Thursday, July 30, 2020

Legal notice served to OCDC in support of the human rights of Indigenous prisoners


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

More than 70 civil society organizations endorse legal notice demanding that the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre respect the human rights of Indigenous prisoners

30 July 2020 (unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin Territory) – This morning, counsel for the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP) delivered a legal notice to the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) demanding the jail respects its legal responsibilities to accommodate the spiritual and cultural needs of incarcerated Indigenous persons within two weeks (see pages 1-4 / 5-8). The legal notice is endorsed by more than 70 civil society organizations including the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and 6 prominent advocates for Indigenous justice. It comes only a few days after prisoners ended the second prisoner hunger strike at the provincial jail in as many months. During this strike, prisoners including Indigenous men and women presented the OCDC administration and the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General (MSG) several lists of demands. A list of 9 demands was issued by Indigenous prisoners. Although the jail did not respond to the hunger strikers’ recent demands, OCDC must now redress the human rights violations experienced by Indigenous prisoners within two weeks or face legal action.

Erica Brazeau and Marissa Schoenfelt explain the discriminatory treatment they endure: “We are native women confined to OCDC and we want our culture back. They take away our medicines that we truly believe heal. They took away our cultural ceremonies and for that we are very upset. Not only does OCDC disrespects our culture and our spirituality, they make us do mandatory strip searches every two weeks in front of each other without suspicion. This feels like sexual assault”. Mukwoh Land, an Ojibway and Inuit man imprisoned at OCDC, sees the violations Indigenous persons face at the jail as being part the ongoing colonialism and genocide Indigenous peoples face when dealing with all levels of government within the colonial Canadian state. He asserts: “Similarly to how the federal government claims to be dedicated to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples while simultaneously committing genocide and other forms of state-sanctioned violence and repression against us, OCDC is another Canadian institution that enforces anti-Indigenous state violence and systemic discrimination under the veil of safety. The jail must respect our cultures and spiritualities as they claim in their policies”.

Dr. Pamela Palmater – Mi’kmaq lawyer, Chair of Indigenous Governance, and Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the Ryerson University – echoes Mr. Land’s understanding and takes this opportunity to reiterate the call to release all Indigenous peoples forcibly confined in colonial sites of human caging. She states: “Canada has been found guilty of historic and ongoing genocide against Indigenous peoples, and the ever-increasing incarceration rates are a core part of genocide. These grave human rights abuses against Indigenous peoples must stop. We should be urgently acting to decarcerate Indigenous peoples – especially women and youth – in all prisons, jails and youth corrections, and providing much-needed social supports like housing and family reunification measures. We must also centre the voices of those who are incarcerated and hold governments to account to ensure their human rights are met while in these institutions”.

Fathima Cader, counsel of CPEP, reminds OCDC that “access to spiritual programming is a right, not a privilege. The Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre has claimed it has increased spiritual/cultural counselling and programming for people being held at OCDC, but that is not the reality on the ground according to prisoners at the jail. Now, OCDC is simply being asked to comply with the laws and policies it is already supposed to be compliant with. Courts and governmental bodies have long condemned the challenges faced by Indigenous prisoners. Canada’s staggering level of incarceration of Indigenous peoples is a widescale human rights issue, part of Supreme Court of Canada’s own finding that colonization has been devastating for Indigenous communities”.

CPEP believes that the most effective way to alleviate the harm caused by incarceration to Indigenous peoples is to immediately release all Indigenous prisoners from colonial prisons. However, as explains Souheil Benslimane – Lead Coordinator of the Jail Accountability & Information Line, “people that are not locked-up need to engage in solidarity work with all prisoners as long as human cages exist to echo and amplify their calls for justice, recognition, and dignity within the systems that need to be abolished and replaced by healing ways of relating to each other”.

For English and French Media Interviews Contact:
Souheil Benslimane
Lead Coordinator, Jail Accountability & Information Line
819-592-6469 / jailhotline@gmail.com

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Hunger strike ends at OCDC as the struggle to end carceral violence continues



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Prisoners end the hunger strike at the Ottawa jail for health reasons, but continue 
 the protest while facing retribution for defending their human rights

28 July 2020 (unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin Territory) – In a call for recognition and justice, people imprisoned at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) organized and initiated a hunger strike the morning of July 22nd to protest oppressive conditions at the jail and in the wider community. They called upon the jail and the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General (MSG) to meet their basic demands such as adequate access to soap, conditioner, edible and nutritious food, along with increased access to reading material. Dozens of prisoners abstained from eating and some stopped taking their prescribed medications to protest the disenfranchisement and violence they face at Ottawa’s provincial site of human caging and in society at large. This hunger strike took a severe toll on the health of many OCDC prisoners who participated in the action, especially those with pre-existing health conditions, who saw their health degrade more rapidly.

When the latest hunger strike began at the Ottawa jail, the Ministry claimed it has procedures in place for when prisoners refuse meals. The hunger strikers confirm that the procedures they have in place amount to torture and punishment. The OCDC responded to prisoners expressing their constitutional rights by subjecting all hunger strikers to 24-hour lockdown during the 5-day action that ended at noon on July 26th, while threatening others with segregation. Both practices have been denounced by judges in Canadian courts. The use of authoritarian tools to stifle the protest and uphold the oppressive status quo is reprehensible, particularly when much of what was demanded by the hunger strikers could easily be resolved through bargaining in good faith, rather than repression.

During the recent hunger strike, it again became evident how imprisonment upholds oppressive structures through the colonial, racist and patriarchal violence it levels against incarcerated women for merely claiming their most basic rights. In response to the participation of a number of women in the hunger strike, OCDC increased an Indigenous woman’s security classification and threatened to withhold live saving prescription medications such as methadone from others while allies gathered to show solidarity outside of the jail on June 24th. Denying the existence of systemic racisms within its walls, making degrading and humiliating threats to prisoners, and engaging in censorship by blocking local and national news networks and newspapers from the institution were some of the other forms of retribution faced by the hunger strikers.

Aside from the letter written by Ottawa-Centre MPP Joel Harden and Official Opposition Critic for the MSG Kevin Yarde to Solicitor General Sylvia Jones urging her to meet the strikers’ demands, more than 180 people sent emails to the Minister and several other called her, but to no avail. The jail, the Ministry and the Government of Ontario is ignoring the strikers’ plea for less harmful jail conditions. They, along with policing authorities, are also ignoring calls for broader systemic change challenging the root causes of their imprisonment, including the demands made by Roxanne Draper who seeks an end to policing and imprisonment – two systems that collaborate to target people who are poor and who are experiencing homelessness, along with other issues that require investments in people and communities to end inequality, not cuffs and cages that sustain it.

Despite the hunger strike ending, prisoners and their allies on the outside are committed to pursuing all necessary avenues to centre the plights and experiences of prisoners in the struggle against colonial, racist, patriarchal, and punitive injustice. As this strike demonstrates, we cannot improve human cages – we must work together to dismantle them and build approaches that keep us safe from all forms of violence. Reallocating funds from OCDC, where it costs $85,000 per year just to imprison one person, to housing, income support and employment, peer support, compassionate mental health care, harm reduction, and transformative justice are just some of the ways we can enhance our collective well-being and safety without caging people.

For Media Interviews in English and French Contact:
Souheil Benslimane
Member, Criminalization and Punishment Education Project
819-592-6469 / jailhotline@gmail.com