On Canada Day 150, members of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project’s No On Prison Expansion / #NOPE Initiative submitted a petition endorsed by more than 500 Canadians to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Attorney General and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale demanding that the Government of Canada “enact a federal prison construction moratorium, while encouraging Canadian provinces and territories to do the same”. The signatories also called upon the federal government to “refrain from funding provincial and territorial prison construction projects at least until the conclusion of their review of the criminal justice system”, initiated by Prime Minister Trudeau in 2015, “so that viable community alternatives can be seriously considered”. A moratorium on carceral expansion is crucial at this moment when governments across the country work towards transforming relations with Indigenous peoples, who are currently incarcerated on mass in Canada, in the shadow of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which includes calls to action that promote alternatives to confinement.
Canadians were encouraged to sign the petition during a press conference with #NOPE Initiative endorser Senator Kim Pate following the presentation of their report, “Carceral Expansion in Canada’s Provinces and Territories: An Opportunity for Prison Divestment and Justice Reinvestment”, to the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights on May 3, 2017. Based on data collected from February 2016 to January 2017, the report identified 14 jail and prison expansion projects at various stages of completion, adding more than 2,500 new prisoner beds with a price tag surpassing $800 million. The following day, the Government of Ontario announced that a new 725-bed jail would replace the 585-bed Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre, as well as a new 325-bed facility to replace the 120-bed Thunder Bay District Jail and the 124-bed Thunder Bay Correctional Centre, adding 221 beds and hundreds of millions of dollars beyond the figures noted above.
The #NOPE petition was submitted to Prime Minister Trudeau and key members of his Cabinet who set fiscal and/or penal policy in Canada on July 1, 2017 in the hopes that the next 150 years of this country do not begin by being marked by carceral expansion and the deprivation of liberty. “Jails, prisons, penitentiaries and other sites of confinement reproduce inequality by pushing Indigenous peoples, the poor, the racialized, women made vulnerable by patriarchal structures, LGBTQ2, individuals living with mental health and substance use issues, and others further to the margins of Canadian society. We must demand better for ourselves and our communities”, states #NOPE co-founder Teneisha Green.
Given that prisons generally fail to meet their own stated objectives, notably with respect to rehabilitation, deterrence and fostering justice that provides a measure of healing for those impacted by criminalized acts, the #NOPE Initiative calls upon all governments across Canada to halt the disastrous trend of building new and bigger human warehouses. Justin Piché, Associate Professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa, observes, “Expanding our capacity to criminalize and punish through building new cages is counterproductive. Funds currently earmarked for facilities like the newly announced territorial prison in Iqaluit and the promised provincial jail in Ottawa should be reinvested in community services and resources that prevent social harm. Governments have cancelled projects and reallocated funds in the face of public pressure before. I’m confident that as more and more Canadians join the fight to build communities, not more prisons that politicians will enact less costly, more responsible, effective, just and humane approaches to justice”.
Contact available for media interviews:
Justin Piché, PhD
Associate Professor, Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa
(613) 562-5800 ext. 1812 or firstname.lastname@example.org