PBI-Canada observes International Prisoners’ Justice Day
August 10 is Prisoners Justice Day in Canada and around the world.
It marks the anniversary of the death of Eddie Nalon at Millhaven prison in Kingston, Ontario on this day in 1974. Nalon was manipulated by prison guards into 30 days of solitary confinement, then placed in segregation where he took his life after guards withheld that his transfer back to the general population had been approved.
In December 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Mandela Rules that defines solitary confinement as “the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact” and that regards solitary confinement of more than 15 consecutive days as a form of torture.
Earlier this year, the CBC reported that some prisoners in Canada are kept in solitary confinement longer than 15 days which amounts to “torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” according to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Mandela Rules).
Indigenous peoples and solitary confinement
Indigenous people, and especially Indigenous women, have been disproportionately subjected to solitary confinement in Canadian prisons.
In October 2016, CBC reported that 23-year-old Adam Capay of Lac Seul First Nation had been held in solitary confinement for four years at the Thunder Bay District Jail.
And in August 2017, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) highlighted that: “In Canada, Indigenous women are more likely to be involuntarily segregated and endure longer segregations than non-Indigenous women.”
That report found that Indigenous women represent 5 percent of the overall Canadian population but make up half of all federal segregation placements.
Incarceration of Indigenous peoples in Canada
In 2015, the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended: “We call upon federal, provincial, and territorial governments to commit to eliminating the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody over the next decade, and to issue detailed annual reports that monitor and evaluate progress in doing so.”
Statistics Canada figures show that the incarceration of Indigenous people in Canada has increased since that recommendation.
In 2015/2016, there were 333,196 admissions to federal, provincial and territorial adult correctional services. Indigenous adults accounted for 26 per cent of those admissions, meaning about 86,631 people.
In 2018/2019, there were a total of 383,369 admissions, with Indigenous peoples accounting for about 30 per cent of the admissions or about 115,011 individuals.
Furthermore, in 2015/16, Indigenous women accounted for 31 per cent of admissions into federal prisons. By 2018/19, that already high number had increased to 41 per cent for Indigenous women.
Billions spent on prisons in Canada
The Correctional Service of Canada, which operates 53 federal prisons across the country, has an annual budget of about $2.6 billion.
Millions more are spent on provincial systems. For instance, the budget in Saskatchewan for “custody, supervision and rehabilitation services” is about $187 million. About 75 per cent of the inmates in that provincial system are Indigenous. About 65 per cent of the inmates in the federal prisons in Saskatchewan are Indigenous.
Peace Brigades International accompanies the Committee for Solidarity with Political Prisoners in Colombia, political prisoner Bernardo Caal Xol in Guatemala, the imprisoned Guapinol water defenders in Honduras, and has accompanied the Cerezo Committee in Mexico that was founded after the imprisonment of the brothers Alejandro, Héctor and Antonio Cerezo in maximum-security penitentiaries.
PBI-Mexico accompanied the Comité Cerezo February 16, 2009, the day Héctor and Antonio Cerezo were released from prison.
PBI-Guatemala accompanies the imprisoned Maya Q’eqchi defender Bernardo Caal Xol.