PRESS RELEASE – Alarming Infection Rates at Joliette Institution for Women

For Immediate Release

April 18th 2020

Ottawa, Ontario

Re: Alarming Infection Rates at Joliette Institution for Women


For over 40 years the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) has been advocating with and for federally incarcerated women. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this work has become even more urgent and necessary.

CAEFS is regularly in contact with incarcerated women. During the COVID-19 crisis, our six Regional Advocacy teams across the country, along with our National Office, have each been receiving dozens of phone calls a day from incarcerated women reporting on their conditions of confinement and seeking our advocacy support. This means that we have detailed and up-to-date information from those who are most impacted by the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.

The reports that we receive from people incarcerated in federal women’s prisons are what guide our advocacy efforts as we work on both systemic and individual remedies.

We are raising the alarm about the rate of infection in Joliette Institution for women. The situation there is dire and swift action needs to be taken. On April 7th there were 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19, now there are 50. While the rated capacity of Joliette is 132, there are currently approximately 80 people incarcerated inside – this means that over 60% of prisoners at Joliette have been infected with COVID-19. In fact, these number are likely higher given delays in test results.

The example that Joliette is so sadly demonstrating is that by the very nature of prisons (lack of hygienic environment, impossible to physically distance), once COVID-19 enters into a prison, it is extremely difficult – if not impossible – to stop its rapid spread. This puts an already vulnerable population at even more risk.

We have been told that the Structured Intervention Units (SIU) in Joliette have been used to isolate prisoners who are ill. SIUs are what once were called ‘segregation units’, which is extremely troubling as this means confining people who are sick in ways that are cruel and punishing. This kind of response to managing an infection lacks humanity and any form of dignity. It has also, clearly, proven ineffective in containing the spread.

The Grand Valley Institution for Women currently has 9 confirmed cases and, yesterday, the Fraser Valley Institution for Women reported their first confirmed case of COVID-19. Joliette is an example of where these other institutions may be in a short time.

In most cases, we have been told by prisoners that CSC continues to only test individuals who are symptomatic, which ignores what we know from public health officials about the possibility of asymptomatic carriers.

“CAEFS, along with many others – including doctors, lawyers, other advocacy organizations, and prisoners themselves – have been saying that prisons are dangerous, especially during a pandemic. We have been speaking out about the danger of COVID-19 and demanding immediate and swift action in the federal prison system for weeks. If our calls had been heeded a month ago, this outbreak in Joliette may have been avoided.” Emilie Coyle, Executive Director of CAEFS

All responses to COVID-19 must be grounded in compassion, dignity, and the preservation of human health and life. We need immediate action and the safe release of as many people as possible.

– END –

For more information, or for comment, please contact CAEFS  Executive Director, Emilie Coyle.


Cell: 613-316-6785

PDF – PRESS RELEASE – Alarming Infection Rates at Joliette Institution for Women

Open Letter: Depopulation of Federal Prisons 

Hon. Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety

Hon. David Lametti, Minister of Justice 

Hon. Catherine McKenna, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities 

Hon. Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children, and Social Service 

House of Commons

Ottawa, ON

K1A 0A6


Open Letter: Depopulation of Federal Prisons 

Dear Ministers, 

As we write this, we have been made aware of more than one federally incarcerated woman with a confirmed case of COVID-19, and several others with presumptive cases. We fear that these cases mark the beginning of a potential public health emergency. As an organization dedicated to advocating for federally incarcerated women, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) is concerned about the Correctional Service of Canada’s (CSC) preparedness to manage this outbreak and reduce the harm to people inside prisons. 

We write to you to insist on immediate action and offer our collaboration, along with our network of over 20 local Elizabeth Fry Societies, in devising a plan to ensure that we are able to safely depopulate federal women’s prisons in Canada. 

The time for bold, decisive, and life-saving action is now. 

CSC health care is not equipped to treat prisoners who become ill with COVID-19: Long before this public health crisis, our Regional Advocates have reported on the substandard healthcare provided to women in federal prison. Moreover, the Office of the Correctional Investigator has consistently reported on a lack of adequate health care in federal prisons. A system that was already failing to meet the needs of the people in their care cannot reasonably claim that they can manage a public health crisis. Given the substandard access to healthcare and the potential for rapid spread within prisons, as prisoners become ill they will need to be transferred to hospitals, putting even greater pressure on an already strained health care system. This puts everyone at greater risk. 

Women are not safer in prison: It is impossible to practice physical distancing in prison. This is particularly concerning as incarcerated people fall within the groups that Public Health have deemed to be at an increased risk of more severe outcomes; including: those who are aged 65 and over, those who have compromised immune systems; and those who have underlying medical conditions. We have already seen devastating examples in our long term care facilities about the impacts that an outbreak can have on a population that is older and / or has underlying health conditions when living in close quarters. Medical experts across Canada have continuously expressed concerns for the safety of prisoners and staff once COVID-19 enters the prisons, and now it has. 

There are community release options for Federally incarcerated women: There are over 20 local Elizabeth Fry Societies across Canada who provide programming and support for criminalized women. Many of these locals already have housing options for women leaving prison and are working tirelessly to provide safe and supportive housing – but we can do more. 

Our local Elizabeth Fry Societies are willing and ready to be part of the solution to depopulate prisons in partnership with the Canadian Government. With adequate support, we are confident that we can work with you to facilitate the release of many federally incarcerated women in Canada. 

There are options already available to help facilitate these releases; including: the extension of unaccompanied temporary absences, the use of Section 81 and 84 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA), expedited hearings for suspension and revocation cases, and section 121(1.b) of the CCRA states that “parole may be granted at any time to an offender […] whose physical or mental health is likely to suffer serious damage if the offender continues to be held in confinement”. We urge you to use the tools that are at your disposal to depopulate now. 

As an organization dedicated to prison abolition, we understand that prisons have never served to keep our communities safe or address harm. Especially now, we echo the calls from prisoners, families, legal professionals, health care workers, senators, advocates, organizers, unions, and other service providers to release as many people from prison as possible. We do not have the death penalty in Canada, but inaction on the part of the government during this critical time will effectively sentence some of our country’s most marginalized people to death. 

Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies 

Cc. Anne Kelly – Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada

Cc. Angela Connidis – Deputy Commissioner for Women, Correctional Service of Canada

Cc. Marie Claude Landry – Chief Commissioner – Canadian Human Rights Commission  

Cc. Senator Kim Pate – Standing Committee on Human Rights (in prison) 

Cc. Ivan Zinger – Correctional Investigator of Canada

Cc. Jennifer Oades – Chairperson of the Parole Board of Canada

PDF: CAEFS Open Letter – Depopulate Prisons – March 31 2020

CAEFS calls for release of prisoners at risk due to COVID-19


OTTAWA, SUNDAY, MARCH 15, 2020- COVID-19 & Incarcerated Peoples.

We are currently in the midst of a global outbreak of COVID-19.

As an organization dedicated to advocating for federally incarcerated women, CAEFS is concerned about the Correctional Service of Canada’s (CSC) preparedness to manage this outbreak and reduce the harm to people inside.

While Public Health has indicated that risk is low for the general public, they have identified several groups who are at increased risk of more severe outcomes; these include those who:

  • are aged 65 and over
  • have compromised immune systems
  • have underlying medical conditions

These same groups are also prevalent within our federal prisons.  In their most recent report, the Office of the Federal Investigator (OCI) noted that on 2017-18, 25.2% of the federally incarcerated population was 50 years of age and over.  Previous OCI reports also remind us that is it “universally established that correctional facilities house a number of health-compromised and vulnerable individuals”. The report also addresses the rapid aging of prisoners, making the link between prisoners aged 50-55+ having comparative health risks and those who are 65+ living outside of prisons, due to the overrepresentation of chronic health issues and lack of access to adequate health care.

Furthermore, Public Health has identified the risk of COVID-19 may be increased for certain settings including, “large gatherings in enclosed spaces”. Canadian provincial prisons are chronically overcrowded and both federal and provincial prisons are places where people cannot practice social isolation in the same ways that people outside of prisons can, it is nearly impossible. That all incarcerated people are at increased risk for infection is especially concerning given the past reports we have received from women inside indicating ongoing challenges with accessing adequate health care and preventative health measures inside, including even the most basic of necessities such as soap.

CAEFS advocates that:

  • Any person with complex or chronic medical conditions be immediately released to community for treatment;
  • People aged 50+ who are at the highest risk of serious illness and death should be released into the community on conditional release;
  • Section 81 and 84 should be utilized to transfer Indigenous women into community, and that ample supports be provided to these communities to respond;
  • The use of Community Residential Facilities, Community Based Residential Facilities, Transitional Housing, and ‘Parole to Other’ should be utilized to release incarcerated people as quickly as possible.
  • The immediate release of incarcerated mothers and their children in the mother-child program to their homes or Conditional Residential Facilities;
  • The immediate release of any incarcerated person who is currently at their parole eligibility day, who have completed their correctional programming, OR who could access programming to meet their correctional plan in community and resources should be provided in community.

Section 121(1.b) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act states that “parole may be granted at any time to an offender […] whose physical or mental health is likely to suffer serious damage if the offender continues to be held in confinement”. We urge correctional authorities to release as many prisoners as they can using the tools that are at their disposal in order to alleviate the potentially severe negative mental and physical health impacts that come from being incarcerated at a time of national and global health emergency.

It is the responsibility of the government of Canada to protect the people for whom incarceration heightens the urgency of the danger that they face from a global pandemic.


Contact information:

Emilie Coyle

Executive Director

Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies

Tel: 613-316-6785

Appalling and growing over-representation of Indigenous people in Canadian prisons highlighted by the Correctional Investigator.


Ottawa, January 22nd, 2020 – The Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada issued a news release with disturbing data on the number of Indigenous people in Canadian prisons-

Over the years, through our monitoring of the conditions of confinement and advocating for women in Canadian prisons, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) has consistently observed and spoken out about the over-representation of Indigenous women at all levels of the criminal justice system.

The Correctional Investigator of Canada, Dr. Ivan Zinger, states that indigenous people now make up more than 30% of people who are federally incarcerated, despite making up only 5% of the Canadian population.

More alarming is the fact that Indigenous women now account for 42% of all women who are incarcerated in federal prisons in Canada. This number is even more staggering within some provincial jails, particularly in the prairie regions where Indigenous women account for upwards of 90% of the prison population.

These disproportionately high numbers reflect the ongoing and systemic oppression and criminalization of Indigenous women and girls in Canada. CAEFS emphatically calls on the Canadian Government to implement the calls to action from the reports released by the National Inquiry into Missing Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in order to help address this persistent and growing issue.

“We witness on a regular basis, the harmful, colonial, practice of incarcerating Indigenous women in Canadian prisons” stated Emilie Coyle, Executive Director of CAEFS. “We continue to advocate for legislative reform to address these alarming figures and we urge the government to treat the over-representation of Indigenous women as the emergency that it is and work toward fulfilling its promise of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples”.


Contact Information:

Emilie Coyle – Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies or 613-316-6785

De-criminalizing women in Newfoundland and Labrador: Options

The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) is hosting a public meeting in St John’s on the morning of September 14th , 2017. We are inviting stakeholders, organizations who work with criminalized women and men, and the general public to this meeting to discuss what we can do to provide more community support, programming and advocacy for criminalized women in Newfoundland before during and after their incarceration. For a number of years, CAEFS has been asked to expand our services to Newfoundland. As an organization that works from the ground up, we are interested in facilitating discussion of this possibility with the communities who are on the ground in Newfoundland.

The morning will feature a presentation by Senator Kim Pate, former Executive Director of CAEFS. Kim’s presentation will be followed by a roundtable of people who work on issues relating to criminalized women in Newfoundland so that we can explore together some of the ways we might move forward to address problems and concerns. And there will be lots of time for general discussion. Your participation in this meeting, as well as that of your co-workers, would be hugely important. We hope that you will be able to join us.

WHEN: Thursday, September 14 at 9:30 AM – 1 PM
WHERE: Meeting Room Salon F, Holiday Inn, 180 Portugal Cove Road

Link to location:

Joint NGO statement in advance of Canada’s examination by UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Joint NGO statement in advance of Canada’s examination by UN CERD Committee

August 9, 2017 — This joint statement is released by Canadian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) appearing before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD Committee), which will review Canada’s compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) on August 14–15, 2017, in Geneva.

Canada enjoys a global reputation as a country that respects human rights. Yet it has in many ways failed to comply with its international human rights obligations, including the obligation to guarantee equal rights and protection to all people in Canada on the basis of race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, and other related grounds. While Canada espouses a commitment to non-discrimination it has failed to comply with its own domestic human rights laws regarding racial discrimination and Indigenous rights. For example, the federal government has failed to abide by four Canadian Human Rights Tribunal orders issued between January 2016 and May 2017 to cease racially discriminating 165,000 First Nations children. Canada has failed to comprehensively address gender discrimination rooted in the Indian Act, despite being made aware of it by courts, the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, and outside legal experts. In so doing, Canada places itself above its own laws forbidding discrimination, sending a reckless and disturbing message to Canadians that discrimination is not allowed — unless it is the government doing it.

State control over Indigenous Peoples in Canada has not changed. Indigenous Peoples are still wards of the government. Unceded territorial lands and resources are continually taken away and very little is provided by the State in form of programs and services, creating a dependency as well as poverty. Indigenous People do not hold title even on reserve lands, nor are recognized as a People. Recognition of Indigenous title, laws and People is paramount.

As Canadian NGOs, we believe that any UN review of Canada’s record on racial equality and non-discrimination must first recognize nation to nation relationships between Canada and Indigenous Peoples as a fundamental starting point and must include Indigenous Women institutions within this Nation to Nation relationship. We call on the UN to require all governments in Canada to comprehensively deliver on the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a part of this acknowledgement, and put into practice the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples without further delay. Canada must put into action its stated commitment to a nation to nation relationship.

Canada has a long history of racism targeting Indigenous Peoples and communities of colour, including the enslavement of people of African descent, and various forms of legislated racism targeting Chinese, South Asian and other communities of colour. Racism has affected each of these communities differently. For Indigenous peoples in particular, racism is a matter of life and death as they experience the lowest socio-economic indicators, the highest rates of suicide and incarceration in the world, pre-mature deaths, and the murders and disappearances of thousands of Indigenous peoples. In the spirit of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015–2024), we expect to see concrete actions by the Government of Canada to specifically address anti-Black racism. This includes, but is not limited to, recognizing the rich legacy, historical struggle and many contributions of African Canadian peoples living in the lands now known as Canada for over 300 years. We also expect the Government of Canada to address other unique and specific experiences of racism, and urge it to introduce a new national Action Plan Against Racism, one that will address the universal and particular impacts of racism as experienced by different communities, including through mechanisms such as the consistent collection of disaggregated data across all of its various ministries and departments.

We ask the Committee to adopt an intersectional approach to examining the impact of racism on different racialized communities in Canada. We ask the UN to pay particular attention to the intersection between race and gender and gender identity as it affects Indigenous communities and communities of colour, recognizing in particular the deeply harmful reframing of Indigenous women’s roles as a result of gender discrimination in legislation and as a legacy of residential schools, and the disruption in roles and relationship between Indigenous mothers and children.

Canada devotes significant resources to defending its failure to address the marginalization and victimization – including the criminalization and incarceration — of racialized communities, particularly Indigenous Peoples and African Canadians. Indigenous women represent 39% of women in prison and 43% of 12-18 year-old young women imprisoned in Canada. In 2010, the Parliamentary Budget Officer calculated the cost to keep one woman in a federal penitentiary as $348,000 per year – more than $90 MILLION per year is being spent to jail Indigenous women in federal penitentiaries alone. Canada can and must remedy these egregious policy decisions.

We urge the Committee to examine the discriminatory impact of Canada’s immigration and refugee laws as they affect immigrants, migrants, and people with precarious status, particularly those from the Global South.

Finally, access to justice is a fundamental component of an effective human rights system to ensure non-discrimination. Canada has failed to provide sufficient support to persons or organizations filing equity-seeking claims, and it has taken no meaningful measures to ensure the full and proper implementation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders domestically. For example, several NGOs in Canada experienced funding cuts after advocating different levels of government to end racial discrimination. Furthermore, Canada’s revised Court Challenges Program limits funding to Charter-based litigation (thereby excluding cases pursued under the Canadian Human Rights Act and other legal avenues challenging discrimination) and offers no funding for cases involving Indigenous rights or human rights defenders. The lack of protection for human rights defenders and the failure to ensure access to justice mute the ability of persons in Canada to seek redress for racial discrimination.

The United Nations treaty body system for human rights allows for a focused examination of specific elements of human rights and of particularly vulnerable populations (e.g., children, persons with disabilities, women). These specialized reviews by treaty bodies such as Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) are vital to ensuring States fully comply with their international human rights obligations. We are grateful to CERD for its work and urge Canada to undertake special measures to resist any efforts to eliminate or erode the efficacy of UN human rights treaty bodies and to advocate with other State parties to ensure the treaty bodies are provided with the resources and support needed to complete their work.

We, the signatories to this statement, will use our appearance before the UN CERD Committee to speak out strongly on Canada’s record on Indigenous rights, anti-Black racism, racial discrimination and human rights, and hold the Canadian government accountable in this important international forum.

Signed by:

Aboriginal Legal Services

African Canadian Legal Clinic

Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies

Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action

Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic

Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change

First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants

Ontario Native Women’s Association

South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario

Statement in Senate about 2017 EFry Conference

“Honourable Senators,

This past Friday, Senator St. Germaine and I had the honour of presenting at the conference, entitled, “The Need for Justice and Equality for Indigenous and All Women” cohosted by the Elixabeth fry society du Quebec, the association canadienne des societies Elizabeth fry et l’University de Montreal.

Held on unceded Mohawk territory, opened by Kanehsatake Elder John Cree, andEllen Gabriel, Cultural consultant for the Kanehsata:ke Language and Cultural Centre. The conference included a message from Senator Murray Sinclair and presentations by Dr. Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, and  six courageous Indigenous women, 5 of whom have experienced marginalization and victimization, as well as criminalization and imprisonment.

Two attended residential schools – all experienced the inter-generational impact, and against all odds, are now building their lives, as they integrate into communities across this country.  The youngest was born in prison and is graduating high school this month and commencing her studies at the University of Saskatchewan this fall.

To each of them, to Joey, Yvonne, Odelia, Lisa, Kaila and to Haley, I say, Meegwetch. Thank you for your bravery, your resilience and your strength …. Thank you for surviving some of the most unimaginable horrors. Thank you for the privilege of allowing me to walk with, learn from and advocate on behalf of you.

We also heard about the extreme lack of funding allotted to First Nations communities for the education of children – 1/3rd less than any other Canadian child living off reserve. In fact, only one in six has grown up with clean drinking water – that would be as if only 17 of us in this Chamber would have had the opportunity to actually drink water from our taps…

It was Supreme Court of Canada Justice Rosalee Abella who once observed, “We have no business figuring out the cost of justice until we can figure out the cost of injustice,”…Honourable Senators.

It was Gord Downie who said that when it comes to the poverty, racism and discrimination suffered by the Aboriginal people of Canada – we have been trained to look away. I urge each and every one of us to not look away.

As stated by, Cindy Blackstock, we must act now to ensure that future generations of Indigenous children don’t have to recover from their childhood – and future generations non Indigenous children don’t have to say they’re sorry…

Thank you, Merci, Meegwetch”

— Senator Kim Pate

ANNONCE – Semaine nationale Elizabeth Fry : 8 au 14 Mai 2017

National Elizabeth Fry Week – May 8 – 14, 2017

CAEFS is now accepting applications for Executive Director

Click the links for more information:

CAEFS Executive Director Job Description – 2017

CAEFS Executive Director Job Posting – 2017