CAEFS uses our platform to raise awareness about the issues that impact criminalized women, trans, non-binary, and Two Spirit people in Canada by elevating their voices and bringing key advocacy issues to the forefront of the public's mind.
News Releases & Public Statements
COVID-19 & Conditions of Confinement
Health Care & Reproductive Justice
Over-Incarceration of Indigenous Women
Criminal Code & the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
CAEFS Events & Statements
Public Statement, June 2020: An Update from CAEFS
Events & Campaigns
Elizabeth Fry Week
Each year, the The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) marks National Elizabeth Fry Week during the week leading up Mother’s Day. The goal is to enhance public awareness and education around criminalized and vulnerable women and gender diverse people in Canada.
We continue to mark this week as Elizabeth Fry Week because most women in prison are mothers, and many of these women were the sole supporters of their families at the time they were incarcerated. When mothers are sentenced to prison, their children are sentenced to separation. We draw attention to this reality by ending Elizabeth Fry Week on Mother’s Day each year.
2021: Human Rights in Action (May 3rd - 7th)
This year’s theme is Human Rights in Action. We’ve selected this theme to draw attention to the many ways that CAEFS, local Elizabeth Fry Societies & their clients, and people who are incarcerated are working to defend and uphold the human rights of people in our communities.
As an organization, we’ve always known that human rights for criminalized and marginalized people are hard
won. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it has been made clear that these rights – even when won – can still be overlooked and minimized. Having rights enshrined in law is not enough. This year then, we draw inspiration from the legacy of this organization’s namesake, Elizabeth Fry, and her work in asserting the humanity of incarcerated people – in helping to center the ‘human’ in their ‘human rights’ through our awareness raising campaign. In doing so, we spotlight the work that is happening across our network to safeguard the humanity of people within systems and structures that are designed to be dehumanizing.
Click below to hear from our Executive Director, Emilie Coyle, on what this year's Elizabeth Fry Week is all about, and how you can get involved. Don't forget to follow #EFryWeek2021 and #HumanRightsinAction for updates throughout the week.
2020: Build Communities, Not Prisons
This year’s theme is ‘Build Communities, Not Prisons’. We used this week to put a spotlight on the amazing community building work that all of our locals do – before, during, and after COVID-19 – because we know that the only real alternative to prisons are thriving communities.
This was also a time to imagine what a thriving community may look like when we emerge from the current pandemic. This crisis has exposed serious flaws and gaps our existing systems. It has become glaringly obvious that we need to create a new way of operating – one that reflects the vital lessons we have been learning about how we are all able to contribute to collective safety and care.
While we would usually be hosting events during Elizabeth Fry Week, we instead responded to our current context by using social media to engage the public to imagine with us, by finishing the sentences below:
A thriving community needs…
When I dream of a world without prisons, I imagine…
Responses were collected and shared using the hashtags #EFryWeek2020, #BuildCommunitiesNotPrisons, and #ImagineAWorldWithoutPrisons.
"I am hopeful that, through this crisis, we can begin to move toward a practical organizing of our communities where no one is left behind. We need communities that create opportunities for transformative justice. Communities that recognize the harm caused by our colonial past and embark on true and active reconciliation with Indigenous nations. Communities that place a priority on dismantling oppression in all of its forms and build a more just future for everyone”. — Emilie Coyle, Executive Director of CAEFS
In a time when there is so much uncertainty, we look forward to making this week one that is centered on hope and imagination, working together to envision the communities we need.
2019: Campaign to End Strip Searching
Every day in prisons across Canada women are forced to strip naked after they visit with their children, after they have gone to work, or to a drumming circle. As a woman at the Grand Valley Prison for women, in Kitchener, Ontario, describes the situation:
“Prior to their incarceration, most women in prison have suffered maliciously at the hands of their past abusers be it physically, mentally, emotionally, and most scarring of all sexual abuse. To say the least, strip searches are traumatizing, and degrading as we are requested to bend over and cough while completely naked in the presence of two officers.”
On May 10th, 2019, Elizabeth Fry Societies and partner organizations across Canada brought together women with lived experience in a National Day of Action to raise awareness, amplify women’s voices and demand that the government #HearMeToo and #EndStripSearching in women’s prisons.
The Correctional Service of Canada would have us believe that strip searches are necessary for the safety and security of prisons and yet they regularly uncover little if any ‘contraband’; the benefits to security are minimal, but the harms to women are substantial.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, we are hard-pressed to understand how forcing women to remove their clothes and perform humiliating actions with intimate parts of their bodies is not understood as sexual assault. Outside of state power, this behaviour would be considered and treated as such.
CAEFS Annual Conference
Every year, CAEFS hosts a conference that brings together our network and communities to raise awareness about the issues facing criminalized women. Every other year, the conference is co-hosted by a local society in their region. On the alternating years, CAEFS hosts the conference in Ottawa, Ontario.
In 2019, CAEFS welcomed attendees from across the country and from as far away as Australia to Ottawa. Together, we engaged in practical conversations examining the totality of the victimization and criminalization cycle for women in Canada.
We heard from our keynotes speakers - Debbie Kilroy, Sharon McIvor, Senator Kim Pate on The History of a Movement: Prison Abolition and on Feminist Strategies for Decarceration.
Our breakout group topics included:
Centring Lived Experience
Barriers to Re-entry
Advocacy and Activism
This conference was organized by CAEFS leadership and a committee of women with lived experience of incarceration.
By Any Other Name: A 15-Day Spotlight on Solitary Confinement in Canada
On November 16th 2020, a coalition of groups invested in prisoner justice launched a 15-day spotlight on the ongoing practice of solitary confinement in Canada. This spotlight led up to the one-year anniversary of the supposed implementation of the Structured Intervention Units (SIUs) in federal Canadian prisons – an implementation that has received considerable public criticism over the failure of the Correctional Service of Canada to cooperate with the independent oversight committee, and a lack of meaningful change from the solitary confinement units they were intended to replace.
While the federal government may have announced that solitary confinement has been abolished in Canada, this 15-day spotlight - coordinated by The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, The John Howard Society of Canada, Prisoners’ Legal Services, and the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University – brought to light all of the ways in which the practice of solitary confinement continues to persist in Canada, just by any other name: SIUs, Restrictive Movement Routines, Mental Health Monitoring, Medical Isolation, Lockdowns, and Dry Celling.
Over the 15-days we hosted daily events and were joined by some of Canada’s most respected and recognized advocates, scholars, lawyers, and politicians – and featured the critical voices of individuals with lived experiences of incarceration and community groups. Including: Dr. Ivan Zinger (Correctional Investigator of Canada), Senator Kim Pate, Chip O’Connor, El Jones, Idil Abdillahi, Anthony Doob, John Conroy, Mr. Justice David Cole, Lisa Kerr, and Members of the Prison for Women Memorial Collective.
Want to learn more? We recorded many of the panels, and you can watch them here.
CAEFS & Justice for Soli: COVID-19 Conversation Series
In April/ May 2020, as we entered into the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, CAEFS partnered with the Justice for Soli Movement to host a series of live-streamed conversations with activists, legal and healthcare professionals, government officials, and individuals with lived experience of incarceration. These conversations happened weekly in April and May 2020.