For the second time in just under two months, people incarcerated at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Center (CDOC) – both men and women – went on a hunger strike Thursday morning to demand better conditions and better treatment.
A first hunger strike by 14 prisoners was started on June 3. The detainees then demanded better access to healthy food, hygiene products, books and television.
The prison administration met them after a 31-hour strike for negotiations. At the end of the discussions, the CDOC pledged to honor the demands of the strikers, according to a press release from the Crime and Penalty Awareness Project.
The common room at the Ottawa-Carleton prison (archives).
They negotiated with the prison. The prison told them that it was going to grant them a few requests, but time showed that the prison did not grant them these requests , relates Souheil Benslimane, the coordinator of the Denunciation and Information Hotline, a organization that campaigns for the rights of detainees.
The ministry [of the Ontario Solicitor General] needs to move. They made people starve to make their voices heard. They do not treat them reasonably in prison.Souheil Benslimane, coordinator of the whistleblower and information hotline
Inmates at the end of their patience
It will last longer, that’s for sure , predicts Mr. Benslimane, referring to the new mobilization launched by the detainees. He also denounces the difficult, if not sometimes impossible, access to mental health services and legal aid, as well as violence against racialized inmates, according to him.
The main coordinator of the Denunciation and Information Hotline, Souheil Benslimane (archives).
This time around, at least 70 inmates will join the hunger strike, according to Justin Piché, associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa and member of the Crime and Public Awareness Project. sanction.
This mobilization raises some concern for Mr. Piché, because it is the last cut-off for the detainees.
We support them, we apply various pressure tactics and the prisoners we work with have said: “It is not working, we will take this into our own hands.” We don’t like it, it puts people at risk , he explains.
For its part, the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General, the government entity responsible for the prison facility, said in a written statement that
staff have started a dialogue with inmates at [CDOC] about their concerns .
It also reaffirms that it offers accessible health services as well as social and cultural services. The food offered to incarcerated people (three meals a day and one snack) is prepared according to the standards of Canada’s Food Guide, notes the ministry.
I think the ministry is telling lies , however, believes Professor Piché, arguing that if the services and resources were indeed there, the inmates would not put their health at risk for better living conditions.
Justin Piché, professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa (archives).
A system to be thoroughly reviewed
The statement sent by the Ministry of the Solicitor General ends by noting that the provincial government intends to
build a new facility in the eastern region to better meet the diverse needs of all inmates .
This is a false good idea, according to Justin Piché, because the problems of the prison system go far beyond simple infrastructure.
The CDOC, when it was built in the 1970s, they said it was a rehabilitation center, and we know that during its history, it did not fulfill its mandate , he emphasizes.
Some spaces and facilities at the Ottawa-Carleton prison are in poor condition (archives).
The $ 500 million that Queen’s Park intends to invest in refurbishing its correctional facilities would go much further if they were instead dedicated to community support, mental health, harm reduction, prevention and housing programs, according to Professor Piché.
These initiatives would help reduce incarceration.
We could replace the prison here in Ottawa and the same problems would happen again , he believes.
It’s like elsewhere and here in Canada: it’s the story of our prisons [which] don’t work, but we continue to build new prisons.
With information from Audrey Roy and Boris Proulx