Citizens rally for prisoner's rights. Photo by Rebbeca Marroquin.

A letter written by a Regina advocacy group is getting the public’s attention.

Colonialism No More sent a letter to federal public safety minister Ralph Goodale on Jan. 17, asking for an in depth investigation into a deadly riot that took place at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in 2016. The letter noted that the Saskatchewan Penitentiary had over 400 complaints from prisoners in 2015, which is more than any other federal penitentiary in the country.  

As of March 1 the minister had not replied, according to Colonialism No More’s representatives, so the group held a rally outside Regina’s federal building, organized jointly with the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism.

Colonialism No More member Andrew Loewen said prisoners face poor quality food, inaccessibility to medical services, physical abuse from authorities and overcrowded space.

“We do have concerns that this may not be getting the kind of attention that it ought to, and that’s why we’re out here in the street today,” he said.

“Virtually everyone in a federal penitentiary at some point is released and enters society. If those people are locked up in overcrowded situations with sub-par food, with lack of adequate cultural programming, subject to excessive force and violence, the outcomes for those people but also for society at large are something we’d like people to think about,” said Loewen.

Mental health and addictions counsellor Bob Hughes, a member of SCAR, said he works with inmates nationwide and that complaints are very common. He said complaints also come from inmates’ family members who are denied visitor access.  He said he himself was denied access to a family member in jail. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said.  “It creates unrest. It stops a connection with family.”

Chris Kortright, one of the organizers of the rally, said complaints of people in prison are ignored because of how prisoners are viewed by society.

“I think unfortunately, in our society, prisoners are not taken very seriously and most people feel that they are a disposable population, which we do not agree with.” said Kortright. “They’re human beings and they still need to live with dignity.”

Another issue highlighted in the letter is the inaccessibility to culturally appropriate events for Indigenous peoples.

In the Prairie provinces, 48 per cent of federal prisoners are Indigenous. In the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report released in June 2015, Call to Action number 30 reads: “We call upon the federal, provincial and territorial governments to commit to eliminating the overrepresentation of aboriginal people in custody, over the next decade.”

Ralph Goodale declined to be interviewed. Ministerial press secretary Scott Bardsley replied by email, “Minister Goodale has been mandated to ensure that the Correctional Service of Canada enhances its capacity to provide effective interventions for Indigenous offenders, and that it works collaboratively with criminal justice partners and community stakeholders to support the rehabilitation and safe reintegration of Indigenous offenders.” 

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