Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Rally today in support of Abdilahi Elmi in Ottawa


Ottawa advocates rally behind child refugee who ended-up in foster care, 
was criminalized and now faces deportation to Somalia

Algonquin Territory / Ottawa, 20 August 2019 – Today, advocates in Halifax, Toronto, and other parts of Canada are holding peaceful protests to stand in solidarity with community members and advocates in Edmonton who are calling on Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to stop the scheduled deportation of Mr. Abdilahi Elmi tomorrow on August 21st. Those gathered at a protest at 12:00pm in front of Minister Goodale’s office in Ottawa will demand Mr. Elmi, a former child refugee, not be deported to Somalia where he faces torture, indefinite detention and death.

Canada is failing Mr. Elmi who arrived in 1994 as a child refugee, at the age of ten, after living in a refugee camp with his grandmother for several years. A few years after his arrival, he was removed from his family home and placed in state care. Elmi ended up living on the streets by the age of sixteen, and became involved in the criminal justice system, in part, due to substance use issues that he is now working to manage.

The reason that Elmi faces not only incarceration, but deportation, is the result of neglect within the provincial child welfare system like in the well-documented case of Mr. Abdul Abdi, whose deportation was stayed on 17 June 2018 by Minister Goodale following a Federal Judge’s decision stating that the Canadian Government did not consider Mr. Abdi’s Charter Rights. Mr. Elmi, like Mr. Abdi, was a refugee in state care, but the child welfare agency that was responsible for him did not apply for his citizenship status. According to Aditya Rao, lawyer and member of the Ottawa Sanctuary Network (OSN), “The state has a responsibility to act in the best interests of refugee children in its care. The government has failed Abdullahi Elmi by not ensuring his immigration status was regularized while he was a ward of the state, and they cannot now turn around and penalize him for a mistake they themselves made”. Not only did the state not meet its obligations towards Mr. Elmi, who has been living as a refugee for 24 years, but it also prevented his mom from making an application for him. The federal government had a responsibility for Mr. Elmi’s education and safety, to regularize his status, and to create for him a meaningful path to citizenship, and they failed him at every turn.

On 26 June 2019, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) deemed Mr. Elmi inadmissible citing a clause in Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), which states that any foreign national with a sentence of imprisonment over six months may be deemed inadmissible to the country. While this clause is problematic in and of itself in that it doubly punishes persons convicted of an offence once through the criminal justice system and a second time through the immigration system, it wouldn’t have impacted Mr. Elmi if the child “welfare” system had done its job when they took Mr. Elmi into their custody and made him a ward of the state. Dr. Justin Piché, Associate Professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa and member of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP), notes: “We have a child welfare to prison pipeline in this country, which Indigenous and other racialized people, are subject to at alarming rates. What’s happened to Mr. Elmi is unjust and deporting him will only compound the damage that’s been done. Minister Goodale must put an end to this and stay the deportation of Mr. Elmi similarly to how he stayed Mr. Abdi’s. Furthermore, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Ahmed Hussen, a former refugee himself, needs to display strong leadership and advocate for the creation of more avenues to citizenship for child refugees, including when they are ripped away from their families by the child welfare system”.

Should Mr. Elmi get deported to Somalia it’s likely that the Government of Canada will expose him to great harm. Mr. Elmi doesn’t know anything about his birth father, nor his birth father’s name, antecedents and familial relationships. He doesn’t know the clan in Somalia that he belongs to since he doesn’t know his birth father’s clan and since the acquisition of Somali citizenship is based on a patrilineal system, Mr. Elmi will be severely prejudiced by his removal to that country by Canada. As Mr. Elmi’s mother, Faduma Isse, asserted during a recent press conference, her son “has no family and doesn’t know the language and culture there. I don’t approve of his mistakes, but he would die if he’s sent back to Somalia”. The Somali government is unlikely to release Mr. Elmi to roam the streets of Kismayo or Mogadishu upon arrival in the country if he’s not able to prove that he’s a citizen of that country. Having never held a Somali passport, it’s unlikely that Mr. Elmi will be able to prove his citizenship of Somalia. The likely outcome is that Mr. Elmi will be detained without a criminal charge for a lengthy period time and will only be released at the whim of the government. The possibility that Mr. Elmi will be detained without a criminal charge and face torture and/or be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in Somalia infringes upon Mr. Elmi’s section 7 Charter right. Canada must uphold Mr. Elmi’s human rights by not signing what likely could become his death warrant.

Members of the community concerned about the human rights of refugees are encouraged to participate in this non-violent action organized by Ottawa Sanctuary Network, Criminalization and Punishment Education Project, and Migrante Canada.

To arrange for interviews with organizers and speakers, please contact:
Souheil Benslimane, Member of CPEP and OSN 
souheilabouomar@gmail.com, (819) 592-6469

Friday, August 9, 2019

Statement on Prisoners' Justice Day 2019


Prisoners' Justice Day vigil being held tomorrow at Major's Hill Park to
commemorate deaths in custody and demand an end to injustices behind bars

August 9, 2019 (Algonquin Territory / Ottawa) – Former Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) prisoners will be speaking at a Prisoners’ Justice Day (PJD) vigil taking place tomorrow evening on Saturday, August 10th starting at 7:30pm at Major’s Hill Park. During their remarks on local conditions of confinement, they will also share recommendations for change from women and men currently incarcerated at the provincial jail on Innes Road that were recently published in the second quarterly report of the Jail Accountability & Information Line. Changes are being sought at Ottawa’s jail to prevent others from suffering the same fate of people like Jean Veillette, who died at OCDC this past January. Those gathered at the vigil will also commemorate other people who’ve lost their lives at the Innes Road jail, including Cleve “Cas” Geddes and Justin St. Amour, who were each the focus of coroner’s inquests this past year. Event speakers will be available for media interviews.

The origins of PJD can be traced back to Eddie Nalon, who died alone in a cell located in the segregation unit of Millhaven maximum-security penitentiary on August 10th 1974. A year later, prisoners at the institution observed the first Prisoners’ Justice Day. Following the May 1976 preventable death of Bobby Landers, who was transferred to Millhaven in response to his advocacy for human rights in prison and ended-up in a segregation unit cell where his calls for medical assistance were ignored, the prisoners there issued a communiqué “To All Prisoners and Concerned Peoples from across Canada” on August 10th 1976. In it, they called for a one-day hunger strike demanding an end to solitary confinement and other human rights abuses behind bars.

More than four decades later, organizers behind and beyond the walls across Canada (e.g. Halifax, Kingston, Toronto, Vancouver, etc.) and elsewhere around the world continue to answer the call sent by prisoners at Millhaven to their fellow human beings. On Algonquin Territory / in Ottawa, local advocates are organizing a peaceful vigil at Major’s Hill Park in a show of solidarity with people forcibly confined in cages who are marking the lives, time and human potential needlessly lost to imprisonment, while demanding an end to barbaric spaces like segregation ranges – now known as “structured living units” in Canadian federal penitentiaries.

Along with those once held at OCDC, people who’ve done time in federal penitentiaries and the loved ones of prisoners, will also speak at the vigil to underscore the need to limit the damage of confinement. Survivors of human caging will also discuss the need to create more pathways to freedom that promote community well-being and safety, including for Indigenous justice organizers in Labrador who’ve been criminalized and imprisoned for resisting the erection of a hydro-electric damn at Muskrat Falls that’ll poison their lands and people. In keeping with the history of PJD and in solidarity with Indigenous justice organizers, vigil participants are encouraged to participate in a day-long fast.

The vigil taking place near the United States Embassy will also make links to on-going movements for social justice in the ‘land of the free’ where thousands of migrants seeking a better life – including children – are being held in concentration camps. The event will also mark Black August, which has commemorated the deaths of Black leaders behind bars and involved the study of the history of repression directed towards people of colour that has informed struggles for self-determination since the 1970s.

Members of the community concerned about human rights for all are encouraged to participate in this non-violent action organized by the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project, the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa, the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, and the Millhaven Lifers Liaison Group. Journalists are also welcome to attend.

To arrange for media interviews with former prisoners and their supporters contact:
Justin Piché, PhD - Associate Professor, Department of Criminology, uOttawa

Thursday, August 8, 2019

JAIL hotline releases second quarterly report ahead of Prisoners' Justice Day vigil on August 10th at Major's Hill Park


The Jail Accountability & Information Line releases its
second quarterly report highlighting pressing human rights issues 
at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre

8 August 2019 – Today, the Jail Accountability & Information Line (JAIL), a hotline that takes calls on weekdays from 1:00pm to 4:00pm from people caged at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) seeking support to address human rights issues and information to facilitate their safe re-entry into the community, released its second quarterly report highlighting the challenges faced by prisoners at the provincial jail on Innes Road. During the second quarter of the JAIL hotline’s operations (10 March to 9 June 2019), volunteers took 796 calls, surpassing 659 calls taken during the initiative’s first quarter (10 December 2018 to 9 March 2019). Just three days into its third quarter (12 June 2019), the JAIL hotline surpassed 1,500 calls.

The volume of calls received and the lack of action by the provincial government and the Ministry of the Solicitor General to address issues at OCDC that JAIL hotline callers and volunteers have raised troubles Aaron Doyle, sociology professor at Carleton University and co-founder of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP). He notes: “The Ministry refers us to their existing complaint channels, which clearly aren’t working. The jail’s Community Advisory Board and prisoners’ families have complained for years about problems, from serious deficiencies in medical and mental health care to huge phone bills people pay to stay in touch with their relatives behind bars due to the dysfunctional phone system, but very little has changed”.

As was the case during the JAIL hotline’s first quarter, medical and mental health care were a major area of concern for callers during its second quarter. The lack of medical privacy, the misadministration of medication, delays in accessing opioid substitution therapy and other pressing health care services, along with the lack of continuity in care between community and jail health professionals, continue to be public health issues regularly faced by prisoners at OCDC, most of whom will soon return to live in Eastern Ontario communities. For JAIL hotline Coordinator and Researcher Sarah Speight, the situation necessitates both short-term and long-term solutions. She states: “Moving the responsibility of health care provision at OCDC to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care would create a more seamless transition between treatment received in the jail and care required in the community. This move would also create efficiencies and increase access to essential services. Beyond this, the Government of Ontario as a whole needs to devise more solutions to divert people who are criminalized away from jails and create avenues for provincial prisoners who develop conditions behind bars to access therapeutic spaces in the community. Jail is never therapeutic”.

In a context where the proportion of people presumed innocent and awaiting their day in court behind bars has already exploded in recent decades to the point that they represent nearly 70% of prisoners held in Ontario’s provincial jails and prisons, it’s clear that a crisis in access to justice existed even before Premier Ford and his team made funding cuts to Legal Aid Ontario. Lydia Dobson, Legal Coordinator for the JAIL hotline, explains what’s at stake: “Report after report has documented the fact that Ontario has a bail system that’s unreasonable and sets people up to fail. These cuts will mean that people living in poverty in the province will increasingly not have access to things like Legal Aid cerficates for bail hearings. At the hotline, we’re already seeing more callers requesting information to try to fill the gaps”. Justin Piché, criminology professor at the University of Ottawa and co-founder of CPEP, adds: “If the short-sighted cuts to Legal Aid aren’t reversed by Premier Ford we could see an increase in pre-trial detention, which already represents an affront to justice and is extremely expensive at it stands now”.

A central issue running through the report released today is that many of the challenges OCDC prisoners face are exacerbated by the outdated phone system that doesn’t allow calls to cell phones or phone lines with switch boards. Souheil Benslimane, Lead Coordinator of the JAIL hotline, explains: “In the 21st century, communication is a fundamental human right. The Ministry’s poor phone system contract and punitive policies, coupled with Bell Canada placing profits over people and reasonable service provision, creates a cluster of issues for incarcerated people. It further isolates them from their families. It hinders their access to attaining justice and critical community resources. It creates and exacerbates their medical and mental health conditions when they’re unable to make arrangements to ensure they can gain access to their care providers and prescriptions upon their re-entry into society. If safe reintegration and community safety is one of the Government of Ontario’s preoccupations, then they should make overhauling the telephone system in the province’s jails and prisons a priority by making it free and accessible”.

Today’s report prepared by JAIL hotline volunteers was informed by the observations and recommendations made by people held at OCDC. Among the proposed reforms included in the report are those prepared by women and men in the jail that'll be read at a Prisoners’ Justice Day vigil being held this Saturday, August 10th from 7:30pm to 9:00pm at Major’s Hill Park. Community members who wish to mourn preventable deaths in custody and demand an end to injustices experienced inside sites of human caging, along with members of the press, are welcome to attend.

For media interviews contact:
Souheil Benslimane
Lead Coordinator
Jail Accountability & Information Line
819-592-6469 / jailhotline@gmail.com