The Consul at Kingston (Fuller) to the Chargé in Canada (Boal)42

Sir: I have the honor to report the case of John O’Brien, an American citizen who is now a convict in the Kingston Penitentiary. O’Brien has a bad police record and was sentenced to a long term following a payroll holdup in Toronto. About two months ago the Warden stated that O’Brien wanted to see me about being deported. I replied I would be glad to see him and asked whether any steps had been taken towards his deportation. I was informed that his application was under consideration at Ottawa, that I would be notified of any action and that there did not appear to be anything I could do in his case.

As the result of the prison riots Murray Kirkland was placed on trial, another convict who claims to have been born in the United States and who served in the American army. One of the causes of the riot was that John O’Brien had been unjustly kept in confinement. The attorney for Kirkland therefore arranged to have O’Brien appear as a witness and asked me to be present. According to his testimony, O’Brien was found to be in possession of a needle and a buckle soon after he was admitted. He was placed in the “hole”, and then moved to solitary confinement for a few days. Before his time was up he was charged with talking “pigeon English”, and later with planning to escape. He asked what the chargé was based on and who made it, and was told that the Warden’s word was enough. As a result of the latter chargé he has been kept in solitary confinement since August 1931, although he has several times asked to be put to work.

After obtaining some legal information I wrote the Warden on the morning of May 13th asking to be allowed to see O’Brien. Although I have received no reply, I was told yesterday by the Warden that he was requesting permission from the Superintendent of Penitentiaries at [Page 80] Ottawa and that I could not see any prisoner until permission had been granted by the Superintendent. I pointed out that I had three times visited prisoners in the last month without such permission. The Warden then admitted that he had some discretion in the matter.

On May 15th I received a letter from the Consul General, Toronto, enclosing a clipping from the Toronto Star of May 13th, copy of which is attached.43 This reprints a letter from the Warden to O’Brien dated March 8th stating that he had referred his request for an interview with me to headquarters, and that the interview was not approved. The article reports that in answer to inquiries the Ontario Parole Board advanced the opinion that no objection would be raised there to a consul seeing a prisoner who was a citizen of his country, but that things were different at the Kingston Penitentiary.

There is also enclosed a letter from W. M. Nickle44 who with his father, W. F. Nickle, former Attorney-General for Ontario, was the attorney for Kirkland. This points out that O’Brien has been kept in solitary confinement for almost two years without a trial and only on the evidence of a letter from another convict; that the letter is written as a Canadian citizen who is “disgusted with the Department of Justice of this country” and that “the treatment that has been given O’Brien would not have been accorded a prisoner in the middle ages.”

I feel that O’Brien is being oppressed and is not being granted the privileges conceded by ordinary usage. I desire to interview him within view of a guard who would be out of hearing. The prison rules provide that anything a guard may hear during an interview can be used against prisoners, so O’Brien would probably say nothing in the presence of a guard. I believe this privilege is no greater than would be accorded the attorney of any convict. I feel O’Brien will soon break down mentally unless he feels some one is interested in his case. A convict in a nearby cell recently committed suicide and another one has gone insane. After seeing O’Brien I will be able to decide whether I should make representation to the local authorities with regard to giving him the work he believes is his right. Of course, I shall not attempt to obtain for friendless American convicts the same treatment they would be accorded in American prisons, but only the treatment which is usual in the case of Canadians under existing prison regulations. If the Superintendent of Penitentiaries has not yet granted the permission for me to interview O’Brien which the Warden says he has asked for, I would suggest that the Legation might approach the Superintendent in order that such permission might be promptly given.

Very respectfully yours,

George Gregg Fuller
  1. Copy transmitted to the Department by the Consul at Kingston; received May 23.
  2. Not reprinted.
  3. Not printed.