Hunger striker breaks fast
Inmate claims victory in protest for civil rights

by Chris Meyers Almey
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 09/97) - Hunger striker Gordon Maher ended his imprisoned protest Friday, but the verdict is still out on whether it accomplished anything.

Warden Ron Near ordered him chicken and fries just after the supper hour.

Trying to eat after having only liquids for a week was "pretty tough," Maher said Monday. "I really couldn't eat at all. I just nibbled on it as it takes a couple of days to get the system working again."

Maher had been protesting violations of prisoners' rights.

"The inmates were all excited and coming up to me saying 'right on, right on,' " Maher said.

His troubles started in January when, as president of the inmates' advisory committee, he called in a lawyer to talk about prisoners' rights.

After that he was continually running afoul of prison rules and been in and out of isolation as punishment.

As far as Maher is concerned, his rights were being violated.

After the Yellowknifer broke the story last Friday, Maher said he talked for hours with an official from the justice ministry. As a result, changes will be made to the reviewing committee which punishes inmates for violations of prison rules.

"Even to change the reviewing committee is a big step," Maher said.

But Near said no deals were made with Maher and it was his decision to go off of the hunger strike.

Near said a fairly new management team is running the Yellowknife Correctional Centre and is always looking for ways to improve the facility.

The warden said it is difficult in situations like Maher's to react to the concerns of one person.

The YCC "is not perfect, like any other government department," Near said.

Maher says once he is out of prison in May, he will launch a court action over what he considers many violations of his rights.

"This place is under the justice department, for pity's sake and when there are violations of rights under the justice system, there is something wrong," Maher said.