Prisoner in Vancouver jail counts calories in complaint over ‘malnourishment’

VPD inspector says prisoners given ‘as many meals as they would like’

12th and Cambie

Have you got any idea how many calories you consumed today?

I’m going to assume the majority of readers thinking about that question don’t have an answer.

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Some people, however, count every calorie.

That would include a U.S. citizen who ended up in the Vancouver jail back in May. The 40-year-old man overstayed his visa and was being held in the jail on behalf of the Canada Border Services Agency. He was in the jail, which is located on East Cordova, for just over 18 hours.

I’ll let him explain why he complained to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner about his stay. Here’s some of what he wrote in his complaint. His name was redacted.

“I was 40 years old on the dates [May 20 and 21] I was detained in VPD jail. With the 4 X 420 calories offered during those three meal times, I ate 1,680 calories, according to my memory of the calorie information listed on the packages. According to Health Canada’s website, for a male 31-50 years old, the following minimum caloric intake requirements based upon physical activity levels are: 1) sedentary, 2,350 calories; 2) low level activity, 2,600 calories; 3) active, 2,900 calories.”

He continued.

“If I fall into the minimum category of sedentary, I have been underfed by 670 calories. If I fit into other categories of low level active, I was underfed by 920 calories. If I fit into active level, I was underfed by 1,220 calories.”

He went on to quote more calculations from the Health Canada website and argued his caloric intake in jail met only the requirement of an elementary school student.

“Malnourishment or starvation can cause psychological effects, especially in a jail setting that may cause some inmates/detainees/arrestees to act out or misbehave in ways they would not otherwise have done,” he said. “I believe there is a possibility that this rises to criminal charges. If this happened at a boarding school, or a nursing home for dependent elders, I believe it would be investigated that way. I request it be investigated that way here, too.”

He got his wish.

But before I get to the results of the police investigation, you’re probably wondering what type of food our American friend ate. If I read his complaint correctly, he had four “bagged lunches.” Each one contained a fruit bar, an energy bar and a fruit juice.

The police investigation confirmed the complainant received four bagged lunches — one when he arrived, another six hours later and two more eight hours later (he asked for an extra lunch, and received one).

“The complainant consumed a total of 1,680 calories over a period of 18.5 hours — an average of 91 calories per hour, or if extrapolated, 2,179 calories in a period of one day,” said a police report that went before the Vancouver Police Board Dec. 6. “Had the complainant remained in the jail, he would have received a hot meal that would have allowed him to exceed the recommended daily caloric intake as described in Health Canada guidelines.”

The report acknowledged “it is not possible to ensure that every prisoner receives the exact amount of Health Canada recommended calories each day.” Quoting from the Health Canada website, the report noted “the requirement for energy varies between individuals due to factors such as genetics, body size and body composition.”

The complainant never mentioned his size, but the lack of calories wasn’t his only issue.

He said he wasn’t offered a shower or clean clothes and didn’t get any time outside of his cell “for natural light, exercise, recreation or socialization.” The VPD’s response was the complainant gave “no indication that he required, or requested a shower.” And his clothes, police said, were not “wet, soiled or inappropriate so as to provoke a change of garments.”

As for time outside, the VPD said it’s not possible to “provide individual levels of attention and services to the broad spectrum of clients who are housed at the jail on a short-term basis.”

The police board dismissed the man’s complaint after hearing from Insp. Fiona Wilson, who prepared the report for the department. Board member Thomas Tam asked Wilson how much food an inmate is allowed.

“In this particular case, the gentleman on his third meal asked for an extra lunch, and he was provided with one,” Wilson told the board. “So our staff know that if someone is hungry, we’re not going to just ignore them. We’ll give them as many meals as they would like.”

The man, meanwhile, was transferred to North Fraser Pre-trial Centre in Port Coquitlam. His current status — and whether his caloric intake was an issue at the pre-trial centre — was not provided in the report.




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