In support of prisoners and prison justice activism in Canada

Statement By Joint Effort
July, 2003.

On March 8th, 2001, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) and the Native Women's Association of Canada wrote to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) about human rights violations experienced by women in Canadian prisons. The CHRC agreed to conduct a systemic review and issue a report on the treatment of women prisoners. The Commission's report is expected to come out in the fall of 2003.

"The Canadian government has failed to remedy the well-documented ongoing violations of the human rights of women prisoners, who are discriminated on the basis of sex, race and disability," advises Dr. Ailsa Watkinson, the President of CAEFS.

"Federally sentenced women with mental and developmental disabilities are being blatantly discriminated against under Section 17 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act which equates ‘mental disability' with a security risk" says Yvonne Peters, a human rights lawyer from Manitoba who authored the report presented by DAWN (DisAbled Women's Network) Canada. "Corrections legislation perpetrates negative stereotypes and assumptions which characterize mental disability as dangerous. The decision to assign a security level is made by treatment teams, which include correctional officers, who are not mental health professionals."

The risk/needs assessment tools create an adverse impact on federally sentenced women with mental disabilities in that they translate individual needs resulting from a disability into a potential management problem. Because of these higher security classifications based on disability, women who are suicidal or have mental or cognitive disabilities, are often isolated, deprived of clothing, and placed in stripped/barren cells.

With the increased cutback to health care and social programs, the law is increasingly coming into conflict with women's lives. We are being relegated into penal institutions instead of receiving appropriate services within the community. It is our position, that federally sentenced women with disabilities, who require ongoing mental health services, receive the most appropriate and effective form of accommodation through the development of community resources outside the prison system.

For more information you can contact:

DAWN Canada: DisAbled Women’s Network
613-235-4242 (Tel)
613-235-3881 (Fax)
[email protected]

DAWN Canada was a participant in the Canadian Human Rights Systemic Review. DAWN is a national organization controlled by and comprised of women with disabilities, from a wide array of backgrounds and disabilities. They are a feminist organization who is working to achieve control over our own lives and end the stereotype that labels us dependent burdens on society. DAWN Canada’s mission is to advocate for the self determination, full inclusion, and equal participation of self identified women with disabilities in all aspects of society.