Defending Prisoners' Rights
CAEFS monitors the conditions of confinement in all six federal institutions designated for women and operated by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC)
Federally sentenced people are those who are serving a sentence that is longer than two years.
The monitoring of conditions of confinement are primarily done by our 5 regional advocacy (RA) teams - Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Prairies, Pacific - who are comprised of individuals connected with local Elizabeth Fry Societies, including board members, executive directors, staff, and volunteers.
Our advocates work to identify and address any systemic human rights abuses against prisoners.
Prior to COVID-19, this work was done through regular advocacy visits to the prison(s) for women in their region. Now, we rely on phone calls from prisoners to report concerns regarding conditions of confinement to us. We are actively working on regaining access to the prisons.
When issues arise, we work with our peer advocates to guide and support prisoners through internal remedies (like grievances), and make external referrals to local societies, lawyers and other supports when needed.
These issues are then brought forward to the warden and the prison’s upper management. Prior to COVID-19, this was done through in- person meetings following our advocacy visits. Now, our teams meet regularly with the warden over the phone. Whether in person or over the phone, these meetings are documented in a formal letter that is then sent to the warden, the CSC commissioner for women, the Office of the Correctional Investigator, and the Senate.
The CAEFS office also uses the information gathered by the regional advocacy teams to develop more strategic advocacy positions that we use to work towards policy changes that center the needs of criminalized and/or incarcerated women and gender diverse people, described below under 'Legal and Policy Initiatives'.
Regional advocates also provide, or help to facilitate, trainings and workshops for federally incarcerated people. These include Human Rights in Action and more recently a series on Reproductive Justice.
Current Legal and Policy Initiatives
Human Rights Case
In 2010 CAEFS filed a Human Rights Case on behalf of all federally sentenced women in 2010 before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Information from our years of advocacy and monitoring conditions of confinement will be used as evidence in this case. For instance, we have created a comprehensive database that tracks the issues raised in our regular advocacy letters to wardens. This will allow CAEFS to document past human rights concerns, as well as any that may arise in the future. CAEFS continues to work on this case today.
CAEFS is working to support the inquest into the death of Terry Baker, found unresponsive in 2016 at the Grand Valley Institution. This death affirms that prisons are no place for individuals with mental health issues. As an organization with a substantial interest in the Inquest, CAEFS has requested standing to take an active part in the Inquest proceedings and to call an expert witness.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has launched a federal constitutional challenge to the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in federal prisons. The legal case focuses on Correctional Service Canada (CSC)’s failure to adequately protect the health and safety of prisoners during the pandemic, including the failure to implement adequate infection control and make physical distancing possible, and to take proactive steps to shift low-risk prisoners to community supervision. In mid-June 2020, CAEFS submitted an affidavit to support this legal challenge. The affidavit draws on information that CAEFS has collected through our ongoing monitoring of conditions of confinement in prisons designated for women, and reflects conversations with incarcerated women and gender diverse people across the country from April 2-July 15, 2020. In the affidavit, CAEFS highlights reported concerns about prisoners’ health, including the impossibility of maintaining physical distancing, limited access to cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment, a lack of control over who enters a living unit, concerns regarding the possibility of CSC staff bringing in the virus, and overall restrictive measures that limit access to programming, phones, elders and cultural supports, legal counsel, health-care staff,and parole officers.
Reproductive (In)Justice in Federal Prisons Designated for Women
A new report by Martha Paynter and published by the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) describes how federal incarceration impedes reproductive justice by restricting access to health services and by destroying family connections - this is especially true for Indigenous prisoners. CAEFS is an organization dedicated to defending the rights of incarcerated women, trans, non-binary, and Two Spirit prisoners and working towards a world without prisons.
The report is informed by a series of Reproductive Justice workshops offered to people in 5 of the 6 prisons designated for women in late 2019 and early 2020 by the report’s author. Workshops were delivered with the collaboration of Indigenous Elders at each institution and with the support of CAEFS’ regional advocates. What was learned in the workshops, and made clear in the report, is that the reproductive health of incarcerated women, trans, non-binary, and Two Spirit people in Canada is threatened by the very nature of their incarceration - but that there is tremendous resilience and resistance amongst this population of people too… to live, to parent, to thrive.
The workshops began in response to the findings of the External Review of Tubal Ligation in the Saskatoon Health Region, led by Dr. Yvonne Boyer and Dr. Judith Bartlett, which in turn was prompted by the 2015 media report regarding the forced sterilization of Indigenous women in the Saskatoon Health Region. Boyer and Bartlett interviewed seven women who bravely came forward for their review. Over 100 women have joined in class action lawsuits for damages stemming from the experience across several provinces. . Recognizing that people who are incarcerated may not have known about or had access to communication pathways to contribute to their inquiry, Senator Boyer supported the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) to engage with currently incarcerated people in federal prisons for women to discuss sterilization and other reproductive health and justice issues.
The report also includes recommendations for advocacy for the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies to advance reproductive health and justice.
You can read the full report here.