Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Media Advisory - Bell Let Us Talk Protest in Ottawa - Imprisonment, Corporate Profits and Mental Health

Wednesday, January 29, 2020
12:00pm – 12:30pm

Bell Place
160 Elgin Street / Ottawa

Souheil Benslimane (Lead Coordinator, Jail Accountability & Information Line)
Farhat Rehman (Member, MOMS / Mothers Offering Mutual Support)
Leah Bell (Member, Overdose Prevention Ottawa)
Michael Spratt (Partner, Abergel Goldstein & Partners LLP)
Joel Harden (Member of Provincial Parliament – Ottawa-Centre)

Despite Bell’s “Let’s Talk” mental health campaign, the phone company makes big money from Ontario’s outdated and predatory jail phone system that causes economic and mental distress to prisoners and people that support them in the community. Imprisonment forcibly separates prisoners from their loved ones and resources in the community, which undermines our collective well-being and safety in the name of protecting society. Phone calls are a lifeline in prisons, but in 2020 Ontario’s jail phone system still doesn’t allow prisoners to call cell phones. Prisoners can only reach their loved ones and community care providers by phone through expensive collect calls that only compound the challenges and anguish faced by people impacted by human caging. Who benefits from this flawed and expensive system? Prison Industrial Complex actors like Bell Canada and the Ministry of the Solicitor General who receives kickbacks from them. The contract for Ontario’s jail phone system is up and there’s an opportunity to put in place a new model that allows prisoners to call the cell phones and landlines of their loved ones, lawyers and community care providers without charging them exorbitant fees.

During this protest that will include short speeches and songs, participants will make the following demands: 
  1. That the Ministry of the Solicitor General and the Ontario Government replaces the current outdated and expensive provincial jail phone system with one that a) makes telecommunication cost-free for Ontario's provincial prisoners and their community supports, b) allows prisoners to call any number in Canada directly – including cellphones, and c) increases or eliminates the 20-minute limit on phone calls. 
  2. That the Government of Ontario promote keeping loved ones connected by reducing the use of human caging through greater investments in initiatives that a) meet the basic needs of all Ontarians (i.e. access to housing, education, employment, health and mental health care, etc.), b) prevent violence and offer access to transformative justice when harm occurs, as well as c) divert and decarcerate people from jail to the extent possible. 
The event will end with participants taking concrete actions to pressure the Ontario Government and Bell Canada to make immediate changes to the province’s jail phone system that are consistent with their stated corporate objectives. A similar rally is being held tomorrow at 1pm in Toronto at Bell's headquarters and a petition including the demands above has already amassed more than 2,500 signatures.

Souheil Benslimane

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