Thursday, July 30, 2020

Legal notice served to OCDC in support of the human rights of Indigenous prisoners


More than 70 civil society organizations endorse legal notice demanding that the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre respect the human rights of Indigenous prisoners

30 July 2020 (unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin Territory) – This morning, counsel for the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP) delivered a legal notice to the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) demanding the jail respects its legal responsibilities to accommodate the spiritual and cultural needs of incarcerated Indigenous persons within two weeks (see pages 1-4 / 5-8). The legal notice is endorsed by more than 70 civil society organizations including the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and 6 prominent advocates for Indigenous justice. It comes only a few days after prisoners ended the second prisoner hunger strike at the provincial jail in as many months. During this strike, prisoners including Indigenous men and women presented the OCDC administration and the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General (MSG) several lists of demands. A list of 9 demands was issued by Indigenous prisoners. Although the jail did not respond to the hunger strikers’ recent demands, OCDC must now redress the human rights violations experienced by Indigenous prisoners within two weeks or face legal action.

Erica Brazeau and Marissa Schoenfelt explain the discriminatory treatment they endure: “We are native women confined to OCDC and we want our culture back. They take away our medicines that we truly believe heal. They took away our cultural ceremonies and for that we are very upset. Not only does OCDC disrespects our culture and our spirituality, they make us do mandatory strip searches every two weeks in front of each other without suspicion. This feels like sexual assault”. Mukwoh Land, an Ojibway and Inuit man imprisoned at OCDC, sees the violations Indigenous persons face at the jail as being part the ongoing colonialism and genocide Indigenous peoples face when dealing with all levels of government within the colonial Canadian state. He asserts: “Similarly to how the federal government claims to be dedicated to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples while simultaneously committing genocide and other forms of state-sanctioned violence and repression against us, OCDC is another Canadian institution that enforces anti-Indigenous state violence and systemic discrimination under the veil of safety. The jail must respect our cultures and spiritualities as they claim in their policies”.

Dr. Pamela Palmater – Mi’kmaq lawyer, Chair of Indigenous Governance, and Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the Ryerson University – echoes Mr. Land’s understanding and takes this opportunity to reiterate the call to release all Indigenous peoples forcibly confined in colonial sites of human caging. She states: “Canada has been found guilty of historic and ongoing genocide against Indigenous peoples, and the ever-increasing incarceration rates are a core part of genocide. These grave human rights abuses against Indigenous peoples must stop. We should be urgently acting to decarcerate Indigenous peoples – especially women and youth – in all prisons, jails and youth corrections, and providing much-needed social supports like housing and family reunification measures. We must also centre the voices of those who are incarcerated and hold governments to account to ensure their human rights are met while in these institutions”.

Fathima Cader, counsel of CPEP, reminds OCDC that “access to spiritual programming is a right, not a privilege. The Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre has claimed it has increased spiritual/cultural counselling and programming for people being held at OCDC, but that is not the reality on the ground according to prisoners at the jail. Now, OCDC is simply being asked to comply with the laws and policies it is already supposed to be compliant with. Courts and governmental bodies have long condemned the challenges faced by Indigenous prisoners. Canada’s staggering level of incarceration of Indigenous peoples is a widescale human rights issue, part of Supreme Court of Canada’s own finding that colonization has been devastating for Indigenous communities”.

CPEP believes that the most effective way to alleviate the harm caused by incarceration to Indigenous peoples is to immediately release all Indigenous prisoners from colonial prisons. However, as explains Souheil Benslimane – Lead Coordinator of the Jail Accountability & Information Line, “people that are not locked-up need to engage in solidarity work with all prisoners as long as human cages exist to echo and amplify their calls for justice, recognition, and dignity within the systems that need to be abolished and replaced by healing ways of relating to each other”.

For English and French Media Interviews Contact:
Souheil Benslimane
Lead Coordinator, Jail Accountability & Information Line
819-592-6469 /

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Hunger strike ends at OCDC as the struggle to end carceral violence continues


Prisoners end the hunger strike at the Ottawa jail for health reasons, but continue 
 the protest while facing retribution for defending their human rights

28 July 2020 (unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin Territory) – In a call for recognition and justice, people imprisoned at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) organized and initiated a hunger strike the morning of July 22nd to protest oppressive conditions at the jail and in the wider community. They called upon the jail and the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General (MSG) to meet their basic demands such as adequate access to soap, conditioner, edible and nutritious food, along with increased access to reading material. Dozens of prisoners abstained from eating and some stopped taking their prescribed medications to protest the disenfranchisement and violence they face at Ottawa’s provincial site of human caging and in society at large. This hunger strike took a severe toll on the health of many OCDC prisoners who participated in the action, especially those with pre-existing health conditions, who saw their health degrade more rapidly.

When the latest hunger strike began at the Ottawa jail, the Ministry claimed it has procedures in place for when prisoners refuse meals. The hunger strikers confirm that the procedures they have in place amount to torture and punishment. The OCDC responded to prisoners expressing their constitutional rights by subjecting all hunger strikers to 24-hour lockdown during the 5-day action that ended at noon on July 26th, while threatening others with segregation. Both practices have been denounced by judges in Canadian courts. The use of authoritarian tools to stifle the protest and uphold the oppressive status quo is reprehensible, particularly when much of what was demanded by the hunger strikers could easily be resolved through bargaining in good faith, rather than repression.

During the recent hunger strike, it again became evident how imprisonment upholds oppressive structures through the colonial, racist and patriarchal violence it levels against incarcerated women for merely claiming their most basic rights. In response to the participation of a number of women in the hunger strike, OCDC increased an Indigenous woman’s security classification and threatened to withhold live saving prescription medications such as methadone from others while allies gathered to show solidarity outside of the jail on June 24th. Denying the existence of systemic racisms within its walls, making degrading and humiliating threats to prisoners, and engaging in censorship by blocking local and national news networks and newspapers from the institution were some of the other forms of retribution faced by the hunger strikers.

Aside from the letter written by Ottawa-Centre MPP Joel Harden and Official Opposition Critic for the MSG Kevin Yarde to Solicitor General Sylvia Jones urging her to meet the strikers’ demands, more than 180 people sent emails to the Minister and several other called her, but to no avail. The jail, the Ministry and the Government of Ontario is ignoring the strikers’ plea for less harmful jail conditions. They, along with policing authorities, are also ignoring calls for broader systemic change challenging the root causes of their imprisonment, including the demands made by Roxanne Draper who seeks an end to policing and imprisonment – two systems that collaborate to target people who are poor and who are experiencing homelessness, along with other issues that require investments in people and communities to end inequality, not cuffs and cages that sustain it.

Despite the hunger strike ending, prisoners and their allies on the outside are committed to pursuing all necessary avenues to centre the plights and experiences of prisoners in the struggle against colonial, racist, patriarchal, and punitive injustice. As this strike demonstrates, we cannot improve human cages – we must work together to dismantle them and build approaches that keep us safe from all forms of violence. Reallocating funds from OCDC, where it costs $85,000 per year just to imprison one person, to housing, income support and employment, peer support, compassionate mental health care, harm reduction, and transformative justice are just some of the ways we can enhance our collective well-being and safety without caging people.

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

Friday, July 24, 2020

Rally in solidarity with hunger strikers at the Ottawa jail today at 10am


Solidarity rally being held today at 10am at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre in support of more than 70 hunger strikers at the jail

24 July 2020 (unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin Territory) – Today marks the third day of the second hunger strike at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) in less that two months. Members of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP) and other community members will rally in front of OCDC today at 10:00am in support of the demands made by more than 70 hunger strikers at the Ottawa jail. Their demands are supported by others within the jail including the womxn at OCDC and beyond, with a group of prisoners at the Central East Correctional Centre (CECC) in Lindsay, incarcerated people held at the Burnside jail in Nova Scotia, and others across Canada also demanding prisons change while pursuing alternatives to human caging. Their demands highlight the jail’s inability to fulfill the basic needs of prisoners, let alone deal with the complex social problems it’s supposed to tackle. The prisoners’ experiences also reflect the colonialism, anti-Blackness, ableism, xenophobia, authoritarianism, and other oppressions enforced and reproduced by sites of human caging like OCDC.

Indigenous drummers will kick-off the event in the hopes that Indigenous prisoners, who OCDC denies access to their cultural and spiritual rights and practices, hear the drums. While OCDC prisoners don’t believe sites of human caging can be Indigenized, they’re demanding that so long as imprisonment exists everyone should be able to practice their cultures, spiritualities, and religions while incarcerated, especially Indigenous peoples whose land we gratefully exist upon and who are survivors of Canadian genocide, colonialism, and state violence.

Hunger strikers and rally participants alike are demanding change in light of OCDC’s harmful policies and practices, which are forcing prisoners to put their health and well-being at heightened risk of harm. Concerned community members will gather to show the strikers that they’re not forgotten, despite the walls and the fences that keep them hidden from sight, which make them more vulnerable to state violence. Aside from refusing to eat, many prisoners are also refusing to digest their prescription medication. Justin Piché, an Associate Professor in the Department of Criminology at the University of Ottawa and CPEP member, notes the seriousness of the hunger strikers’ actions and consequences of provincial government duplicity having not honoured the terms of the June 4th agreement that ended the previous hunger strike at OCDC: “The fact that the human beings at the Innes Road jail feel that they again need to hunger strike and, in some cases, need to stop using their medications to be taken seriously is particularly alarming since some of their prescriptions treat serious diseases and illnesses such as diabetes, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Ministry of the Solicitor General is forcing prisoners to go to extreme lengths to impact change and they need to not only secure an agreement as quickly as possible with the hunger strikers, they need to honour its terms”.

Hours before the protest that will honour the life of Abdirahman Abdi and denounce racism, CPEP members are gathering to be in solidarity with Indigenous, Black, and other prisoners at the jail who are currently suffering from oppression. CPEP member Souheil Benslimane explains the importance of such action at this time: “Racialized people are fed up with being targeted by state violence. We can’t understand the uprising at the Ottawa jail as an insular event. It’s an inextricable part of the wider revolt against state tools of violence, racism, and oppression, which has millions across the world calling for the defunding and the abolition of policing. The jail is an extension of and works in tandem with the violent and repressive system that’s policing, and we also need to divest from imprisonment in order to invest in people and communities. The need to enhance our collective well-being and safety demands it”.

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Hunger strike begins at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre


People imprisoned at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre begin a hunger strike after the jail failed to honour the agreement that brought a previous hunger strike to an end on June 4th

22 July 2020 (unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin Territory) – Today, people incarcerated at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) began a hunger strike demanding immediate changes to jail conditions. This action follows a 31-hour hunger strike initiated on June 3rd during which OCDC prisoners demanded healthier food, hygiene products, and increased access to reading materials and television. The strike ended on June 4th following “successful” negotiations between strikers and the jail administration, who committed to meeting the striker’s demands. More than a month and a half later, OCDC has failed to follow through on meeting their obligations under the agreement they made with the hunger strikes.

In response, people incarcerated at OCDC have reinstated their hunger strike on both the men’s and womxn’s sides of the jail, and issued a new set of demands. This morning at 10:00am, the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP) will be livestreaming statements from people incarcerated at the Ottawa jail on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube (note: the livestream will be pinned at the top of each of our social media platforms for viewing). In these statement, confined persons outline longstanding issues leading up to this strike including issues with the food system, inadequate cultural supports, poor medical services, and systemic discrimination based on gender, race, mental and physical ability, and other determinants of identity. They will also share their collective demands for change and additional demands highlighting issues impacting incarcerated women, Indigenous, Black, and other people of colour behind bars, and those made vulnerable by the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General (MSG) in the context of a global pandemic. Their demands can be read here and will be published on our website following today’s event. CPEP is also organizing a rally in solidarity with the hunger strikers in front of OCDC this Friday, July 24th at 10:00am (click here for details).

OCDC is among the many institutions that perpetuate and enforce colonial and patriarchal state-sanctioned violence. Erica Brazeau, a Métis woman incarcerated at OCDC, explains: “…not only does OCDC disrespect our culture and our spirituality, they make us do mandatory strip searches every two weeks in front of each other without suspicion. This feels like sexual assault”. Instead of expanding its capacity to control, traumatize, injure, and kill Indigenous peoples through imprisonment, the Government of Ontario must immediately enact measures to release all Indigenous prisoners, beginning with women and young people. In the interim, OCDC and the Ministry must meet their demands for changes to jail conditions.

Aside from its inherent anti-Indigeneity, OCDC and a number of its staff engage in anti-Black violence, xenophobia, and authoritarianism. Eid Aden has been imprisoned at the OCDC for 3 years. He is a Somali man who lives with mental health illnesses. He informed the Jail Accountability & Information Line that the guards “call me names and make fun of my hair. Sometimes they call me a retard and I would like them to change that and talk to me normally instead of calling me names and telling me to go back to my country, and calling me a piece of shit”. In the midst of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, when Black peoples are leading the struggle for the complete eradication of anti-Blackness, OCDC tries to stifle Mr. Aden’s right to protest and express himself freely. When he drew “BLM” on his shirt, he alleges that the guards threatened him, denied that racism exists at OCDC and physically assaulted him. He also alleges that when the OCDC guards had their knee on his kneck, Mr. Aden repeated Eric Garner’s famous sentence, which Mr. Garner uttered 11 times before being killed by the police: “I can’t breathe”. Mr. Aden’s demands are included in the materials CPEP is publishing today.

In addition to challenging the deep structural roots of imprisonement, prisoners who are forced by the MSG to expose themselves to harm by engaging in a hunger strike in order to be heard by the public are also demanding the most basic necessities of life. An anonymous OCDC prisoner declares that he has “rashes and dry skin. The lack of hygiene is shocking and outrageous”. Kyle Bancroft, a person living with a disability who has been confined at the OCDC for the last 35 months, adds: “in the last 81 days, OCDC refused to give me a shower assisted by a personal support worker (PSW) for 45 days, despite that the PSW comes into the institution daily… I spent 12 days with no clean clothes”.

The hunger strikers’ demands were echoed with some variations throughout the jail and beyond. Prisoners at the Central East Correctional Centre (CECC) also issued a list of demands in solidarity with the OCDC hunger strikers, which can also be found on our website. CPEP will continue to work alongside people behind bars to end the inherently violent practice of human caging and the oppressive systems it upholds.

For Media Interviews Contact:
Souheil Benslimane 
Lead Coordinator, Jail Accountability & Information Line
819-592-6469 / 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Campaign Demands Ontario Invest More in Communities, Not Jails


Advocacy Groups Initiate Campaign to Redirect Ontario’s Recent $500 Million Investment in Jail Staff and Infrastructure Towards Community Supports

14 July 2020 – Last month, the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General announced that it will spend an additional $500 million over the next five years to hire more staff and build new infrastructure. The move to increase jail spending comes on the heels of a significant reduction of nearly 3,000 prisoners – a decrease of the province’s prison population of approximately 30 percent – since pandemic measures were put in place in March 2020, along with another scathing report on the Ministry’s treatment of prisoners by the Ontario Ombudsperson. Today, the Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project (TPRP) and Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP) launched the #500possibilities social media campaign where people are being encouraged to share their ideas on how to keep each other safe with $500 million in investments in people and communities, rather than human caging – an unjust, inhumane, ineffective and costly approach.

The #500possibilities campaign is the latest in a series of efforts by community organizers in different parts of the world to defund police, imprisonment and other forms of state repression that most often target Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC), the poor and precariously housed, people living with mental health issues, criminalized drug users, and others pushed to the margins. Justin Piché from CPEP explains the principles guiding the campaign: “We reject any further investments in state repression that props-up colonialism, capitalism, racism and white supremacy, patriarchy and heteronormativity, ableism, and other violent social structures. Like efforts to defund police budgets that have been gaining traction, including in Ontario, our call to defund jails is, at root, a demand for alternative responses to social problems beyond criminalization and incarceration”. TPRP member Jessica Evans adds: “Rather than spend $500 million to hire more staff, why not use that money to allow folks access to peer support and mental health services before they are involved in the system? Rather than invest that money to expand prison capacity, why not support community housing to end the revolving door between homelessness and jails in this province?”

Reflecting on the timing of the province’s decision to waste more money on imprisonment, Alannah Fricker from the TPRP notes: “The commitment to invest $500 million into prisons sends a clear message – that Ontario prefers to violently criminalize our communities than provide the support and services needed for people to live a safe, healthy and dignified life in the community. Much like the City of Toronto, who rejected a modest proposal to defund police by 10% late last month, Ontario is ignoring hundreds of thousands of people that have taken to the streets and advocated for alternatives to criminalization and punishment. In ignoring these voices, the province and the city are allowing systemic racism that polices and imprisons BIPOC people en masse to continue”.

Beginning today, the TPRP and CPEP are encouraging those living in Ontario to join its campaign to demand the province invest $500 million in our communities, not in cages. Using the hashtag #500possibilities, concerned community members are encouraged to tell Premier Ford and his team what they would like to see that money used to enhance their health, well-being and safety. Suggestions can be made via Twitter @letstalkjails and @CPEPgroup, as well as Facebook and Instagram @torontoprisonersrightsproject and @CPEPgroup. The campaign will also include a day of action on 7 August 2020.

Media Contacts:

Toronto Prisoners' Rights Project
Jessica Evans – / 647-821-7505

Criminalization and Punishment Education Project
Justin Piché – / 613-793-1093

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Hunger Strikers at the Milton Jail Demand Improved Living Conditions and an End to Human Rights Abuses


July 8, 2020 (Milton / Anishinabewaki, Attiwonderonk and Haudenosaunee Territories) - This past Monday, prisoners began a hunger strike at the Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton, Ontario in response to ongoing human rights abuses and poor living conditions at the jail. Prisoners are demanding an end to frequent lockdowns, along with access to adequate food, clean clothes, air ventilation, cleaning supplies, canteen access and additional canteen options, and a greater number of phones to relieve tensions and increase access to communication.

An individual incarcerated at Maplehurst who wished to remain anonymous, explained their reasons for striking in a statement:

“We the prisoners of Maplehurst CC are legally innocent, yet we have been constantly locked down for 6 days, which started last week on Monday, and recommenced Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and again today [Tuesday]. This is unacceptable and unjust. There is a heat wave going on and believe us, it is hotter in the cells. Prisoners will remain in a peaceful protest until our issues are addressed by Ministry officials. Currently we are subject to arbitrary lockdowns, inadequate food portions, dirty clothes, poor ventilation, no cleaning supplies, an inadequate number of phones, and outdated canteen options. We are currently refusing meals and conducting peaceful protests, and will remain on this hunger strike until we see results."

The hunger strike at the Milton jail is taking place in the wake of similar actions initiated by prisoners at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre and the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay this past month in response to poor conditions of confinement that have further deteriorated as a result of pandemic measures put in place by the Ministry of the Solicitor General in the name of public health. Organizations including the Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project (TPRP), the Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC), and the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP), are supporting hunger strikers’ reasonable demands as part of broader prisoner solidarity and abolition work. Advocacy groups have been fighting for months to ensure that (a) prisoners receive full access to time out of their cell, yard, showers, visitation, programming, health and mental health care, free phone calls, sanitation and personal protection supplies, and other basic necessities, while also (b) demanding additional measures to divert and decarcerate people from custody during and beyond the COVID-19 crisis.

"It is distressing that the prisoners at Maplehurst have to resort to depriving themselves of food in order for their voices to be heard,” said Nana Yanful, Staff Lawyer & Legal Team Lead at the Black Legal Action Centre. “The staggering numbers of Black people in correctional institutions and other places of detention is rooted in this country’s history of colonialism, enslavement and segregation. All governments have clear legal obligations to ensure that those who remain incarcerated and are under the authority of federal, provincial and territorial governments are properly cared for and supported, always, but especially so during this pandemic. Now is the time to come together to support those who are incarcerated and demand that their human rights be respected, and that action be taken immediately to end these injustices."

“This hunger strike shows the level of desperation these guys are at to receive access to their basic human rights,” said the wife of one of the prisoners on hunger strike, “Phone access is essential to incarcerated people. If it is a good week, my husband will get 10-20 minutes a day to speak on the phone, which is uncommon. Some prisoners on certain ranges do not get to use the phone at all. Most weeks, they are on lockdown at least 3 days per week without access to phone or shower time. This negatively impacts their ability to gain knowledge about developments in their cases and keep a healthy relationship with their families and communities at a time when that support is needed the most.”

Rajean Hoilett of the Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project notes: “This hunger strike builds on a long history of incarcerated people putting their bodies on the line to demand basic human rights. Any small concessions that the jails make as a result of these actions, need to be followed by a complete transformation of our communities to ensure that everyone has access to safe housing, food, water, and education. Prisons are not keeping our communities safe, rather, they are putting us in harm's way.”

Dr. Justin Piché, a Criminology professor at the University of Ottawa and CPEP member, underscores the importance of supporting prisoners at this critical time: “People are in the streets fighting against anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism. At a time when thousands are calling for the defunding of the police, this government thinks it is appropriate to deepen state repression by making conditions of confinement more draconian and investing $500 million over the next five years to hire more jail staff and build new infrastructure to imprison people. People behind and beyond the walls need to take a stand, and force the province to build communities, not bankroll its capacity to keep more of us in cuffs and cages.”

Organizations are urging community members to put pressure on the Milton jail’s administration and the provincial government by contacting Maplehurst’s Superintendent Doug Barker by phone at 905-876-7345 or by email at and sending a Tweet to the Solicitor General @SylviaJonesMPP in support of the reasonable demands made by the hunger strikers.

Media Contacts:

Toronto Prisoners' Rights Project
Rajean Hoilett, / (289) 923-3534
Alannah Fricker, / (647) 502-6481

Black Legal Action Centre
Nana Yanful, / (416) 597-5831

Criminalization and Punishment Education Project
Souheil Benslimane, / (819) 592-6469
Justin Piché, / (613) 793-1093