This is part of an article written by Loren Gartly, one of Peter’s cell-mates at Bath Institution.  Loren sat with Peter in the last hours before he was taken to the “hospital” across the road at Millhaven.  You can read Loren’s whole article at pasan.org, in the “Cellcount” pdfs.

I arrived in Bath February 2006. One of my first stops was the 13-man unit to meet a good acquaintance from a previous prison. That’s when I first laid eyes on this hulking man known as the artist. His paintings were on the walls of the common area.
He was an extremely non-judgemental man who abhorred bullies. He helped any and all who came to seek that path through their confused lives; whether the men were informants, sexual offenders, short timers, LTO’s, DO’s, or lifers, etc. It made no difference. Peter was willing and able to help people traverse the legal system as the CSC continued with the many forms of bully tactics they employ. It would never be an easy road to traverse, but he was the light on a dark corner.
Tuesday August 11, 2015:

I was awoken at 0400 hours by a soft knocking on my cell door. A house resident said, “Peter wants to speak to you.” I dressed as fast as I ever have. His voice raspy, he asked me to get the staff to call an ambulance as he wanted to go to the hospital as he was dehydrated and couldn’t keep anything in his stomach. He needed to be rehydrated. Visibly, he was in great pain but learned to somewhat self-manage over the years as he had a broken back. But I can only imagine the pain of having your body shut down as a cancerous tumour ate through one’s body, ravaging all its healthy cells. Slipping in an out of coherent conciousness wanting to know what was going on.
I flagged the guards on their 4:00am walk, telling them that Peter was requesting to go to the hospital. The guards said they would have to call their supervisor… the time slowly passed. Their supervisor came by the cell block at 0430 hours to say that they were minimally staffed and they would need to call some staff to come in… the time slowly passed. The supervisor asked Peter many questions which he had a hard time describing as I believe these were new situations never experienced by Peter before. The supervisor kept asking if Peter had control of his bowels (death is near when you lose that control). The supervisor left. The time slowly passed.
The supervisor returned only to bring news from the joint doctor that they wanted Peter to stay here so that the Institutional health people couldd (it’s really hard not to be sarcastic and rude here!) give him an assessment and decide if he needed to go to the hospital. It was now 0500 hours. The time slowly passed. I knew Peter would not be coming back here after they took him across the road… Time stopped.
At 0515 another resident came and took my spot.
I remember when I moved to the 13-man cell block. Peter didn’t like having others do small things for him – he was a very self-reliant man. Then slowly as he was diagnosed he began taking the residents up on their very human compassionate kindnesses. I am very grateful that Peter Collins walked beside me on a part of my sacred journey and that I was able to share a part of my journey with him.
0600 hours:

Who are we when a person is dying? Do we remember all the fights between one another and forget the humanity – that seems to be the way at least from this writer’s perspective. A good man Peter was… he was a light in the systemic war-torn nights between other humans and the corrupt government system of the prison industry.
The care: “Are you in pain? Where?”. “For crying out loud – I’m flat on my back, my voice raspy and faded. I look like a shell of the man I was 8 months ago.” “When was your last bowel movement?” were the questions being aksed by two nurses while my friend lay across the hall; dying of advanced bladder cancer. The two nurses continuing with their questions, in hushed words. “Where is the ambulance?”, I thought to myself. Peter had asked for one at 0400 hours. “Can you sit up?” I heard one of the nurses ask.
Are you sick? Do you know where you are? How long have you been able to sit up for? When was the last time you had a bowel movement? Bla, bla, bla… Okay, we’ll see about getting some help for you and they left. A concerned human being asking, is the ambulance coming? Probably, they responded; a constant reminder to the living and dying alike, of where we are and how the humanity is carved out even to your dying breath.
Is it a real burden to take care of another human on a compassionate level as they are slipping away into incoherent consciousness?
Thursday August 13, 2015 0900 hours:

They were there as I finished putting away my food as it was house grocery day. They were going through his personal belongings, checking off the items on his A&D property sheet. Disassembling his cell again with the uncompassionate questions of a man who had done his time plus 7 years.
“How much stuff can one person have?” “This is a real fire hazzard.” “What about these papers, do we just throw them out?” “Just throw the paperwork out – okay we’ll put it all in one bag and place it in the other room.” “What the hell is a CD installation hardware driver?” “Okay there’s the monitor.” “Where’s the guitar on the list? It’s not on his sheet.” 30 minutes later, “Here’s the guitar on the sheet!”
The guards came across a piece of paper and in a compassionate voice the one guard said, “He has been in a very long time.”, as they read the date of the newspaper article.
“Any more junk in there?”, one guard asked from the hallway.
I had known Peter for 9 years. From being a man full of life to having a hard time thinking, he fought the systemic issues right up to the point where he continued his Spirit Walk – knowing none of the limitations that this physical world ingrains in us. He is free of all constraints. Peter is everywhere.
Peter would have been 54 on August 22, 2015.
Chi Miigwehe Peter; Kawaabamin Nachonis

Birdman of Bath

A few words and some bad quality pics of a relatively happy time in Peter Collins’ incarceration when he was tolerated to look after some animals in need. This all happened over a couple of years in Bath Institution.

The pigeons built their nest on top of a single pole in the prison grounds. Eggroll was fascinated by this nest and she spent a long time lying at the bottom of the pole. Mom and Pop Pigeon didn’t like that and started to dive-bomb Eggroll to try and intimidate her. This was a bad idea. Within a day or two they were both dead, crashed into the ground.

Pigeons on Peter’s shoulder
pigeons on Peter's shoulder

Peter retrieved the nest and cared for the baby pigeons until they learned to fly. After they had grown up and left, one of them would occasionally return to visit him at his window.

…and on his arm
Baby pigeon trying to fly

I don’t really know much about the pigeons and I know even less about the swallows. Again, Peter found himself a nest of orphans which he raised. I remember him describe feeding them chopped steak.

Swallows feeding in the nest
in Peter’s hand
on the branch

Eggroll was a stray black cat (I don’t have a picture) who was being fed by the guys on Peter’s range and Peter gradually became the main keeper. Later on in her life, Peter began to worry that he couldn’t care for her properly, so his brother Robert took her home where she lived out her remaining years.

Finally, I have this picture of two painted turtles in an aquarium that Peter somehow built.

Painted turtles

Typically for the CSC, these activities were mostly seen as subversive, but not universally. Peter heard that one guard, apparently an animal lover, heard his Parole Officers discussing his behaviour and asked them “What’s negative about him looking after animals?”

Still, this couldn’t continue at Bath Institution in the 21st century and Peter was made to stop after a year or two.

Unlike Robert Stroud in Leavenworth Penitentiary, Kansas, who was allowed to raise hundreds of canaries from 1920 to 1942, before they sent him to Alcatraz.

Palliative Care in the CSC

“Peter and I have discussed the fact that he has an incurable malignancy and that survival is likely measured in months.”
Christopher Booth, MD, FRCPC, Medical Oncologist

“…the Board finds your risk would not be manageable in the community without proper supervision…”
Parole Board of Canada, November 20, 2014

Peter Collins had just been diagnosed as being terminal and having a matter of months to live. His Parole application had been denied. His friends and family hoped that his keepers would have mercy and that Peter’s last days would be relatively pain and stress free.

This is a continuation of the post “Healthcare in the CSC“. It is a summary of emails and letters sent mostly to and from Bath Institution, from January 2015 to Peter’s death in August 2015.

Parole Board of Canada

We tried to get the Parole Board to give Peter a hearing for Compassionate Release, but they stalled. We received a last negative decision the day Peter died, saying he was still a threat to the community.

Hospital bed, wheelchair and neck brace

Peter asked for a hospital bed and neck brace but Dr. Dianna Wyatt of Bath Healthcare took the position that there was no medical indication for these things. This was in spite of Peter having already been prescribed them to accommodate a pre-existing condition in his back. The prison finally capitulated in mid to late July 2015 after MP Paul Dewar wrote to Steven Blaney, the minister for Public Safety.


Peter was always in pain. Getting his medication increased was difficult. He was sometimes told he had to “verbalize” his wishes to the nurse. Other times, he was told to put a written request in.


January 21, 2015: Peter told us that his Parole Officer Cheryl Kerr told him she didn’t think he appeared close enough to death to warrant support for compassionate release

February 25, 2015: Robert, Hailin, Owen and I visited Peter. Unfortunately, we were given special rules because Rob “rang off” on the Ion Scanner (morphine on his glasses). So, no hugs, no leaving the table.

April 1, 2015: Peter’s brother Robert Collins to Deputy Warden Kathy Hinch
“I received a disturbing call from my brother today. While your doctor is on holidays, the staff appear to be mismanaging his pain medication.”

April 2, 2015: Kathy Hinch to Robert Collins
“It should be noted that your brother see’s health services daily for medication each morning. They advise that he has not once verbalized that he would like an increase in his medication. Health Services will follow up with the on-call doctor today about this.
Again, if Peter see Health Services daily and if he is having issues he needs to verbalize these when he sees the nurse.”

May 8, 2015: We had the first of three trailer visits. Peter was mostly confined to his wheelchair or his bed. They wouldn’t give him a neck brace so he had made one of his own. It seemed to work OK and he wore it almost all of the time.

May 27, 2015: In an audio clip for radio, Peter said thanks to friends and family for messages. Hello to prisoner-related radio shows on CKUT, CFRC and Start Raven. “I love you all. Good luck and I’ll see you later.”

June 4, 2015: Peter was experiencing more pain in his neck, so he went to the Healthcare department and an X-ray was given. He asked again for a proper neck brace but they wouldn’t give him one until the results came back.

June 4, 2015: Robert Collins to Kathy Hinch
“I was talking to Peter today and I was concerned when he told me that he had asked a number of times for an increase in his pain management, but was denied.”

June 5, 2015: Nurse Krista Fraser called correctional supervisor Mr. Green to report the neck brace Peter had made because it was not approved by Bath Healthcare. His X-rays came back showing a calcium buildup in his neck

June 10, 2015: Nurse Krista Fraser to Robert Collins
“I can’t speak to how long it would take to have a request actioned because there are too many uncontrollable variables. Peter sees a nurse twice a day for his pain meds, I think it would be best if he verbalized the need for an increase at that time that way it could be acted on immediately.
I mentioned earlier that Peter currently has a neck collar. Is he not happy with it? If not, he would need to fill out a 532 (he will know what this is) and submit to health care. Once funds are secured the item could be ordered.
In regards to the hospital bed, I should be receiving a quote today. He will need to submit a 532 for this as well.”

June 13, 2015: Attempts to get a hospital bed.

June 17, 2015: Denise Preston at the Parole Board of Canada to Robert Collins about a parole hearing for Compassionate Release.
“As Regional Director General, it would be inappropriate for me to intervene in any decision making processes taken by Board Members who are appointed as independent, objective and impartial decision makers.”

June 17, 2015: Nurse Krista Fraser to Robert Collins
“Peter requested a rigid neck brace during an appointment with Dr. Wyatt and based on her assessment she felt  that it was not medically required.  Her physical assessment included an x-ray.  I cannot authorize an item that is not medically indicated by the institutional physician.  He will have to go to inmate purchasing for this item.  This also includes the “medical bed” that Mr. Collins is requesting.  This type of bed is not medically indicated at this juncture in time.”

June 19, 2015: Trailer visit. Peter was in more pain. He and his friend Giselle Dias drafted up a letter to send to Paul Quick, Peter’s lawyer

June 23, 2015: Giselle sent a letter to Paul Quick concerning Peter’s healthcare, talking about Dr. Wyatt claiming no medical indication for a medical bed or neck brace, Peter being told to deal with Inmate Purchasing, and pressure for Peter to move to the palliative ward in Millhaven.
“To suggest that Peter will need to purchase a bed and neck brace through Inmate Purchasing is essentially inaction on behalf of health care. Inmate purchasing will be closed until September 7th”

June 24, 2015: A letter from Robert Collins to Paul Dewar.
“As the cancer spreads through his bones, Peter is acutely aware that having a proper neck brace and medical bed would significantly change the ways he is experiencing pain and his eventual death.”

June 24, 2015: Letter from Peter’s lawyer Paul Quick to Warden Ryan Beattie
“Mr. Collins is experiencing significant pain and nausea as a result of his deteriorating condition. I am advised by Mr. Collins that Dr. Dianna Wyatt has taken the position that there is no medical indication for a medical bed or neck brace. (As I expect you are aware, Mr. Collins has previously made a successful complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal with respect to Dr. Wyatts’s failure to recommend an accommodation that was in fact medically indicated, and that CSC was thereby held to be reckless in its discrimination against Mr. Collins: 2010 CHRT 33, affirmed by the Federal Court of Appeal, 2013 FCA 105.)

June 26, 2015: Email from Cheryl Russell, Parole Board of Canada to Robert Collins
“Although I cannot provide a date when the decision will be made; I have attached a Request for Decision Registry application that you can complete and return to me. Completion of this application will provide you with access to the decision when it is made.”

June 29, 2015: Peter tried to get an oncologist from Kinston General Hospital to visit him, but they said no. He had hoped to talk to a doctor not connected to the prison about treatment and medication options.

June 30, 2015: response from Paul Dewar (cyndy Lee Scott)
“I have spoken to some colleagues at the John Howard Society and, while they were appalled, they were sad to say that they were not surprised.  They have found that palliative and end-of-life care for inmates is a systematic failure of the CSC.”

July 2, 2015: An appointment with Community Palliative Care Office in Kingston seems to be dependant on a request from the prison.

July 6, 2015: There was still no request made to Community Palliative Care on Peter’s behalf from the prison.

July 7, 2015: Community Palliative Care doctor will see Peter on 8th or 9th, according to Krista.

July 7, 2015: Peter’s sister Lucy Collins and friend Joan Ruzsa contact the Correctional Investigator, Sheraz Kausar, concerning insufficient pain medication. Nurse Krista Fraser tells Mr. Kausar that Peter needs to make a written request for a change in medication, and not go through “indirect channels”.

July 7, 2015: Peter’s friend Joan Ruzsa phoned the Millhaven Regional hospital. “…when I told her about the difficulty getting the medical bed she was shocked, and told me that the hospital has medical beds which can be transported to people’s cells in circumstances like Pete’s – all it would have taken was a request from (Bath) Healthcare.”

July 9, 2015: letter from Joan Ruzsa to Krista
“Since Peter was diagnosed with terminal cancer in January, the people who love him have been trying to figure out the best way to advocate for him. It has been tricky, because none of the approaches we have tried seem to make any difference. Reasonable and polite requests by his family for pain management and medical accommodations have been called “aggressive”, appeals for compassion have been ignored, the excruciatingly slow pace at which things happen (or often don’t happen at all) is justified as proper procedure”

July 9, 2015: letter from Paul Dewar, MP to Steven Blaney, Minister of Public Safety
“On behalf of my constituent, I urge you to investigate this case to ensure that Peter receives the medical care necessary, not to prolong Peter’s life, but to prevent unnecessary pain and suffering.”

July 13, 2015: Hospital bed is delivered.

July 23, 2015: The wheelchair pad and mattress arrived.

July 29, 2015: The neck brace arrived somewhere between July 23 and July 29.

July 31, 2015: We had our last trailer visit. It was for six days, but only Giselle was able to stay for the whole time. Peter was very weak, almost helpless and in constant pain after his twice daily trips to Healthcare and being made to get in his wheelchair for the count.

From Giselle Dias:
“Our last PFV (Private Family Visit) was 6 days and unfortunately they tried to kick me out at 8am on the 4th day with only 10 minutes notice. I was able to convey to the Keeper that I was allowed to be in the PFV as they had cleared me as part of his ‘family’. I also talked to the Keeper about showing some ‘compassion’ as it was likely the last time that Peter would have time with loved ones. After an hour and a half, the Keeper allowed me to stay for the remaining PFV. Unfortunately, the stress of the situation caused Peter significant pain that day. In fact, it was the most pain that I had ever seen him in. I think it reinforces all our concerns that the amount of stress Peter was under (because of the lack of care) caused him to deteriorate more quickly.

“Adam (Peter’s care taker) said that Peter had felt the best he had seen him in a long time on Thursday after the PFV (August 6th).

“Friday (August 7th) Peter went for a radiation treatment. Friday night he was really hot and brought an extra fan into his room.

“Saturday (August 8th) Peter woke up and could barely talk.

“Monday (August 10th, Prisoners Justice Day) he was in a lot of pain, could barely talk and was quite weak.

“Tuesday at 3:30AM he called another prisoner for help. They couldn’t reach the guards for 30 minutes. At 4am the guards said he would need to wait until Healthcare staff came in. At 7:30AM they put him in an ambulance.

“Wednesday, August 12th at 3PM we received notice that Peter had taken a turn for the worse and the prison was ‘unable’ to make arrangements for our visit that night. They requested that we call in the morning to make visiting arrangements. By the time Rob called in the morning Peter had already passed away.”

August 6, 2015: Letter from the Parole Board
“Having found that your risk remains undue, the Board is denying Full Parole.”

August 11, 2015: Peter was taken from Bath Institution to the Millhaven Palliative Care unit.

August 13, 2015, about 2am: R.I.P. Peter.

Healthcare in the CSC

“Correctional Service Canada strives to provide compassionate, innovative, patient- and family-centred hospice palliative care to offenders with a life-threatening, non-curable illness. Achieving this goal in a correctional setting presents some challenges, but CSC seeks to deliver care in a non-judgmental and compassionate manner.”   CSC Hospice Palliative Care Committee

“Mr Collins,Your brother has met with his Parole Officer and the Assistant Warden of Operations.  Any concerns he may have,  have been addressed. Thank you, Scott Thompson, A/Warden, Bath Institution” August 14, 2014

In theory, a Canadian prisoner receives the same level of medical care that they would get outside of prison. An institution has a healthcare unit where prisoners can see a doctor and get their prescribed medication. If the prisoner needs a scan or surgery, they are taken to an outside hospital.

In reality, Canada does not do a good job of caring for sick prisoners. At least that was our experience as we watched my brother Peter Collins progress from being diagnosed with a manageable form of bladder cancer in the summer of 2014, to being dead in the summer of 2015.

This is a summary of the emails and correspondence we had mostly with the prison regarding Peter’s healthcare at Bath Institution. It cover’s from July 2014 to January 2015, when Peter was declared terminal by his doctor at Kingston General Hospital.

A couple of things.

The Van

Over the months when Peter was being driven to the Kingston General Hospital for tests, he was taken in one of two kinds of vans. Only one of them was adequate. The other one seems to have been used more often. It was smaller. Peter was told one time that it was used because it was easier to find parking with it. There is a small metal box in the back of the van which the prisoner has to sit in, but it is not tall enough to sit up in. You have to hunch over. This was hard for Peter who broke his back in two places when he was young and had to walk with a cane. They also made him wear handcuffs and shackles, and fitted a small metal box to him. This made it very hard for him to walk. This van was not temperature controlled, so in the winter the steel box was freezing to the touch and in the summer it was hot. It would take Peter days to recover from the pain of going to the hospital in this van. Peter’s lawyer, his family and his friends all appealed to the warden of Bath Institution to use the bigger van but we had mixed results.

Mail and phone calls

When we appealed on Peter’s behalf, we were always worried about a retaliation from the prison authorities. One way they had to get back at Peter was to mess around with his mail. They could hold it or just lose it on it’s way in or out of the institution. They did this in December 2014 with letters from Gerami Law (they’re not afraid of lawyers). Another way was to mess with his phone calls. Again in December 2014, they lost Peter’s phone card.


It took Peter six months from the time he noticed blood in his urine to the time he was given an Endoscopy at Kingston General Hospital on July 22, 2014. The reason it took this long was that the Bath Healthcare unit lost his blood-work, so he would have to get re-tested. That happened at least once.

Bath Healthcare knew that time was of the essence. Peter had told them that he was passing dark-red to purple-brown coloured urine and that he was having pain in the pubic area. One of the possible causes of these symptoms is cancer, and if that was the case, it was important that it be dealt with quickly. By losing his blood-work, Bath Healthcare was decreasing the chances of diagnosis at an early stage. Essentially, they were fucking around with Peter’s life.


Our brother Robert was a fearless and determined advocate for Peter throughout.


July 21, 2014: At this point in his life, Peter had been newly classified as a Minimum Security Prisoner. There was talk of a transfer to Collins Bay Minimum. He used a cane to walk and had a lot of pain from a back injury.

He had also noticed blood in his urine for about six months. Bath Healthcare took his blood over this period but they lost it at least once.

July 22, 2014: Peter was taken to Kingston General Hospital for an Endoscopy. There was a lot of blood but the doctors found a mass. They rescheduled to see him for surgery in two to six weeks. (see August 21). He was taken in the small van.

July 27, 2014: Peter found out that his prison transfer was on hold. There was pressure from the political sphere not to let him get to minimum security.

August 8, 2014: Peter was brought to the hospital the small van again. He was told by the guards that it’s because it was easier to find parking.

August 9, 2014: Still recovering from yesterday’s trip, Peter went into the Healthcare unit, but was denied pain medication because the doctor wasn’t in. He was told to put a written request in.

August 10, 2014: Peter made an audio recording with Dee LeCompt for August 10th, Prisoner’s Justice Day.

August 11, 2014: Again, pain medications were denied.

August 12, 2014: Peter had an appointment for an ultrasound at the hospital but he was told by the nurse and the guard that they will take the small van (the wrong one) again, so Peter declined to go and missed the appointment.

August 14, 2014: The warden spoke to the deputy commissioner re: Peter’s transfer to Collins Bay, a minimum security institution, but that never seems to have went anywhere, since neither did Peter.

August 14, 2014: Emails were sent from Peter’s siblings Robert, Lucy and Chris, and a fax from Gerami Law to Bath Warden Scott Thompson regarding Peter’s healthcare issues, asking for better treatment with transportation, pain medication, etc. Robert was sent a short reply (see top) but Peter was given the real response (see August 20, 2014).

August 17, 2014: Peter was told that the next trip to hospital would be in appropriate transportation. He was given pain medication.

August 20, 2014: The emails we sent on August 14th were not answered directly, but Peter told Robert that the warden Scott Thompson had spoken to him about them.

Email from Robert to Arghavan Gerami at Gerami Law

Good Afternoon Arghavan
I was curious if you had heard anything back from the prison, because none of us had. They had a, well, disturbing conversation with Peter the other day. It seems they felt that our letters, your included, were of a threatening nature, and the warden stated that he doesn’t respond to family members. They also said, with regards to the letters, that it showed that Peter had in someway reverted back to his anti authoritarian nature, and that this could impact his transfer to minimum.  I have to admit I am getting quite…upset, with their attitude and lack of a sense of accountability. Robert Collins

August 21, 2014: Peter’s surgery was cancelled due to lack of beds at the hospital.

September 22, 2014: Surgery was done at Kingston General Hospital. The tumours were removed with results to come in two to four weeks (see October 21, 2014).
The next day (September 23rd) the Bath Healthcare department was not going to give Peter any pain medication until his doctor was called. He was given the medication late in the afternoon.

October 21, 2014: The doctors came back with a diagnosis. From that report (if you can read it, and I spelled the words right):

“Final Diagnosis
AandB. Urinary bladder, transurethral resection (deep and regular)
: invasive urothelial (transitional cell) carcinoma with established invasion of muscularis propria.
: High grade (1998 WHO/ISUP consensus classification)
: Grade 3 of 3 (1973 WHO tumour typing system)
: In Situ carcinoma not identified
: Extensive lymphatic/ vascular invasion present”

Basically, Peter had aggressive, invasive bladder cancer. One of his options was the removal of the bladder and surrounding organs, plus chemo and radiation.

November 5, 2014: attempts to get a collapsible wheelchair

November 20, 2014: Peter went to his Parole Hearing which was denied.

November 26, 2014: Peter had his first chemo treatment. He was given proper transportation and taken in a stretcher.

November 30, 2014: attempts to get a mattress

December 2, 2014: Lucy wrote the John Howard Society, but never received a reply.

December 11, 2014: Mail to Peter from Gerami Law was being held back from Peter in the Visits and Correspondence department of Bath Institution. They also misplaced his phone card.

December 16, 2014: Lucy wrote that Peter said they missed his chemo last week.

December 18, 2014: Warden issues directive to staff not to put Peter in shackles when transporting him to hospital.

December 24, 2014: Dr. Booth out of office until dec 30

January 16, 2014: Peter was sent for chemotherapy and tests. He was taken in the small van. It was around this time that Peter decided he was not going to go for chemotherapy anymore because the ordeal with the transportation was too much.

January 20, 2015: Dr. Christopher Booth wrote a letter to Peter’s lawyer Paul Quick saying that Peter had an incurable malignancy and his survival was likely measured in months.

From Robert to Dr. Christopher Booth, Kingston General Hospital
Good Morning Dr. Booth,
Unfortunately, Peter will not be able to attend radiation this morning. He was on his way, but the guards wanted to put him in shackles, despite a Dec 18, 2014 direction from the warden to not do that…due to Peter’s issue with his back. They do seem to be going out of their way to make this an ordeal, but I’m going to email the warden to have him reissue his directive and ensure that the staff follow it.
Sincerely, Robert Collins


Look after Peter. Don’t let him die in that place.
Watch over me.

I have developed a ridiculous habit. I don’t think praying is ridiculous on its own but I don’t believe in God, so that’s crazy.

When I told Peter I was praying for him, he grinned and said, “Who are you praying to?”

A couple of years ago, I was having trouble going into work. I was afraid to go there. I don’t know why.

On the way to work in the morning I walk through the woods past where a seventy foot water-tower stands. One morning I looked up at it looming over me, a giant shadow in the dark forest. It looked strong and substantial, comforting. I said my first selfish prayer. “Water-tower, watch over me.” And that got me through the day, or at least into work. After that, I would make my prayer to the water-tower every morning.

Last year in the summer of 2014 Peter told us that he had been diagnosed with cancer, and from there the news got worse. By January the doctors were telling him that he was terminal and had a few months to live. He applied to the Parole Board for a compassionate release but it never looked hopeful.

When you are dying while serving a sentence at Bath Institution, you get to stay in your cell as long as you can take care of yourself. Then they send you to the Millhaven “Palliative” Ward. It does not have a good reputation, and Peter spoke about possibly taking his own life rather than going there. Otherwise, he was going to die in Millhaven.

I amended my prayer to include Peter (“Don’t let him die in that place”) and my close family.

But the water-tower let me down.

Peter was moved from his cell in Bath over to Millhaven on Tuesday 11th. He died two days later at around 2am on the 13th.

On the other hand, two days is a relatively short time to be bound to the bed, compared to some people with cancer who lie for weeks before dying. However bad that hospital ward is, they didn’t have Peter for very long.

Maybe the water-tower didn’t let me down.

Trailer Visits

In Canadian prisons, Private Family Visits (PFV) are usually referred to as “Trailer Visits”. Family or loved ones are allowed to spend a few days in a small fenced-in house located in the prison grounds. I saw my brother Peter at many trailer visits over the years. The first one for me was in 1989 and the last one was July 2015.

Trailer visits usually go from Friday to Monday or from Monday to Thursday. At Bath Institution, you should arrive at 9am. On the last day, you leave at around 9am as well.


You first get one of your personal items put through the Ion Scanner. There is more on that here. Next you put your keys, money, watch, etc into a locker.

You take in one piece of ID for the Visits and Correspondence (V&C) people. Aside from the ID, you can take prescription glasses, toothbrush, prescribed medication (inside the prescription bottle, only enough for the visit, they check that), a change of clothes for three days, and very little else. They usually let you bring in a book.

No cigarettes, gum, food, correspondence or photographs. If you have a letter or pictures, you are told to mail them in.

After putting your stuff in the locker, you hand your bag of clothes to the guard who checks through it and puts it in a bin to go through the X-Ray machine.

Then you walk through a Metal Detector. If the zipper on your pants or the buckle on your belt is enough to ring it off, they check you over with a wand (“Put your arms out”) to make sure you are not carrying any other metal items.

Finally, they sometimes bring out a Sniffer Dog to check you and your bag of clothes.

If you get through these checks, they send you to V&C, and a guard there walks you out to the trailer. After you are in the trailer, the prisoner is led in and the food arrives soon after.


Food is ordered and paid for by the prisoner, so you have to send them a money order beforehand. It is usually quite expensive. It is hard to plan the food for the trailer and you often end up with too much or too little. When Peter was healthy, he would make a lot of stuff like flatbread and home cooked meals. When he got ill, we mostly had frozen food like pizza. Sometimes I made pancakes or french toast. That’s about all I can do.


Sometime after you are all in the trailer, they do a “Count”. The phone rings and the prisoner answers and is told it is time. You all go and stand outside the door. A guard walks by the fence outside the trailer and nods when he or she is satisfied that you are all there. This is done three to six times a day, depending on what I don’t really know. Although there is a schedule of count times on the wall by the phone, it is rarely adhered to, so you have to be ready to jump outside at any time.


Aside from being used to contact the prisoner, the phone sometimes doubles as an emergency contact if the red Panic Button is broken. Just by lifting the receiver, the guards’ phone will ring.


Knives are a big issue. When you come into the trailer, there will be six butter knives in a line on the kitchen table, with a note that says they all need to be accounted for at the end of the visit. There is one sharp kitchen knife attached to the wall over a counter by a two foot steel wire. I suppose that’s to prevent domestic rampages. I can tell you it is tricky to cut vegetables or chicken with a knife that is attached like that to the wall. I complained about it to Peter one time and he asked to see the knife. He angled his body in some way to the counter and wound the wire loosely around his elbow and started chopping the green peppers unencumbered, looking at me with raised eyebrows. Peter could be annoying.


When you spend three days in a trailer visit, you might experience a mild form of Cabin Fever because the trailers are usually quite small. The prisoner will experience the opposite effect, because compared to a prison cell, the trailer is very large. While I would usually sleep in a bedroom, Peter would sleep in the living room on couch cushions lined up on the floor, because he wanted to be in a “big” room. He would stay up late into the morning, watching TV and enjoying the space.


Once I settle into the visit, I usually find that the time goes quite slowly. There isn’t much to do except watch TV or talk. Weirdly when the visit is over, the three days seem to have gone by like a flash. Like life in the real world.

Sometimes they would let Peter bring his guitar in. He would ask me to teach him something and I would try. Peter was an awful student and I was an awful teacher. These session often ended with both of us feeling frustrated.


Before leaving the trailer, you have to clean it so it’s like when you came in or better. Sweep or vacuum and mop the floors. Scrub the bath and toilet and sink. Wash the dishes and wipe down the counters. Any left over food has to be thrown out, unfortunately. You have to go fast because they come to get you around 9am. Peter was very careful about leaving the trailer in good shape and always did most of the cleaning until the last visit when he couldn’t help at all.


You hug your loved one and leave them in the trailer and a guard walks you back to the V&C section. They ask you if the prisoner behaved differently. They are checking for signs of domestic violence. They ask you if you are taking anything out of the prison. You say No. They let you go and you retrieve your belongings from your locker and leave.

The Ion Scanner in Canadian Prisons

I visited my brother Peter in Canadian prisons around Ontario and Quebec for nearly 32 years, and in most of these prisons, I had to go through various security checks. These checks included the Metal Detector, Sniffer Dogs, and the Ion Scanner.

The Ion Scanner (Ion Mobility Spectrometer (IMS)) is a device used to “ring off” on people who are carrying in trace amounts of illegal drugs into the prison. I noticed them starting to use it in the mid-1990s. The guard asks you to give him an item from your person, like your glasses, belt, a piece of ID, or one of your shoes. He or she will wipe the item with a cloth and feed that cloth into a machine, the Scanner. If a threshold is exceeded (“ringing off”), the screen will give some indication. They don’t show you the screen so I don’t know what that indication looks like. In the case that you ring off, it is assumed that you are trying to carry into the prison some of whatever drug registered. You are given a closed visit (glass between you and the prisoner) or sent away, and an entry is made in the prisoner’s file.

Over the years, we slowly learned how to not ring off on the Ion Scanner. These are our best practices:

  • Wash the clothes you will wear in the hot cycle. Wash them again without any soap. Soap and cosmetics can cause the Scanner to ring off.
  • Make an alcohol/ water solution and dump into it your keys, paper money, change, ID, glasses, and anything else you are taking into the prison. Use the solution to wipe down your belt and shoes.
  • It’s best if you don’t stop for gas or coffee on the way to the prison because door handles, changing money, etc. might be carrying these trace amounts of contraband. That being said, we usually stopped for coffee anyway, and then used alcohol wipes to clean our hands and any new money, and that seemed to work OK.
  • Of course, don’t bring drugs to the prison.

Even though I took all of these precautions, I would feel a sense of dread when I approached the prison, and again when it was time to be tested by the Ion Scanner. I had reason to feel that way as I have rung off twice. Once for Cannabis at Collins Bay in the late 1990s and once, they didn’t tell me what for, at Bath Institution in May of this year (2015), both times when going into a trailer visit. Our father rang off once for Ecstasy, and my brother Rob has rung off three times, once for something called Procaine.

This is a link to the CSC’s page on the Ion Scanner, in which they talk about “false positives” and other drawbacks. From that page:

“Overall, this review indicates that IMS units are useful in detecting most drugs. However, these devices are often oversensitive and are limited in their ability to detect certain forms of drugs. Additional research is needed to address gaps in our knowledge such as determining the impact of IMS units on inmate drug use and institutional behaviour, drug smuggling by inmates, staff and visitors, etc. Furthermore, additional well-controlled research is needed to support the limited research currently available on the reliability of IMS devices within a correctional context.”

I don’t think the Ion Scanner is a fair or reasonable system because many people (probably you) are carrying these trace amounts of Cocaine, Heroin, and other illegal drugs. Paper money comes into contact with the drugs in the trade and then goes into general circulation, where you pick it up at a 7/11 or MacDonalds.

Another reason the system is not fair is that the guards, administrators, and other support staff, are never checked when moving through the prison lobby. I think that if the CSC was serious about the use of the Ion Scanner as a means to stop the entry of contraband into the prisons, everybody would be tested the same way. The fact that they are not, in my opinion, reduces the Ion Scanner to an intimidation or harassment tactic against visitors.

The Final Days

My brother Peter died in prison last Thursday morning. There are a lot of people who are glad he is dead and also happy that he was never released in his final days. That is very understandable. Peter killed a policeman who was only doing his job, and took him away from his family. He also showed great disrespect at the time for the people he had hurt.

I honestly don’t think I could forgive a thing like that if it happened to one of mine. I will always be angry at the people who hurt Peter and I will never forgive them, even though he did a long time ago.

I have heard the idea that God can forgive every sin. I don’t know about that. I don’t understand God and I don’t understand forgiveness.

There is one thing I do know. If there is another life, or a next world, Peter will continue to search for redemption. He will try to make things right that can’t be made right in this world.

The Childhood of Peter Collins

These are a few words about the childhood of my brother, Peter Collins, who is serving a life sentence for first degree murder. His family history has never been examined or investigated, but I believe it has a lot to do with how he came to be so desperate and in conflict with the law.

Peter has only recently given me his go-ahead to tell this story. For the last 20 years, he has been very forgiving of his parents. I’m proud of him for that, but I don’t think they deserve it. He has told me that he has met many people inside prison who had much worse childhood’s than his own. Having only grown up in the one home, I don’t really have a good perspective. I remember going over to friend’s houses as a child and being surprised that they weren’t afraid of their mothers.

Peter was severely mistreated by his parents as a young boy.

Our mother, Joan Collins (Stothard) was an unfit parent. She was addicted to her own rage and vengeful towards her male children. Our father, Michael Collins, was unable or unwilling to protect his kids. Regarding Peter, Dad even sided with Mum over every real and made-up grievance.

Growing up, it became a kind of family policy to blame Peter for every little thing. When he was between the ages of five to six, his transgressions included:

• wetting the bed
• soiling his pants
• being dirty
• being stupid
• not smiling
• teasing Christian (me) or his sister Lucy
• stealing things from Mum and Dad’s friend’s houses on family visits
• not being good at anything

If I was to do any of these things I got off relatively lightly: a glare, a lecture or a slap. If Peter did any of these things, Mum and Dad would both behave very differently. It was a regular ritual to see Peter being humiliated and made to cry by physical or emotional attacks in front of the family. Although Mum lead these attacks, Dad would always support her when he was around.

Rather than watch, and participate in, the events at home, Dad would spend most of his time at the jazz clubs around Ottawa where he played the trumpet and sang.

When I was seven and Peter was five or six, both of us would wet the bed at night. Peter was still soiling his trousers during the day and sometimes the night. Mum didn’t like to clean up after either of us and liked to make us admit to the fact before she checked the sheets or clothes. Glares and speeches. “You couldn’t care less, could you?” Violence was always very close to the surface. Sometimes we got slapped with her hands or a wooden spoon.

Peter has told me that when he was young, he was ashamed of messing his pants and would try to never go to the bathroom, where accidents happened. Of course, that didn’t work for him.

I remember a couple of times being taken with Peter to stores that dealt with electric devices that would ring an alarm if the kid wet the bed. Mum would speak very loudly so everyone could hear, and of course I would be ashamed of myself.

One night we were getting ready for bed. Dad was out of the house.

“Peter, did you pooh your trousers today?”
“I don’t think so.”
She stamped over to him, and it must have been obvious. She began to pull his pants down.
“Yes, you have! Come on, Peter.. We’re going to wash your face.” Her voice was rising.
She had him by the wrist of one hand and had his dirty underwear in the other and was marching him to the bathroom.
“I’ve already washed my face.”
“Well, we’re going to wash it again.”
She slammed the door. A short silence. I stared at the wall in my bedroom.
Peter started to cough and cry.
That is all I remember from that night.  An atrocity that I didn’t actually see but was implied to me through my mother’s words and general menace.

All of my life, I have wished that I had told a teacher or principal at school what happened in that bathroom. At the time I was scared of Mum and also of whatever would happen if I said something. But I still wonder how things might be different, picturing Peter perhaps making a living as a graphic artist or a repairman, or one of the many things he is good at.

Around 1973, when I was thirteen and Peter was eleven or twelve, we all went to see Dr. Resnik (I think that’s the name) at the Royal Ottawa Hospital. Mum and Dad told him that Peter was acting up at school and at home. Mum told the doctor, in front of the family, that she hated Peter.

We only went for a couple of sessions unfortunately. This was probably because the doctor suggested that Peter was not the cause of the problem. He told us about the “Black Sheep” family where a child was picked as being the outcast and said that our family was a good example of it. He pointed to Mum as the source of the real trouble.

We stopped going to see Dr. Resnik and Mum and Dad continued to blame Peter for all of their problems.

Another thing Dr. Resnik had suggested was that Mum might feel better in her life if she was to go to University. For the next five years or so, she went back to school and eventually earned a degree.

Peter was driven out of the house before he turned 13 years old. One day he just didn’t come home. Mum and Dad made no special effort to find him. After a couple of weeks they moved our sister Lucy into his bedroom. Mum continued to pursue her university degree. Dad made a record with the Apex Jazz Band.

Soon after he started spending nights on the street, Peter was raped by a male teacher who had offered him a place to stay out of the rain. This happened one more time with a different man, but more violently when Peter tried to defend himself with a knife and got beaten up before the rape. In his early days on the street he was once also beaten by the police. These incidents caused Peter to develop a deep mistrust of adults.

Eventually, he moved in with a 28 year old woman (Peter would have been 13 years old) who used him for sex and taught him petty fraud and theft. The police caught up with them after a few months and Peter was sent back home.

Peter was still not wanted in the house and he would spend most of his teenage years away, often literally having to sleep outside in the Ottawa winters. I don’t know much about this time in his life.

At around the age of twenty, Peter started to rob banks. He was eventually caught in 1983 and sent to the OCDC where he escaped. He was still at large when he walked into the Bayshore Shopping Centre on October 14th, 1983 in order to rob a bank. He ended up shooting and killing Constable David Utman. Peter was taken into custody later that day.

While in prison Peter has worked hard to turn his life around.

He got a Graphic, Commercial and Fine Arts Diploma by correspondence from Granton College in Toronto. He finished his high school and learned to play the guitar.

He has volunteered with several community agencies including the Prison Arts Foundation, John Howard Society, Rittenhouse, Prisoners’ with HIV/AIDS Support Action Network (PASAN), and the Prisoners’ Justice Action Committee.

In 2008, Peter received the Canadian Award for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Human Rights Watch.

In January 2015, Peter was diagnosed with terminal cancer and is dying in prison.

Mum and Dad never admitted to their part in raising a de-socialized and desperate young man. They were content to be represented in the media as hard-working parents who did the best they could with Peter. He has shown them more loyalty than they ever showed him. But after 50 years, I am tired of keeping my parent’s secrets for them.