Thursday, August 9, 2018

Vigil being held on the eve of Prisoners’ Justice Day to commemorate deaths in custody and demand justice for human rights abuses behind bars


August 9, 2018 (Algonquin Territory / Ottawa)Prisoners’ Justice Day (PJD) emerged as a prisoner-initiated day of non-violent strike action to commemorate the death of Eddie Nalon in the segregation unit of Millhaven maximum-security penitentiary on August 10th 1974. It was first observed in 1975, and in 1976 the prisoners of Millhaven issued a communication calling for one-day hunger strikes in opposition to the use of solitary confinement and in support of prisoners’ rights, in memory of Eddie Nalon and Robert Landers, who also died alone in solitary confinement. Since then, PJD has become an internationally-recognized day of solidarity and action, both inside and outside prison walls, to commemorate deaths in custody and to demand justice for the human rights atrocities that governments and their officials authorize and engage in.

According to the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario, 99 people died in provincial jails and federal penitentiaries in the province between 2014 and 2016. A vigil will be held tonight at 7pm at the Human Rights Monument (corner of Elgin and Lisgar) on the eve of PJD to commemorate these and other deaths behind bars. Following a land acknowledgement and brief introduction to PJD, former prisoners from the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre will speak, while statements by current prisoners will be read by allies in the community. Together they will reflect upon the many human rights issues plaguing provincial jails and prisons, as well as federal penitentiaries and immigration detention centres. Former prisoner and member of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project Souheil Benslimane notes, “incarceration is an inherently dehumanizing experience that subjects people to physical and psychological pain. We need to diminish the use of imprisonment and improve conditions of confinement”. In the latest issue of the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, Shakib Talib Mujahid underscored how this could be done by abandoning punishment to affect a transformation in the “life circumstances” of the criminalized “through social and economic investment”.

The vigil on the eve of PJD is taking place at a time when the new provincial government has yet to issue a statement on whether or not they will follow through on the previous Liberal administration’s plans to build a new and bigger jail in Ottawa. Current and former prisoners, along with their allies in the community, wish to take this opportunity to encourage Premier Ford, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Tibollo and other Ontario Cabinet members to enhance public safety by abandoning jail expansion, committing to improving conditions of confinement and increasing alternatives to imprisonment, and reinvesting the funds saved into community services that will enhance our collective well-being.

Concerned members of the community are encouraged to participate in this non-violent action. Journalists are also welcome to attend.

To arrange for media interviews with former prisoners and their supporters contact: 
Justin Piché, Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, 613-793-1093 or 

Event Organizers: 
Criminalization and Punishment Education Project
Journal of Prisoners on Prisons 
Millhaven Lifers’ Liaison Group 
uOttawa Criminology Graduate Students’ Association

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