A murder attempt notwithstanding,
inmate/ex-cop Peter Hodson
received special privileges

But the death of another inmate, Jeremy Phillips,
shows what regular cons can face in the prison system

Dec. 1, 2011


The three-year sentence of former Vancouver police constable Peter Hodson came very close to an early, brutal end last Monday. Another inmate slashed his throat, nearly killing him. Now the media are devoting attention to Hodson’s lawyer, who understandably wants his client protected from harm. But there are indications that the ex-cop was already getting special treatment. The prison murder of Jeremy Michael Phillips, on the other hand, suggests that the lives of regular cons are imperilled by the callous disregard — if not outright collusion — of Corrections authorities.

Hodson had been complaining of threats since he entered Pacific Institution in Abbotsford following his conviction for breach of trust and dealing drugs on and off duty. As an ex-cop, he was obviously a target. But he did have special privileges too, including his own private cell, an immense luxury by prison standards. According to Gord Robertson, a spokesperson for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, Hodson could have avoided danger by staying in his cell. “They have the right to lock themselves up if they really fear for their safety,” Robertson told the Vancouver Sun. “A guy who is fearful that he might be attacked would stay in their cell to protect themselves.” (Hodson was playing cards in a recreational area when he was stabbed.) In addition, Hodson was scheduled to be moved somewhere even safer the next day.

Compare that with the treatment meted out to Jeremy Phillips: “Suck it up,” he was reportedly told when he pleaded to be moved out of a cell he shared with Michael Wayne McGray, one of Canada’s most vicious serial killers.

McGray had told media a number of times that prison would not stop his killing spree, which he totalled at 16. He had been convicted of six counts for four incidents in which he killed men, women and an 11-year-old girl.

He told CBC that for him, murder is “like a craving or hunger... It’s something I have to do.., It gets to a point where I just can’t control it anymore.” He added, “Just because I’m locked in prison doesn’t mean the killing’s going to stop.”

When for some inexplicable reason he was moved to the medium-security Mountain Institution in Aggasiz, other prisoners were terrified of him. Even more inexplicably, he was handed another victim on a platter — Jeremy Phillips, who was forced to share a cell with the psycho.

Phillips’ desperate requests (“I have to move. I have to move now.”) were rebuffed by Correctional Services authorities, one of whom reportedly told the doomed man: “Suck it up.”

By November 2010, the 33-year-old Phillips would have been eligible for parole in six weeks had McGray not bludgeoned and strangled him to death.

Questions arise, not only about the callous indifference prison officials show to human life, but whether they deliberately set up Phillips for murder.

Phillips’ family is suing Correctional Services Canada. Meanwhile the B.C. Coroners Service has announced an inquest will be held, with a date to be determined. So maybe answers will come. But the government might settle the lawsuit without explaining anything. Or it might use its tax-funded lawyers to wear out the family’s financial resources. And coroners’ inquests can’t assign blame or make binding recommendations. Instead, they can be used to sweep problems under the rug.

As the family’s lawyer points out, the government has a responsibility to ensure prisoners’ safety. Of course that principle applies to Hodson too. But early indications strongly suggest that Hodson was getting better treatment than that afforded to regular cons, and that he’ll get even better treatment now. Could it be that prison guards and officials have sympathy for a one-time police officer?

It’s possible too that defence lawyers for other convicted cops will use Hodson as an example when telling judges that their clients should be excused from prison sentences. Arguments like that, however, neglect important principles. Police should bear full responsibility for any criminal actions. And all prisoners, ex-cops or otherwise, should have their safety ensured.

While on the subject of prisoners’ rights, there’s another issue that’s not only neglected but often ridiculed — prison rape. The news that the despicable Clifford Olson got away with molesting younger inmates should have brought to light a bigger problem within the prison system. One gets the impression that prison guards and officials respect the really tough convicts and smirkingly consign marginal inmates to the tough guys’ savagery.

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