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

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