A view inside Surrey Pretrial. (Photo: Amy Reid)

A look at Surrey Pretrial’s storied history

Expansion, coroner’s inquests recommendations and concerns about staff safety reveal it to be a work in progress

Editor’s note: Some content may be disturbing to some readers

It will come as no surprise that bad things happen at Surrey Pretrial Services Centre.

It is, after all, a jailhouse. And like most correctional centres, this one has a storied history.

Built in 1991, Surrey Pretrial has gone through major expansion since then to become B.C.’s largest provincial prison. It, along with Vancouver Pretrial and the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre, helped replace Oakalla prison in Burnaby when Oakalla closed that same year.

Surrey Pretrial has also housed some notorious inmates. Undoubtedly the most notable was child serial killer Clifford Olson – aka the Beast of B.C. – who was briefly held within its walls during his infamous Section 745 hearing at Surrey provincial court, in 1997. Also known as the “Faint Hope Clause,” the section allowed for convicted murderers to apply for eligibility to apply for parole after serving 15 years, on the faint hope they’d been rehabilitated.


A heavily guarded Clifford Olson, centre, awaits transfer to Surrey Pretrial on Wednesday, August 13, 1997 after stepping off an RCMP helicopter. He was flown by jet from Montreal to Abbotsford, B.C., where he was picked up by the helicopter. (Photo: Leah S. Briggs)

Not even the killer of at least 11 children – four of them from Surrey – believed he would succeed but to Canadians’ great ire he was nevertheless entitled to his four-day hearing, after which the jury took 12 minutes to refuse his application and he was sent packing back to the Special Handling Unit in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, Canada’s highest security prison. Olson died of cancer in Archabault Institution in Quebec in 2011, at the age of 71.

Also, not surprisingly, there has been violence within Surrey Pretrial’s walls, self-inflicted and otherwise.

In September 1995, 10-year-old Guildford girl Melissa Deley was ripped from her home as her family slept. Her alleged killer, 20-year-old Bret Shane Neff, hanged himself with a bedsheet in his cell at Surrey Pretrial a few days after he was arrested.

A coroner’s inquest was held and in 1996 the jury recommended that corrections staff keep closer watch on inmates, that the type of ceiling vents from which Neff hanged himself be replaced, that video cameras be installed so prisoners in segregation can be observed better, that a minimum of two guards be stationed in the segregation area at all times, and that all guards carry a two-way radio.

There have been other coroners inquests resulting in recommendations for Surrey Pretrial.

One such inquest was held in 2018 into the 2016 suicide of inmate David Singh Tucker, 28, who was being held in the segregation unit. He died on July 25, 2016 and had last been seen alive when he received dinner at 4 p.m. July 24. Corrections officers found him unresponsive when they checked on him early the next morning. Coroner Susan Barth determined he died of acute methadone toxicity, as a consequence of a “self-administered dose of unprescribed methadone acquired by unknown means.”

READ ALSO: ‘We are no longer a warehouse’: An exclusive look inside Surrey Pretrial

The inquest jury made seven recommendations to the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Corrections Branch, and the Provincial Health Services Authority. These included ensuring that corrections officers document in detail body positions and unusual behaviours of segregation inmates, be able to control lighting in segregation cells housing inmates considered at high risk of committing suicide, make sure lighting, cameras and sprinklers can’t be defeated by inmates, and require that all inmates that are prescribed methadone be watched for 30 minutes, instead of 20, after taking it.

As with any prison, inmates assaulting inmates, as well as staff, is an ever-present concern. Double-bunking has also been an issue.

In 2015, for an example, convicted sex offender Jeffrey Alan Goddard was sentenced to three years of probation for sexually assaulting an 18-year-old cellmate at Surrey Pretrial. The 29-year-old man forced the younger man to masturbate him in the cell, telling him if he didn’t, he’d smash his face into a wall and then call friends outside of jail to beat him up.

Most recently, a coroner’s inquest jury into the 2016 strangling death of John Michael Murphy at Surrey Pretrial Services Centre last week recommended better surveillance of prisoners, improved staff communication during shift changes and improved “speed of access” for emergency personnel.

Murphy, 25, died on Aug. 3, 2016, after his cellmate held him in a choke-hold for longer than 10 minutes. John Cole Burt, 22, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to five and a half years in prison.

READ ALSO: Coroner’s inquest jury into Surrey Pretrial death calls for improvements

Lyall Boswell, the current warden of Surrey Pretrial, said he sat through each day of the Murphy inquest.

“I spoke to the family, the mother spoke on the last day of the inquest, it was very powerful,” he told reporter Amy Reid, who toured the centre recently. “We take all this stuff very extremely seriously. Our staff were impacted by this. It’s unimaginable that something like this could happen, and deeply upsetting.”


Lyall Boswell, warden of Surrey Pretrial. (Photo: Amy Reid)

“There’s a lot of privacy people who say we shouldn’t have cameras in any cells at all,” Boswell noted. “That people should be able to live away from them. Now, we put the cameras in as tools that enable us to keep people safer when they’re in a volatile area like segregation or sensitive area like segregation. So to go further down that road, you run into different competing challenges such as segregation, isolation, is a big concern, so from that perspective sharing a cell isn’t necessarily negative. But then of course, sharing a cell and something tragic happens, that raises all sorts of questions too. Getting the balance is very complicated, very complicated.”

In February 2018, 15 inmates went on a hunger strike to protest conditions at Surrey Pretrial, with overcrowding among their grievances. In 2002, a distraught Cloverdale mother contacted this newspaper to complain that her 19-year-old son, who was serving a four-month sentence for property crimes, was being held in segregation at Surrey Pretrial and provincial government penny-pinching had resulted in inmates accused of minor crimes being held in eight-foot by 10-foot segregation cells for 23 hours a day, for lack of other space.

That same year, in 2002, a study conducted by Simon Fraser criminology professor Neil Boyd revealed that B.C.’s corrections officers were facing the highest risk of on-the-job criminal violence of anyone in the province. Boyd’s study was commissioned in response to increases in the double-bunking of inmates and an increase in inmate-to-staff ratios as a result of government cost-cutting. It found corrections officers had made twice the number of Workers’ Compensation Board claims in 2000 and 2001 for on-the-job violence than did police officers.

Fast forward 17 years, from 2002 to 2019, and there still seems to be plenty of danger and dissatisfaction. In March 2019, some 40 Corrections officers rallied outside the pretrial centre to protest what they described as unmanageable levels of violence inside B.C.’s prisons, especially at Surrey’s.

SEE VIDEO: Officers rally at Surrey Pretrial as violence in jails hit ‘all-time high’

Four months later, this past July, the British Columbia Government Employees Union (BCGEU) demanded that Surrey Pretrial management act on recommendations from frontline officers after a supervisor was assaulted on July 10 and sent to hospital.

“I have heard loud and clear that our members, the correctional officers and supervisors do not feel safe,” Dean Purdy, a BCGEU vice-president, said at the time.


Officers from Surrey Pretrial Services Centre rallied outside of the centre on Friday (March 8) about the “unmanageable levels” of inmate-to-officer ratios at B.C. prisons. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

This was still the case, roughly four years after Surrey Pretrial had become B.C.’s biggest prison with the opening of a new wing containing 216 cells, increasing its capacity to 365 cells.

“There are many reasons why bigger is better,” then-Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton said at the Feb. 5, 2014 ribbon-cutting to open the $90-million expansion. “We have more gang members that have to be kept apart.”

Anton would not reveal what she described as impressive security features contained in the design.

“Let me assure you, it’s state-of-the-art,” she said of the new Surrey Pretrial, at the time.

It is, undeniably, also a work in progress.


Suzanne Anton, B.C.’s justice minister in 2014, viewing a model of the Surrey Pretrial expansion. (Photo: Jacob Zinn)

READ ALSO: Transgender inmate loses court case against Surrey Pretrial

READ ALSO: Surrey Pretrial inmate lodges human rights complaint for not being fed kosher food

READ ALSO: Transgender inmate makes human rights complaint against Surrey Pretrial


Like us on Facebook Follow us on Instagram and follow Tom on Twitter

Just Posted

Northern California man charged with aiding fugitive Brandon Teixeira

Sam Koh, 40, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to harbouring Teixeira

South Surrey couple donates $1M to hospital’s children’s centre campaign

Donation brings hospital foundation’s fundraising goal within $1 million

The Surrey Hospice Society’s Toolbox thrift store reopens in Cloverdale

Before she fell ill, Janet Child revamped second-hand tool store

Prolific offender nabbed at Surrey SkyTrain after police say he skipped paying fare

Officers arrested Reginald Simon at Scott Road SkyTrain after discovering he had 11 outstanding warrants

Cloverdale hospital could take pressure off Langley Memorial

Fraser Health says about 20 per cent of patients at LMH are from Surrey

MAP: Christmas light displays in Surrey and beyond

Send us pictures of your National Lampoon-style lit-up homes, nativity scenes or North Pole playlands

Process to identify those killed in Gabriola plane crash could take days

Canadian flight museum suggests Alex Bahlsen of Mill Bay died in Tuesday’s crash

Snowfall warning issued for Coquihalla Highway

Up to 25 cm of snow is expected to fall in the region by Thursday

‘Honest mistake:’ RCMP says B.C. cannabis shop can keep image of infamous Mountie

Sam Steele wearing military, not RCMP uniform in image depicted in Jimmy’s Cannabis window

B.C. conservation officers put down fawn blinded by pellet gun on Vancouver Island

Young deer found near construction site in Hammond Bay area in Nanaimo, B.C.

Laid-off forest workers converge on B.C. legislature

Loggers call for action on strike, provincial stumpage

B.C. guide fined $2K in first conviction under new federal whale protection laws

Scott Babcock found guilty of approaching a North Pacific humpback whale at less than 100 metres

Feds urge Air Canada to fix booking problems as travel season approaches

The airline introduced the new reservation system more than three weeks ago

Almost 14,000 Canadians killed by opioids since 2016: new national study

17,000 people have been hospitalized for opioid-related poisoning

Most Read