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Canadian Human Rights Commission Investigates Systemic Discrimination in
August 10th, 2003 is the 27th Anniversary of Prison Justice Day. It is a day started by prisoners in Millhaven Maximum Security Prison to recognize and remember all the men and women who have died at the hands of an apathetic prison system. A system where deaths from suicide and medical neglect go unchallenged and the call for change goes unanswered. It has become a national day of remembrance and action where prisoners across the country fast and refuse to work, while outside supporters organize community events to focus on conditions inside prison.
Who would have predicted that after the national airing by the CBC's FIFTH Estate of the video tapes taken by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) on April 27, 1994 inside Kingston's Prison for Women (P4W) that exposed the egregious sexual assaults of eight women, that some of these same women would still be brutalized inside Canada's prisons?
Many of you will recall those black eyes crammed with horror and the piercing, defenseless pleas of these women as one-by-one, their naked bodies were exposed by helmeted, baton-wielding, male members of the emergency response team (ERT) from the men's Kingston Penitentiary - men who ripped or cut away their few, thin pieces of clothing as these eight lay or knelt on the concrete floors of P4W's segregation cells.
Many Canadians believed that the immediate outrage that resulted in the 1996 Commission of Inquiry by the Honourable Justice Louise Arbour into the brutality at P4W would ensure that the CSC correct their criminal-like behaviours. Unfortunately, the many criticisms leveled by Justice Arbour like, "There is nothing to suggest that the Service is either willing or able to reform without judicial guidance and control" and "The Rule of Law is absent, although rules are everywhere", are still relevant. The Arbour Report made extensive recommendations, which if implemented, would have substantially improved conditions for women in prison. Her recommendations have been virtually ignored by the Canadian government and the CSC. The CSC continues in it's unabated cruelty and sticks their fingers in the air to those who raise alarms.
Even the parliamentary appointed Correctional Investigator is still frustrated with the lack of humanity displayed by the CSC following the transfers starting in 1994 of mostly Aboriginal women to isolated units in four men's penitentiaries. One woman had already been in P4W's segregation cells for over a year prior to being stripped by the emergency response team on April 27th, 1994. She was then forced to endure nine years under segregated conditions in men's penitentiaries in Saskatchewan.
In 2001, the Elizabeth Fry society of Saskatchewan filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission about the treatment of this woman and all other women being held in men's penitentiaries across Canada. In 2002, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) garnered the support of 16 national equality seeking women's organizations to add their voices charging the Government of Canada and the CSC with systemic discrimination in their treatment of women prisoners.
In May 2003 this same woman was transferred to the newly built maximum security unit in the Edmonton Prison for Women where she must now undergo 4 regimes of maximum security before she can even qualify for medium security in the same prison. Hand-cuffed and shackled while accompanied by two guards simply to gain access to a few hours in the gym, while the rest of the prison is locked down ensures that the portrait of dangerousness that the CSC wants is on display - when those of us who know her well and did time with her way-back-when in 1988 in P4W, know that she is simply an Aboriginal woman whose smile lit up the gym as she danced the pow-wow, a woman who just wanted to be outside in the fresh air. She has endured over 15 years under segregated maximum security and CSC dictates that "raising of the voice, demanding, cursing, name calling, sarcasm and impertinence will be considered a failure to meet the standard."
We call upon the public to contact the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) in Ottawa to support the claim of systemic discrimination filed on behalf of federally sentenced women in Canada.
We ask everyone to contact their MP's in Ottawa to demand the discontinuation of the current maximum security model for custody of women in prison. Instead, we urge them to advocate for implementation of the alternatives proposed by the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and supporting organizations in their submissions to the CHRC. To view a full copy of these submissions go to www.elizabethfry.ca
Kerry Buck, Director
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Kim Pate, Executive Director