Signing My Life Away

I wrote this last year to be the introduction to my series on the Kingston Penitentiary, then wound up postponing the series. Yesterday, with tickets going on sale for the 2017 season I ran a post about the place, but it was out of order. Just pretend you read this one first, and that you are reading it in June 2016.

I was in prison last week, but they let me out‎ after a couple of hours. Kicked me out actually, there was no encouragement for those who wanted to linger or loiter. The souvenir shop isn’t very big.IMG_0608

In 2013 the Canadian government closed the famous (or should that be infamous) Kingston Penitentiary, after 178 years of service.  This summer, tours of the facility are being offered to the public, though by the time you read this the tickets may be sold out.

I went online just before sales to the public began, and was fortunate that the website was live a few minutes earlier than advertised, so I had my choice of date and time. My thoughts on the tour will be coming tomorrow, and maybe on subsequent days, but today I want to reflect on the hoops I had to jump just to get into the prison.IMG_0636

I was somewhat surprised to discover that before being allowed to take part I had to sign a waiver form. Not the usual procedure for most tourist attractions, but it didn’t seem like a big deal. Until I read the form.

Not only did it need to be signed, dated and witnessed, but each paragraph had to be initialed that you had read and understood it. It’s an old building, and parts of it are in disrepair. That’s one of the reasons it was slated for closure. So I understood the legal butt covering. They wanted to be sure I wouldn’t sue if there was an accident. I had no problem with that, it seemed like an acceptable risk.IMG_0577

What I did find a little perturbing was that the waiver also absolved the sponsoring agency from legal claims due to negligence on its part or on the part of any of its employees. That seemed a bit much to me. Not only that, but in signing I was promising my children also wouldn’t sue should I die on the tour.

Not being a lawyer I turned to the Internet for advice. Seeking legal advice on the World Wide Web is about as safe as getting your medical advice there. There’s no good substitute for an expert. Still, I was able to determine that similar waivers had been successfully defended in court, though not at the Supreme Court level. (I wonder if you can give informed consent to waive negligence? I could think of a couple of other questions, which are now moot since I survived the tour uninjured.)

I did question as to whether I wanted to sign my rights away (just like the prisoners who used to be housed in the Kingston pen), but in the end it was an easy decision: no waiver, no tour. And probably no refund, given that the waiver is posted online for you to read before buying your tickets.

After the waiver, the tour was almost anti-climactic. I didn’t notice and particular dangers in the 90 minutes we spent being herded from one area of the prison to another. The biggest risk might have been stubbing my toe.

I guess sometimes people just have to cover their butt. Gotta keep the lawyers employed after all.


  1. Lucia Friedman · · Reply

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