Sunday, June 28, 2020

We Keep Each Other Safe: A Community Forum to Organize Alternatives to Policing on Algonquin Territory (Ottawa)


Sunday, June 28, 2020
3:00pm - 6:00pm

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This online community forum features three panels that prioritize the voices of people that are most often targeted by police, and other forms of state violence and oppression, who will discuss how to build safe communities on Algonquin Territory / in Ottawa through alternatives to policing. The event will begin with an opening ceremony and land acknowledgement by Michel J. Penney (Yellow Quill reserve of the Saulteaux Nation), along with welcoming remarks by Souheil Benslimane (Criminalization and Punishment Education Project). Speakers include: Andi Vicente (Ottawa Sanctuary City Network / Anakbayan Ottawa); Carling Miller (Kind Space); Gabrielle Fayant (Assembly of Se7en Generations – A7G); Oli Leblanc; Sabrina Kayed (Planned Parenthood); Laelem Abebe (Produced by Youth); Vanessa Dormain (Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition); Terhas Ghebretcle; Roksana H.; Mumina Egal (Herongate Tenant Coalition / Collective Justice Centre); Leah Bell (Overdose Prevention Ottawa / POWER); Jackie Stol (Anakbayan Canada); Sakinna Gairey (Black Like Me); and Marcelo Saavedra-Vargas (FFF / Extinction Rebellion / Sandy Hill Housing Co-op / Eagle and Condor Collective / Artists with No Borders / OPIRG). Recordings from prison by Jason and Shane Maurice Chartrand will also be shared. The panels will be moderated by Ayan Tani (Criminalization and Punishment Education Project / Black Thots), Muna Mohamed and Mia Beijer (Future Rising Ottawa), and Morissa Ellis (AIDS Committee of Ottawa).

This online community forum will explore how we can keep each other safe through community-led alternatives to policing. Throughout the event, participants will engage with various questions, including:

  • How do you define safety, safe communities, and safe spaces? 
  • What makes you unsafe? 
  • What does a world without police mean to you? 
  • What would community-led alternatives to policing need to include in order to promote accountability, effectively meet the needs of community members, and transform relationships and structures of power to enhance our collective well-being and safety? 
  • How can we centre racial, economic, gender, sexual, disability, environmental and other forms of social justice, along with the principles of universal access, in these community-led alternatives? 
  • What do we need to consider when we are engaging volunteers and participants that would serve as responders to calls for support? 
  • What kind of training should we provide to volunteers? 
  • What trusted community organizations can support this training? 
  • How can we prioritize the safety and well-being of people participating in community-led alternatives to policing? 
  • What do we need to consider when bringing together a group of people responsible for creating alternatives to policing? 
  • Who needs to be reflected in the group of people working on creating these alternatives? 
  • How should this group of people make decisions and engage the public? 
  • How do we make sure these alternatives are sustainable?

Recent murders of Black and Indigenous people have left so many of us in a state of mourning and rage. Many of us are looking for ways to protect and support one another beyond this moment. The last few weeks are fueling and giving urgency to the longstanding call to defund and abolish police who in Ottawa receive $358 million in funding, which is more than the budget allocated to transportation, libraries, and public health combined ($316 million). These conversations have led to countless discussions between friends and family about the need for a community-led alternative to policing. While these struggles and discussions are not new, we can use this moment to move forward and build an abolitionist movement that protects us all and creates the communities of care in which safety is not based on state violence or the threat of state violence. No one should be in a position where they are forced to call the police to protect their loved ones when encounters with police officers are harmful and fatal in many cases. We cannot keep paying for a militarized force that targets, harms, injures, and kills the people we care for.

* click here *

#NOPE / No Ottawa Police Expansion
#YES / Yes to Equality and Supports

Criminalization and Punishment Education Project
Carceral Studies Research Collective

Souheil Benslimane
Member, Criminalization and Punishment Education Project
819-592-6469 /

Monday, June 22, 2020

CPEP Demands City Hall Defund Ottawa Police Services and Plans Upcoming Community Forum on Alternatives to Policing


Advocates renew calls to defund policing ahead of today’s 
Ottawa Police Services Board meeting and plan community forum 
on alternatives to take place on June 28th

22 June 2020 (unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin Territory / Ottawa) – The Ottawa Police Services (OPS) has been embroiled in scandals for years, most recently over the deaths of Adbirahman Abdi – a young Black man – and Greg Ritchie – a young Indigenous man – at the hands of its police officers, violent speech by its uniformed members and Ottawa Police Association president Matt Skof, and other discreditable conduct. Yet, despite the on-going harms inflicted upon racialized communities and residents year after year by OPS members, the police force continues to receive additional resources from the city, including $81-million just for the first phase of a new policing campus slatted for construction in the south end of the city and additional funds to hire 100 more officers. In light of the continued budget increases for the Ottawa Police, CPEP member Farnaz Farhang asks: “What exactly would it take for the city to even place a moratorium on policing expenditures, rather than continually rewarding police violence?”

Ahead of today’s Ottawa Police Services Board meeting, the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP) stands shoulder-to-shoulder with advocates across the city and elsewhere demanding an end to policing, which is a racist colonial practice. CPEP believes that if Ottawa’s mayor, councillors, and officials are serious about ending racism and enhancing community safety, they must take steps to defund, disarm, and dismantle the OPS. The city must also support disbanding the Ottawa Police Association that erects barriers to holding officers accountable for the harms they inflict upon others, including their own members. CPEP member Ayan Tani states: “It’s past time that the City of Ottawa defund its police service to stop the violence they routinely inflict upon residents, particularly Black, Indigenous, Muslim and other racialized people. This would free-up resources that belong to our communities and need to be invested in our people to address housing, food, income, health and mental health, and other forms of insecurity experienced by many living on this part of Algonquin Territory so that we can all be safer and live well”.

CPEP’s call to defund the OPS comes on the heels of the “March for Justice for Adbirahman | Calls to Action for Black Lives” protest that took place this past Saturday, along with countless other actions across the world demanding an end to the deaths of Black, Indigenous and other racialized human beings at the hands of police. As calls to defund police have become part of mainstream discussion and debates on how to enhance our collective well-being and safety, there is a need for those most targeted by police violence in our city to be able to identify, develop, and implement community-led alternatives to policing. It is with this in mind that CPEP is organizing an online forum entitled We Keep Each Other Safe: A Community Forum to Organize Alternatives to Policing on Algonquin Territory (Ottawa). The event – taking place on Sunday, June 28th from 3:00pm to 6:00pm and broadcast live via CPEP’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages – will feature interventions from local residents and groups on what community-led alternatives are required to meet human needs, promote safety and accountability, and transform the ways we relate to each other every day and respond to social harm.

Souheil Benslimane, a CPEP member, underscores the urgency of having such conversations and the need for them to lead to fundamental, rather than incremental, changes at this critical moment in history: “Policing is an inherently violent and racist practice. It kills. Communities striving for liberation and self-determination are not served by racist, white-supremacist, sexist, homophobic, classist, ableist and oppressive institutions like the OPS. We need and demand better than the violent status quo imposed upon us all without our consent. Through this forum, CPEP is providing one of many platforms needed now for visions to emerge on how to build a just city where all have access to the resources required to thrive and be safe”.

English and French Media Contact:
Souheil Benslimane
Member, Criminalization and Punishment Education Project
819-592-6469 / 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Updates & demands from women prisoners at OCDC as the JAIL hotline marks 18 months in operation


Systemic discrimination and draconian pandemic reforms reported by 
Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre prisoners to the JAIL hotline this past quarter 
underscore the need to defund human caging

10 June 2020 (unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin Territory / Ottawa) – This morning at 10:00am, the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP) and Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project (TPRP) are livestreaming statements (click here to watch the event) from criminalized women forcibly confined and subject to cis-heteropatriarchal state violence at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC). The human beings on the women’s side of the Innes Road jail in Ottawa will share their experiences of systemic discrimination and the impacts of draconian pandemic reforms issued in the name of public health over the past few months. Among the issues that will be raised during today’s event is that despite being obligated by law to accommodate the creed-related needs of prisoners, OCDC’s administration refuses to allow incarcerated Indigenous women access to cultural and spiritual activities. Brittany, a women confined at the Ottawa jail, explains: “We’d like to see smudging ceremonies brought back because we have a right to our religious beliefs and practices, and the ministry isn’t following through with that at all”.

Today’s action follows a hunger strike undertaken by 14 men at OCDC. Women at the Innes Road jail supported all hunger strikers’ demands and are calling for additional changes, including access to programming that reflects their intersecting identities, appropriate medical and mental health services, and an improved canteen list. Incarcerated women have also reported that the jail does not accommodate the needs of vegetarian people to the point of undue hardship by routinely forcing them to eat a vegan diet. Furthermore, OCDC often denies incarcerated women who want to stop using drugs access to appropriate drug substitution treatment and further stigmatizes them, which pushes people further to the margins and prevents them from caring for themselves. The conditioner and other personal care products provided by the institution are substandard and overpriced. The jail suspended the sale of makeup on the commissary. Sarah Speight explains the significance of their demands: “While some of these issues may appear unimportant, the impact of these deprivations weighs heavily on the women who are trying to cope with the trauma and state-sanctioned violence associated with the harmful practice of human caging”.

Statements from the women’s side of OCDC are being issued 18 months to the day that CPEP launched the Jail Accountability & Information Line (JAIL) in the midst of the coroner’s inquest into the preventable death of Cleve “Cas” Geddes. Since beginning its operations on 10 December 2018, the JAIL hotline has taken more than 5,000 calls from OCDC prisoners and their loved ones to address human rights issues and barriers to safe re-entry into the community they routinely face. Today’s event is just the latest effort by JAIL hotline staff and callers to bring attention to the issues facing criminalized people held at OCDC, including systemic discrimination.

In this past quarter – the sixth in the JAIL hotline’s history – the iniative worked with Muslim people held at the Innes Road jail to challenge the practice of forcing them to either observe their religious fasts or fulfill their medical needs by taking their medication during fasting hours during the holy month of Ramadan. As noted by CPEP legal counsel Fathima Cader on 7 May 2020, when Muslim prisoners were still facing systemic religious discrimination in the form of unflexible institutional routines, “No one should be forced to choose between their faith and their health”. With the work of the JAIL hotline, supported by Cader and 60 organizations, the OCDC administration and Ministry of the Solicitor General agreed to distribute medications to Muslim prisoners outside of fasting hours, rectifying a discriminatory practice that also took place during the holy month of Ramadan in 2019.

When a group of prisoners held in the 3B maximum unit at OCDC initiated a hunger strike on 3 June 2020 to demand healthy food, better access to cleaning and hygiene products, and additional ways to cope with restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic such as frequent lockdowns in the name of promoting physical distancing, the JAIL hotline had no choice but to stand in solidarity with them. With the support of numerous people, including Ottawa-Centre MPP Joel Harden, the hunger strikers – most of whom are racialized men that have experienced racism and other forms of discrimination throughout their lives – negotiated an agreement within 31 hours with the jail’s administration and the ministry to have many of their reasonable requests adopted. As a result, access to necessities like meals that follow the religious specifications of Muslim and Jewish prisoners was restored. Better access to hygiene products, as well as reading materials and television to cope with the heightened pains of imprisonment during pandemic times, was also secured. The JAIL hotline continues to monitor the implementation of the agreement the hunger strikers negotiated with the jail’s administration and the ministry in good faith.

As the JAIL hotline begins its seventh quarter, staff are working diligently with a group of Indigenous prisoners confined at our local colonial jail to ensure their access to sacred medicines and traditional ceremonies. It is urgent that OCDC’s administration and the ministry ensure Indigenous cultural practices like the 21 June 2020 change of seasons ceremonies can be observed, unlike the past three change of season ceremonies that were not allowed to proceed ahead without explanation. Food is also at the centre of the struggles Indigenous prisoners face against systemic discrimination as they are being denied access to culturally specific diets afforded to adherents to other forms of spirituality. This denial of culturally appropriate food contributes to the uffering inflicted upon them through imprisonment and other genocidal, colonial practices. As noted in their 5 June 2020 statement, Indigenous prisoners at OCDC have shared “our concerns with the wider public with the hopes that the OCDC administration will start respecting our identities and humanity, and accommodate our cultural, spiritual and dietary needs”. It is incumbent upon settlers to support their struggles for justice within and beyond prison walls by contacting the jail’s superintendent by phone at 613-824-6080 or email at to demand change.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, prisoners at OCDC and elsewhere are facing more austere conditions of confinement under the pretext of public health such as diminished access to visitation, phone calls, yard and other features of incarceration that can alleviate the inherent pains of human caging. Justin Piché, a CPEP member and Associate Professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa who has been tracking the impact of the pandemic on imprisonment notes: “What such developments again illustrate is that when afforded an opportunity, carceral institutions clawback the very things that contribute to the well-being of prisoners, which ultimately undermines the collective well-being and safety of our communities where incarcerated people come from and to which they’ll eventually return”. This observation made firsthand millions of times before by millions of people deprived of their liberty throughout the world and further substantiated by scholarly studies over the past several decades continues to inform the work by CPEP, the TPRP, and other allies who seek to reduce the use and harms of imprisonment, while working towards the defunding and eventual abolition of human caging and other carceral state apparatuses such as police so that healthy communities can emerge and transformative justice can flourish.

Reflecting on the work of the JAIL hotline over the past year and a half, Lead Coordinator Souheil Benslimane states: “Despite the hotline’s continued solidarity work with people caged in sites of human confinement to alleviate some of the harm inherent in carceral practices, we approach our accountability work from an abolitionist perspective and inform our struggles with the histories of Black slavery abolitionists on Turtle Island and beyond. They didn’t believe that slavery could be reformed – it had to be abolished. Just like slavery, the OCDC and all sites of human caging cannot be reformed as envisaged by progressive supporters of imprisonment. As people living on unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin territory, we must use every ounce of privilege we have to stand in solidarity with those impacted by the Canadian carceral state continued colonial mission, which is organized around and sanctions the use of violence through carcerality, border imperialism, cis-heteropatriarchy, and other oppressive social and political structures. These harmful systems threaten the well-being and safety of us all. We must dismantle this inherently violent, racist, ableist, classist, and patriarchal practice, to collectively build de-colonial futures free from violence in all its forms where everyone can live in peace”.

For Media Interviews Contact:

Souheil Benslimane
Lead Coordinator, Jail Accountability & Information Line
819-592-6469 /

Justin Piché, PhD
Associate Professor, Criminology, University of Ottawa
613-793-1093 /

Friday, June 5, 2020

Update - hunger strike ends at OCDC, the struggle continues

Click here at 2:00pm to join the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project and the Toronto Prisoners' Rights Project as they livestream updates on the hunger strike that's ended at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre and messages of solidarity.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Statement on the Hunger Strike at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre

Click here at 10am to join the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project and the Toronto Prisoners' Rights Project as they livestream a statement from Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre hunger striker Deepan Budlakoti.


Hunger strikers at the Innes Road jail demand healthy food,
better access to cleaning and hygiene products, and additional ways
to cope with restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic

4 June 2020 (Ottawa / unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin Territory) – This morning at 10am, the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP) will livestream a statement on their Facebook page by Deepan Budlakoti, 1 of 14 men currently imprisoned in the max unit at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention (OCDC) who’ve been on hunger strike since yesterday at 8:00am. Mr. Budlakoti explains the main issues driving the hunger strikers’ refusal to eat: “…we’re in the care of the ministry and we’re supposed to be treated with dignity, respect and professionalism, yet we’re not even provided for as humans. We’re looked at as animals. The basic necessity of life is food. How can you not provide someone with proper food. They [i.e. the staff and administration] go home, they eat their own meals and have the ability to choose. We’re supposed to be protected by the constitution, but we’re being treated as if we’re not human—as a number”.

This action is being supported by other prisoners at the Innes Road jail who also have demands, including access to PPE for everyone and more canteen items for diabetic people. The 14 hunger strikers – most of whom are racialized men that have experienced racism and other forms of discrimination throughout their lives – are engaging in this act of resistance for a number of reasons. First, prisoners on the regular institutional diet report receiving meals made by Compass Group that are below the April 2019 standards outlined in the Canada Food Guide which are, at times, served frozen. Prisoners on the Halal institutional diet contracted out to Sepha Foods report receiving less meat and lower quality food than other people held at OCDC. Moreover, they haven’t been served meat since the new trays began on May 25. The portions are inadequate, the food is processed, sides have been replaced with fillers like corn, and there’s no fresh vegetables or fruits, with little variety. Prisoners on the Kosher institutional diet report getting less food, peanut butter shortages, and no dessert items. The issues faced by those on Halal and Kosher diets have forced some of them to choose between following their religious obligations or eating better, but still low quality food made by Compass Group, which is the same corporation that provides food services to educational institutions like the University of Ottawa under the Chartwells banner.

Beyond food matters, the hunger strikers are concerned about their lack of access to liquid antibacterial soap, hygiene products such as toothpaste, body wash and lotion, and canteen items like oatmeal and other healthier foods to supplement the privatized sub-standard meals provide to them by the institution, which are important to maintain their health, particularly in pandemic times. The hunger strikers also report not having access to basic amenities to cope with the pains of imprisonment such as access to magazine subscriptions, adequate yard time, sufficient TV channels and TV time, and alternatives to cancelled visits with loved ones. Further, they’re unable to receive more than 6 pictures by mail at a time. They’re also frustrated by the about the amount of time they can decide to spend in and out of cells, which limits their ability to physically isolate on a range where some cells are double-bunked despite the unit being under its official capacity of 24 set by the ministry.

While some of these issues may appear unimportant to some, the impact of these deprivations on top of the restrictions imposed by the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General during the pandemic are profound for hunger strikers at the Innes Road jail. They, like other human beings forcibly confined in other units at OCDC and other Ontario provincial jails and prisons, are experiencing profound insecurity associated with the heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 in congregate settings. In the name of public health, those who haven’t been diverted or released from provincial custody have endured significant psychological and physical trauma while incarcerated as a result of losing access to visits from their loved ones and jail volunteers, frequent lockdowns associated with labour disputes and carried-out for the purposes of physical distancing, segregation placements taking place under the guise of medical isolation, and other draconian policies. It’s in this context that the hunger strikers have made the following demands:
  1. To alleviate food discrimination and the lack of protein currently provided by the Halal diet, those receiving Halal meals must be provided peanut butter and Cracker Barrel cheese everytime a meal is served.
  2. People who receive the Kosher diet must be provided with their original four peanut butters daily, as well as their Kosher bread indefinitely to meet their nutritional needs.
  3. TVs should be left on until 2:30am due to COVID-19. 
  4. More new TV channels must be considered as stated by the Deputy Minister’s office. 
  5. Lotion must be provided to all of us on a weekly basis in a 4 ounce container based on the sole fact that there’s no lotion available on canteen, which has been an on-going issue. 
  6. 4 ounce containers of body wash or liquid antibacterial hand soap must be provided per individual on the living unit weekly so we can try to keep our hands clean during this pandemic. 
  7. Apple variety rotation, orange variety rotation and additional fruits must be provided (e.g. pears, peaches, prunes, etc). 
  8. Vegetables must be provided on the side with meals (e.g. cucumbers, green peppers, carrots, broccoli, etc.). These items must be provided as per the ministry’s policy that says that the meals they serve to prisoners must exceed or match the 2019 Canada Food Guide specifications. 
  9. Magazine and book subscriptions implementation must happen ASAP as per ministry policy to facilitate our access to our reading materials at a fair cost and to help preserve our sanity.
  10. Increase access to outdoor activities and yard.
  11. Provide haircuts or the tools necessary to cut hair as per ministry policy.
  12. Provide alternatives to visits such as video conference calls, but only as an interim measure as in-person visitations need to be reinstated as soon as Ontario enters the second stage of reopening during the pandemic.
  13. Allow us more access to our cells during dayroom activities to allow us to physically isolate when needed. 
  14. Increase the 6 pictures per envelope limit.
  15. Stop displaying items on the canteen list that are out of stock.
  16. Increase the number of healthy items on the commissary such as oatmeal. 
  17. Decrease or eliminate processed food from our diets.
In response to the hunger strike that’s begun at OCDC, Ottawa-Centre MPP Joel Harden states: “…people are making reasonable demands. Many haven’t had their day in court after months or even years, and COVID-19 has made things even worse. Everyone in Ontario deserves safety, dignity and respect”.

Souheil Benslimane, Lead Coordinator of the Jail Accountability & Information Line (JAIL) which has been taking calls from people held at OCDC since December 2018 and works with them to address the human rights issues and community re-entry barriers they routinely face, adds: “We’re keeping people behind bars and subjecting them to barbaric conditions of confinement in the midst of a pandemic that has the potential to significantly alter or end their lives under the misguided assumption that keeping them locked-up makes our communities safer. How does cutting people off from their families and treating them in such dehumanizing ways contribute to this goal? We need to stop hurting each other and defund state institutions that continually fail to live-up to their stated objectives like police and prisons. How is it that their systemic failures always lead to bigger budgets, bigger infrastructure, and more resources as if that’s ever solved anything? We need to work towards ending human caging and retributive practices now. We need to also build capacity to respond to social harm in transformative ways that bring those directly impacted together where it’s their desire to do so in order to be heard, to identify and meet their respective needs, to promote accountability, and to put into motion plans to dismantle dominant social structures that give rise to violence to actually produce the societal conditions required for our collective well-being and safety”.

In the midst of the hunger strike and the on-going pandemic, members of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project and their allies like the Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project remain committed to working with criminalized people to reduce the use and harms of imprisonment until such time that sites of human caging are widely seen as obsolete. This requires building-up people and communities, while tearing down walls to ensure safety for all. At this time, such work also requires encouraging people to stand in solidarity with prisoners at the Innes Road jail by calling OCDC’s Acting Superintendent Mike Wood at 613-824-6080 or emailing him at to ensure the reasonable demands of the hunger strikers are met.

For media interviews contact:
Souheil Benslimane
Lead Coordinator, Jail Accountability & Information Line
Member, Criminalization and Punishment Education Project
819-592-6469 /