British Columbia decided that rather than be second in the race to the bottom, it would prefer to be first in the pursuit of justice

#WelcomeToCanada

On Thursday, July 21, 2022, British Columbia’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Mike Farnworth announced that the province will end its immigration detention contract with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). The province would no longer hold immigrant detainees in provincial jails. Minister Farnworth explained, “In the fall of 2021, I committed to a review of BC Corrections’ arrangement with the CBSA on holding immigration detainees in provincial correctional centres. This review examined all aspects of the arrangement, including its effect on public safety and whether it aligns with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and expectations set by Canadian courts …. The review brought to light that aspects of the arrangement do not align with our government’s commitment to upholding human-rights standards or our dedication to pursuing social justice and equity for everyone.”

Part of the impetus for the provincial review came from a joint Human Rights – Amnesty campaign, #WelcomeToCanada, launched last year, on June 20, World Refugee Day. At the launch, the campaign noted, “Between April 2019 and March 2020, Canada locked up 8,825 people between the ages of 15 and 83, including 1,932 in provincial jails. In the same period, another 136 children were `housed in detention to avoid separating them from their detained parents, including 73 under age 6 … Since 2016, Canada has held more than 300 immigration detainees for longer than a year.”

This week, Ketty Nivyabandi, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada (English Speaking), said, “Today’s decision is a momentous step. We commend British Columbia on being the first province to stop locking up refugee claimants and migrants in its jails solely on immigration grounds. This is a true human rights victory, one which upholds the dignity and rights of people who come to Canada in search of safety or a better life.”

Kasari Govender, British Columbia’s current and first independent Human Rights Commissioner, added, “Detaining innocent migrants in jails is cruel, unjust and violates human rights commitments. CBSA may still hold migrants in a detention centre, but this a significant first step towards affirming the human rights of detainees. Now, it is up to the federal government to abolish all migrant detention and expand the use of community-based alternatives that support individuals.”

The decision is momentous, landmark, in a number of ways. In and of itself, it marks the first province to stop the brutal practice, and to do so in the name of human rights, social justice and equity. Additionally, until now, British Columbia is a leader in the incarceration of immigrants. From 2019 to 2020, 22% of detained immigrants were held in provincial jails. Then Covid hit. The number of people held in 2020 – 2021 dropped to 1605, of whom 40% were held in provincial jails. In the two years under review, only Ontario exceeded British Columbia in the incarceration of immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees. This week, British Columbia decided that rather than be second in the race to the bottom, it would prefer to be first in the pursuit of justice.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Amnesty International Canada)

Louise Powell, Hollie Grote, Leah Porter, Delilah Blair cried out in pain. Nobody in charge cared.

In 2020, in HMP Styal, in Cheshire, England, Louise Powell was in excruciating pain. She told the staff. The staff gave her two aspirins and told her to chill out. On June 18, 2020, Louise Powell delivered her baby, stillborn, in a cellblock toilet. Across the ocean, Hollie Grote, in the Pike County Jail, in Missouri, began feeling excruciating pains. The staff gave her two aspirins and told her to chill out. For months, she cried out, in pain, begging for help. Finally, Hollie Grote died of a brain tumor. Chill out, they said.

What happened to Louise Powell? A young woman, call her Louise Powell, was held in HMP Styal. She did not know that she was pregnant. She did know that she was in excruciating pain. She did tell the staff, who told her to take two aspirins and chill out. The pains increased. Finally, someone realized that the woman was pregnant. By then, it was too late. The young woman delivered her baby, stillborn, in a cellblock toilet. The Prison Service expressed its deep concern, promised an investigation. None came. No changes came. Today, two years later, members of the “No Births Behind Bars” campaign organized a demonstration outside the walls of HMP Styal.

Organizers said the demonstration was too traumatic for Louise Powell to attend, and so instead she sent a message: “Brooke is always in my heart and my mind. Two years ago on 18 June 2020 I was left to give birth in a toilet, despite begging for help. It has been two years since she died and still we do not have accountability for what happened. I fully support the campaign for ‘No Births Behind Bars’ and thank you for your condolences and support for Brooke.”

What happened to Hollie Grote? A 41-year-old mother, call her Hollie Grote, was detained in the Pike County jail a year ago, in June, 2021. In July, she started complaining of pains. The first recorded complaint was July 28,2021. When Hollie Grote told her family she couldn’t get medical assistance, the family went to talk with the sheriff, to plead to have her sent to the hospital, the sheriff responded that people claim excruciating pain to attract attention. Take two aspirin, don’t call me in the morning. By October 23, Hollie Grote said the pain was so intense that she was considering suicide. A staff member noted “scratch marks on the forearm/wrist area.” She still wasn’t sent to hospital or given any medical attention. Staff noted that she was lying on the floor, groaning, grunting. They put her in suicide watch. Then they watched and did nothing. Finally, she rolled off her bed and died on the floor. Hollie Grote’s sister and daughter claim that when they asked the sheriff what it would take to send someone to hospital, he replied “someone would have to be bleeding out or vomiting in a way that it would be obvious something is wrong.” An investigation is `in process’.

It’s easy, and correct, to condemn the staffs of HMP Styal and of Pike County Jail. But what about the State, the society, and the world, that has decided that women behind bars deserve this sort of treatment, medical staffs who refuse to offer medical care, systems in which sheriffs and guards decide major health issues? Last month, Leah Porter, mother of two, was “found dead” in her cell at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, in Sydney, Australia. Leah Porter lived with mental health issues. She told the staff she needed her medication and she needed it at specific times. The staff decided they knew better, and gave the medication midday, rather than early in the morning, as she had requested. The night before she committed suicide, Leah Porter told other detainees, “I want my story to be heard. I want the people to know what happened to me. I want to tell the people what these detention centres do to the people.” When the Villawood staff expressed shock and dismay, Leah Porter’s relative, Narelle Aitken, replied, “She should never have been in detention. I loved her to pieces. She was very funny.”

In 2017, Delilah Blair, 30-year-old mother of four, Cree, was detained at South West Detention Centre, in Windsor, Ontario. What happened to Delilah Blair? On May 21, 2017, Delilah Blair was in the mental health block when a staff member “found her body” lying on the floor, with a blanket tied around her neck. The State is currently holding an inquest, delayed by over two years by Covid. Selina McIntyre, Delilah Blair’s mother, who testified today, described the last time she saw her daughter, “When I held my daughter for the last time, I made a promise to her that I would not stop until I had the answers of what happened.” What happened? Delilah Blair was a woman with a mental health issue, which meant she was placed in an inferior system of health care. In the men’s unit, everything from supervision protocol to room and furniture design was designed to improve health and prevent suicide or self-harm. None of that was, or is, the case in the women’s unit. This was “revealed” in testimony yesterday, revealed even though everybody involved knew.

They should never have been in detention. Tell the people what these detention centers do to the people. I loved her to bits. What happened to Louise Powell, Hollie Grote, Leah Porter, Delilah Blair? Take two aspirin, chill out.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: James Speakman/Manchester Evening News)

Manitoba could be moving towards ending solitary confinement … finally

On May 21, 2021, two people incarcerated in Manitoba sued the province over their practice of solitary confinement. On plaintiff, Virgil Charles Gamblin, had been in solitary confinement from December 2020, or six straight months. The other, a juvenile, 17 years old, had been in solitary nine times since July 2020. The two argued that solitary confinement is torture, and, as such, is cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, “a dungeon inside a prison”. As their attorney, James Sayce, noted, “They’ve shown real courage in coming forward and putting their name down on this claim, and they’ve shown real courage.” This past week, their case was certified as a class action, meaning it now covers thousands of people who were tortured by the state.

Manitoba’s solitary confinement cells are often smaller than parking spaces, with no windows, sleeping mats on the floors. They are often covered in filth, blood and excrement. Junior Moar spent time in Manitoba’s dungeons: “It’s just not a place for a human being to be in there like that, not like a caged animal. An animal shouldn’t even be treated like that.”

Covid made, or better was used as an alibi, to make a terrible situation worse. For example, from 2019 to 2020, prolonged solitary confinement of incarcerated youth increased tenfold. Prolonged solitary confinement is 15 days or longer. Children were thrown into dungeons ostensibly for their own protection. As one child explained, “The way they do it, they’re not helping us.” These numbers came from a report that was an update of an earlier report two years prior. None of this is new, and yet it continues.

In province after province, case after case, the State’s use of solitary confinement has been successfully challenged. Ontario was successfully sued, as were the federal prisons. Class action suits in British Columbia, Alberta, and Nova Scotia are moving forward. Again and again, when presented with the evidence, the courts decide that solitary confinement is [a] unconstitutional and a violation of human and civil rights because [b] it’s torture. Solitary confinement is torture. Why is that so difficult to comprehend? What is our investment in this particular form of torture? Why do we need victim after victim, in the thousands and tens of thousands, having the courage to testify to the trauma imposed on them in the name of justice before we break the cycle of torture?

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: “Solitary Confinement”, mural by David Alfaro Siquieros, completed 1961)

Quebec did not fail to address systemic racism against Indigenous women, it refused to.

I support Joyce’s Principle

On September 28, 2020, Joyce Echaquan — mother of seven, partner to Carol Dube, member of the Atikamekw nation of Manwan, 37 years old – died … or, better, was tortured to death, while lying in a hospital bed in Joliette, in Quebec, Canada. On September 26, suffering severe stomach pains, Joyce Echaquan checked herself into a hospital. On September 28, as her pain worsened, nurses administered morphine, even though Joyce Echaquan told them she was allergic to morphine and that she had a pacemaker. As Joyce Echaquan screamed in intensifying pain, the nurses told her, “You’re as stupid as hell”; “Are you done acting stupid? Are you done?”; “You made some bad choices, my dear. What are your children going to think, seeing you like this?”; “She’s good at having sex, more than anything else”. We know this because Joyce Echaquan, in excruciating pain, dying, pulled out her phone, started filming and posting on Facebook. The video is a bit over seven minutes long. Soon after Joyce Echaquan died, or, better, succumbed to torture. There was a brief `outcry’ in Canada at the treatment Joyce Echaquan received, which was perfectly ordinary treatment for Indigenous women.

Joyce Echaquan pulled out her phone because she knew. She knew because it had happened before to her. She knew because she was an Atikamekw woman. She knew because. Period. She knew that her family would organize and protest, decrying systemic racism. She knew they would hold her in their hearts and souls. She knew as well that the government of Quebec and Canada would deplore the horrible act, would demand an investigation, and ultimately would do absolutely nothing.

There was an inquest, which found that systemic racism played a key role in Joyce Echaquan’s death. The Quebec government promised it would do something. It did. It refused to adopt “Joyce’s Principle”, policies aimed at providing fair access to health services for Indigenous people, and it stopped discussion of Joyce’s Principle at the national level. Why? Because Joyce’s Principle includes discussion of systemic racism. The Atikamekw Nation is protesting and pushing for adoption of Joyce’s Principle, as a first step.

Meanwhile, the press continues to cover Quebec’s position as “failure”: “Quebec has failed to deliver on its promise that it would enshrine in the law the principle of cultural safety for Indigenous communities.” Quebec did not fail, it refused. It said, explicitly, there is no systemic racism in its health care system, and any mention thereof will be cut off, with the same brutal and racist efficiency that was applied to Joyce Echaquan. Where there is no attempt, there is no failure. Where an action is part of ongoing public policy, there is no failure. There is refusal. Period. Calling it by another name provides the torture, and the torturers, with alibi. Joyce Echaquan deserved, and deserves, better.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image credit 1: Eruoma Awashish / Joyce’s Principle) (Image credit 2: Ernest “Aness” Dominique / canadianart)

In the Nova Institution for Women, Canada’s special hell for women, COVID runs rampant

In 1995, Canada opened the Nova Institution for Women, in Truro, Nova Scotia, and it’s been a hellhole for women ever since. In 2015, Veronica Park died of pneumonia, after begging for days for health care, to no avail. Three months later, Camille Strickland-Murphy, after a series of incidents of self-harm and suicide attempts, none of which were attended to, killed herself. Earlier, in 2006, Nova Institution was the first station in Ashley Smith’s journey into suicide. In 2019, Samantha Wallace-Parker died of pneumonia, after begging for days for health care, to no avail. In 2020, Lisa Adamsexperienced Nova’s dry cell, a cell without running water or toilet, for 16 days. These are just the best known stories, all of which end up in court. But that was all `prepandemic’. 2022 opens with COVID running rampant through the Nova Institution for Women, and the thing is, all of this was predictable, everyone in charge knew, and they did nothing, worse than and less than nothing.

Today, Martha Paynter, who is “a registered nurse who researches prisoner health, and as a community advocate for people in prisons for women”, wrote, “The news that 49 people (24 prisoners, at least 25 staff) have now tested positive for COVID-19 at the Nova Institution for Women, a federal prison in Truro, brings a nightmare we foresaw … into reality … Federal prison is a $2.4 billion/year operation. We need to stop throwing money at this system and redirect it to meaningfully address the trauma and poverty that drives criminalization. The horror of mass infection at the Truro prison must finally change our thinking.”

Again, all of this was foreseen. In 2020, Martha Paynter wrote, “Prisons are petri dishes. Hundreds of people are under one roof with poor ventilation, barriers to health services, substandard nutrition, limited participation in exercise and time outdoors and inadequate information provision.”

What else is there to say? The petri dish has done what it’s designed to do. Advocates, like Martha Paynter, are calling on the State to release the women. The State has responded with lockdown. In one day, the cases jumped from 8 to 38. There’s less testing in federal prisons than in the general population, to no one’s surprise. In 2020, a study found the following: “There were 59 cases of COVID-19 in women’s penitentiaries. These represented 31% of all cases in federal penitentiaries, suggesting that women, and women’s penitentiaries, are over-represented among COVID-19 cases inside federal prisons. COVID-19 prevalence was 8 times higher among women’s prisons (8% prevalence) than prisons for men (1% prevalence) and 80 times higher than in the general Canadian population (0.1%).”

COVID-19 prevalence was 8 times higher among women’s prisons than prisons for men and 80 times higher than in the general Canadian population. That was two years ago. Today, the situation for women held in prison is worse. This is not failure, this is petri dish public policy, designed for incarcerated women. Don’t fix it, shut it down.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Saltwire / Chelsea Gould)

In 2016, in Canada, a “vulnerable” Black six-year-old girl was handcuffed and shackled by police

The Peel Region is in southern Ontario, Canada. In September 2016, officers responded to a 911 called at a Peel primary school. The `emergency’ was a six-year-old Black girl whose behavior `caused alarm.’ This was the fourth time the police had responded to an emergency call concerning this girl’s behavior. At the time, the girl weighed 48 pounds. Police took the girl, handcuffed and shackled her and, having shackled her wrists and ankles, lay her on her stomach, in full view of everyone, for a little under a half hour. This week it was reported that the Human Rights Tribunal had decided that race, and more specifically anti-Black racism, was a factor, that the girl, known as J.K.B., “suffered implicit harm in experiencing anti-Black racism at a very tender age”. The Tribunal awarded J.K.B. $35,000, $30,000 in damages, $5,000 in counseling costs. The Peel police said there is room for improvement. J.K.B.’s mother, known as J.B., said, “I can now focus on what lies ahead, which is making my daughter whole.” Who else will focus on making Black daughters, in Canada, in the United States, whole?

 Activists and allies wish the damages had been more, wish the police anti-racist training were better, wish the actions were more sustained and definitive, and with good reason. At the same time, why do schools call police to address student behavior, and especially in primary school? Where are the counselors? Where are the alternative public services? How many times must we `discover’ that the police are not trained to address emotional and psychological situations, much less crises? A girl is having a bad day, a terrible day. Why would adults call in people with guns and handcuffs to address that girl? And if that girl is Black, in an area where Black people constitute less than 10 percent of the population, how would adults, adult educators, not understand that calling the police on J.K.B. was far beyond the last thing they should have done. That phone call should never have occurred. The possibility of that phone call should never have been imaginable.

J.K.B’s story was reported January 7. The next day, January 8, it was reported that the police, in Aurora, Colorado, who drew their guns on a Black family they `thought’ was driving a stolen car, the two White officers who drew their guns on the family, who took the four children and handcuffed them and laid them on the ground, would not face prosecution. I can now focus on what lies ahead, which is making my daughter whole. Who else will focus on making Black daughters whole?

 

By Dan Moshenberg

(Photo credit: Toronto Star)

What happened to Lisa Adams? Just another 16-day torture ordeal in Canada’s Nova Institution for Women

Lisa Adams

Canada routinely tortures women in prison by throwing them into so-called “dry cells”. Today, Lisa Adams, 33 years old and about to end a two-year sentence in the hellhole that is Nova Institution for Women, and advocates from the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia, are challenging that practice in court. Some will ask, “What happened to Lisa Adams?” The real question is, “What happened to Canada?”

Lisa Adams lives with an addiction to methamphetamines and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression. In March, Lisa Adams was released on day parole. In May, she was picked up on for methamphetamine usage and was taken back to Nova Institution for Women, where she was strip searched and passed through a body scanner. Authorities found nothing in Lisa Adams’ body. A few days later, authorities reconsidered the scan and felt they could perhaps see something, small and round, somewhere in her vagina. Authorities then did a scan of Lisa Adams’ cell and found traces of methamphetamine. They then gave Lisa Adams a urine test, which came back positive. Lisa Adams protested her innocence, explaining that the meth was from her earlier pre-arrest usage and that she did not have any methamphetamine with her. Authorities did not believe her.

At that point, Lisa Adams was dumped into a dry cell, where she stayed for 16 days, from May 6 to May 22. A dry cell is a cell without running water or toilets. The thinking is that by placing someone in a dry cell, authorities can sift through their waste – feces, urine, vomit – and locate the concealed drugs. The prisoner is kept in segregation in that cell, without any water, under 24-hour-a-day surveillance. Lisa Adams stayed in a dry cell for 16 days. She started to tremble, became incoherent, threatened self- harm and suicide. Remember Nova Institution, the hellhole prison where, in 2015, Camille Strickland-Murphy and Veronica Park were effectively executed by the state? That’s where Lisa Adams spent 16 days of hell, and for what?

Lisa Adams only got out of the dry cell when she finally persuaded the authorities to let an actual doctor examine her. The doctor found nothing in her vagina or anywhere else. What the doctor did find was a severely injured woman, who had been battered and abused by the state.

Lisa Adams and her allies went to court today to argue that dry celling is a form of torture. Last year, Canada effectively outlawed solitary confinement, after the court declared keeping anyone in solitary for more than 15 days was cruel, unusual, and torture. Somehow, dry celling does not count as solitary confinement. The segregation is total and absolute, the conditions are nothing short of evil. In fact, the actual material facility of the dry cell is worse than that of solitary confinement. Lisa Adams spent 16 days in dry cell and, again, was only released when she begged for a doctor to perform a real examination.

Lisa Adams explains, “”For me, on a base level, I’d like to have the idea of dry celling removed from female institutions. Because I’m not naive to the fact that drugs are an issue, and there has to be a means to prevent that, I’m hoping that potentially there could be an overhaul throughout all of CSC to find a new way to prevent this from happening. A way that’s less invasive, that’s more trauma-informed and that takes into account the value of the individual as well as the security of the institution … I want the public to see that we are individuals. What happens to us in here is important. People wouldn’t want it to happen to their mother, daughter, sister, wife. They need to keep an eye on that.”  

I want the public to see that we are all humans, that what happens in prisons and jails and immigrant detention centers and juvenile detention centers, that what happens “in here”, not only in `correctional institutions’ but in here in our hearts, matters. What happened to Lisa Adams? She was tortured, traumatized.. What happened to Canada, and by extension to all of us? 

 

(Photo Credit: CBC/ Elizabeth Fry Society)

Where is the global outrage at the systemic racism that killed Joyce Echaquan?

On Monday, September 28, Joyce Echaquan — mother of seven, partner to Carol Dube, member of the Atikamekw nation of Manwan, 37 years old – died … or, better, was tortured to death, while lying in a hospital bed in Joliette, in Quebec, Canada. Suffering severe stomach pains, Joyce Echaquan checked herself into a hospital. That was September 26. On September 28, as the pain intensified, nurses administered morphine, even though Joyce Echaquan told them she was allergic to morphine and that she had a pacemaker. As Joyce Echaquan screamed in intensifying pain, the nurses told her, “You’re as stupid as hell”; “Are you done acting stupid? Are you done?”; “You made some bad choices, my dear. What are your children going to think, seeing you like this?”; “She’s good at having sex, more than anything else”. We know this because Joyce Echaquan, in excruciating pain, dying, pulled out her phone, started filming and posting on Facebook. The video is a bit over seven minutes long. Soon after Joyce Echaquan died … or, better, succumbed to torture. Now there’s an `outcry’ in Canada at the treatment Joyce Echaquan received, which was perfectly ordinary treatment for Indigenous women. Outcries have a short life span, especially when the subject is the torture and abuse of Indigenous women.

Joyce Echaquan pulled out her phone because she knew. She knew because it had happened before, to her. She knew because she was an Atikamekw woman. She knew because. Period. She knew that her family would organize and protest, decrying systemic racism. She knew they would hold her in their hearts and souls. She knew as well that the government of Quebec and Canada would deplore the horrible act, would demand an investigation, and ultimately would do absolutely nothing. 

Joyce Echaquan told the staff that she should not be given morphine, and they refused to listen. None of this is new. It has happened before, certainly across Canada, and will happen again. Violence against Indigenous, Native, First Nation, Aboriginal women is a core part and principle of the colonization processes and practices that continue, unabated, to this day. Why, for example, it the outcry and outrage only Canadian? Where is the coverage of Joyce Echaquan’s torture in the various new media around the world? The BBC, Al Jazeera, and the Guardian had articles, and that is pretty much it.

Where is the outrage at the torture of an Indigenous woman who only wanted, needed, and deserved care? Who cares about Joyce Echaquan? Tomorrow, Monday, October 11, is Indigenous People’s Day. It took 48 hours and a little over four centuries to torture Joyce Echaquan to death. Other than family, friends, community, who will remember Joyce Echaquan a year from now? Joyce Echaquan lived in a world in which, on her deathbed, she had to pull out her phone and start recording the torture she was suffering. We continue to live in that world. This is us. 

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Star) (Photo Credit 2: The Guardian / Canadian Press)

 

In Canada, Joelle Beaulieu refuses the death sentence of incarceration

Around the World of Covid, the news these days is pretty grim, and the news from prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers, juvenile detention centers is worse. In those places of confinement, generally, rates of infection are rising precipitously and, despite much hand wringing and loud sighing, the State and nation-states have done little to nothing to less than nothing. Given the past decades increased investment in mass and hyper incarceration, this comes as no surprise. But there is good, or at least hopeful, news, and that is in prisoners’ individual and collective actions and resistance. April saw prison uprisings, demonstrations, hunger strikes, and other actions in Sierra LeoneArgentinaColombia, the United States and beyond. Everywhere, prisoners echo the banner resisting prisoners hung from the rooftop of the Devoto prison in Buenos Aires: “Nos negamos a morir en la cárcel.” We refuse to die in prison. In Virginia, Cynthia Scott, 50 years old, African American, currently incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, agreed: “I was not sentenced to death, and I don’t want to die here.  But I am afraid I will when the coronavirus comes.” In Canada, on April 21, Joelle Beaulieu, a member of the Ojibwe Nation, incarcerated in a Canadian federal prison in Joliette, Quebec, said NO! to the death sentence of conditions in the federal prisons and sued the Correctional Service Canada for its response, or lack of response, to the Covid pandemic. I was not sentenced to death. We refuse to die in prison.

At the end of April, Joelle Beaulieu sued on behalf of all federal inmates who had been imprisoned in federal prisons in Quebec since March 13. What happens to one happens to all. What happened to Joelle Beaulieu is she was incarcerated at Joliette Women’s Institution. She worked as a cleaner. Joelle Beaulieu worked in highly trafficked, congested areas. When she heard about the pandemic, she asked for gloves, mask and protective gear. The authorities only gave her gloves. When Joelle Beaulieu began developing symptoms, she was given Tylenol. For a week, her symptoms intensified. Finally, after a week, Joelle Beaulieu was tested. Then Joelle Beaulieu was sent to her cell, into what amounted to solitary confinement, for 15 days. She requested either a Native elder or a mental health professional. No one was provided. She says guards did not wear masks or gloves until after she tested positive. Prisoners were told to wash their hands, but were not given disinfectant.

Joelle Beaulieu believes she is “patient zero” of the Joliette Women’s Institution. Within two weeks, the number of Covid positive cases rose from 10 to 50, and by the time Joelle Beaulieu filed her case, more than half the residents had tested positive. On April 21, Quebec reported 114 positive cases. Of that 114, 51 were Joliette Women’s Institution prisoners. Of the women in Quebec who tested positive for Coronavirus, almost all were `residents’ of Joliette Women’s Institution. Joliette Women’s Institution is no outlier, and Joelle Beaulieu’s situation is in no way exceptional. According to Emilie Coyle, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, “Every time we speak with women who are inside the prisons, whether it’s in Joliette or other federal institutions  – they let us know they feel as though they’re not getting the right information. They’re kept in the dark. And that’s particularly concerning for them because they’re trying very hard to participate in keeping themselves safe and healthy.”

In Buenos Aires, when prisoners resisted, they released a statement which said, in part, “We are a mirror of the very society that forgets us and drowns in its own misery, silencing its own true reality:

Those who give up will never win.
We refuse to die in prison.
For a world without slavery and without exclusion.”

From the rooftops of a jail in Buenos Aires to the women’s prison of Virginia to the women’s prisons of Quebec, people are resisting the dehumanization of slavery and exclusion, engaging in the Great Refusal which is the Great Affirmation. They will not be kept in the dark nor will they be silenced. In Canada, Joelle Beaulieu, member of the Ojibwe Nation, said NO to the inhumanity, insisted she was not sentenced to die in prison, and lit a match to light the way to a world without slavery and without exclusion. Others will follow. The struggle continues.

 

(Photo credit: Sol915)

Once again, prison is Canada’s “travesty”, England’s “scandal”. Who cares?

This week, within a 24-hour span, major reports revealed that Canada’s prison system “is nothing short of a national travesty” and the prisons of England and Wales are “a national scandal”. The reports are important, well researched, and grim, but they also repeat the findings of earlier reports, with one glaring exception. The situation is worsening, in fact the negative aspects are at an all-time high. If the various national populations have time and again received reports of a terrible situation worsening and if those populations and their national governments have done nothing, have done less than and worse than nothing, it is reasonable to ask, “Who cares?”

On Tuesday, January 21, 2020, Canada’s Correctional Investigator, Dr. Ivan Zinger, released a report on the current status of Canadian prisons: “Four years ago, my Office reported that persons of Indigenous ancestry had reached 25% of the total inmate population.  At that time, my Office indicated that efforts to curb over-representation were not working.  Today, sadly, I am reporting that the proportion of Indigenous people behind bars has now surpassed 30% … On this trajectory, the pace is now set for Indigenous people to comprise 33% of the total federal inmate population in the next three years.  Over the longer term, and for the better part of three decades now, despite findings of Royal Commissions and National Inquiries, intervention of the courts, promises and commitments of previous and current political leaders, no government of any stripe has managed to reverse the trend of Indigenous over-representation in Canadian jails and prisons. The Indigenization of Canada’s prison population is nothing short of a national travesty.” Indigenous women are the core of this Indigenization of Canada’s prison system, accounting for 42% of women inmates. In some prairie regions, Indigenous women comprise almost 90% of the prison population. Where once there were boarding schools, now there are prisons and jails.

On Wednesday, January 22, 2020, Inquest released its report, Deaths in prison: A national scandal. At the outset, the report notes that “levels of distress are at record high levels” and that “since 2016 the number of deaths have remained at historically high levels, with little sign of significant change.” 2016 was “deadliest year on record”. In their press release, Inquest suggests that that “‘national scandal’ of deaths in prison caused by neglect and serious failures.” But what if it’s neither neglect nor failure? What if death, largely through self-harm, is the system successfully at work?

This question arises out of the cyclical redundancy of these discoveries. 2013: Canada’s Correctional Investigator reports that federal and provincial prisons are booming, with Aboriginal people, especially women, “over-represented” in prisons, in maximum security and solitary confinement. 2014: Canada’s Correctional Investigator reports concern over the incarceration of Aboriginal women and the routine use of psychotropic drugs to control Aboriginal women behind bars, producing a mass population of “walking zombies”. 2016: another report, more expression of concern: Of 683 women prisoners, 248 are Aboriginal. Over 36% of women prisoners are Aboriginal. There’s more, but you get the picture.

In England and Wales, the picture is the same. Here’s 2014: “In 2014, 84 people killed themselves `in custody’ in England and Wales That’s the highest figure in seven years and an increase of 12% over the year before. The rise in suicide is surpassed by the rise in self-harm, up more than 25%. Overall, it was a banner year for the prison state, with 243 deaths in custody.” 2016, as noted, prison deaths, and particularly suicides, soared, as did self-harm: “When considering females, despite the falls seen between 2009 and 2012, rates of individuals self-harming among females remain disproportionately high in comparison to the overall rates of individuals self-harming … Females accounted for nearly a quarter of self-harm incidents in this reporting period, but only make up less than 5% of the prison population.” Again, there’s more, but the picture is already clear.

Both the Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada and Inquest note the need to learn from past experiences while both express disappointment at lessons unlearned, unheeded, but what if there are no lessons to learn? What if these deaths are but a station on a global assembly line at which employees dutifully stand and wait for the next body to ignore? The prisons of Canada and of England and Wales are a tiny part of the global labor of necropower: “New and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead … Under conditions of necropower, the lines between resistance and suicide, sacrifice and redemption, martyrdom and freedom are blurred.” Once again, prison is Canada’s “travesty”, England’s “scandal”. Who cares?

 

(Infographic Credit 1: Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada) (Infographic Credit 2: The London Economic)