist and the prison doctor only comes in Tuesday mornings. He's lost 13 pounds so far, he said.

Maher's troubles started on Jan. 16 when he was president of the inmates' advisory committee and he called in a lawyer to talk about prisoner rights.

Since then he's been in and out of isolation, spending only two weeks in the general prison population in the last three months as punishment for violating various prison rules. He said his and others' rights are violated constantly.

Maher also said he gave the director of corrections a list of 30 possible violations.

"We are going into court with this."