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Press Release: #FreeThemAllCaravan from Halifax to Vancouver demands prisoner releases

Photo: Free Them All Caravan outside of the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility on April 26, 2020

26 April 2020 – Today, Abolition Coalition member groups from coast-to-coast will drive past sites of confinement and hold online caravans to demand freedom for prisoners and migrant detainees subject to the violence of the Canadian carceral state during the pandemic. Participating groups and individuals will be demanding prisoner releases, competent release planning on the part of governments, and community supports such as transitional housing where required and a universal basic income that’ll position those being diverted and decarcerated from custody to live in security during and beyond the COVID-19 crisis. Participating cities include Halifax, Montreal, Hamilton, Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver.


Today’s multi-city event continues the work of last Sunday’s #FreeThemAllCaravan organized by Solidarity Across Borders because, while significant carceral population reductions have occurred in places like Nova Scotia, where there’s still more work to be done, other jurisdictions have remained stuck in the mud, elevating the risk of incarcerated people to COVID-19 exposure. Ted Thomas, from the Anti-carceral Group who’s organizing today’s caravan in Montreal, explains:  

“Public health officials, other experts and advocates have been sounding the alarm about the risks posed to prisoners since the pandemic took hold in so-called Canada more than a month ago. Yet the federal government has ignored these calls. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair refuses to release prisoners, even those who are elderly or those with major health complications. The safety measures touted by the Correctional Service of Canada aren’t – according to reports from inside prisons – being implemented as CSC claims. A number of penitentiaries under the watch of Minister Bill Blair have seen COVID-19 rapidly spread. It’s fortunate that only one life has been lost thus far, but CSC’s pandemic response shouldn’t be relying on luck to ensure the preservation of life. We’re also now seeing more outbreaks in Quebec’s provincial jails where immediate action is also needed to release prisoners before the COVID-19 spreads any further”.

While the federal and Quebec governments do their best impression of a deer caught in the coronavirus headlights, other jurisdictions too haven’t done enough to safely depopulate their sites of confinement. Ontario is one such jurisdiction where further diversion and decarceration efforts are required, according to Ryerson University sociology professor Jessica Evans who’s also a member of the Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project: 

“While Ontario has managed to reduce the number of prisoners by more than 25% since the pandemic began, significant risks to COVID-19 exposure remain, as was made evident by the recent outbreak at the now closed Brampton jail that resulted in more than 60 prisoners and 10 staff members contracting the often-deadly virus. While closing a carceral institution is generally a positive step, in this case many prisoners were transferred to the Toronto South Detention Centre, potentially exposing more people warehoused and working in that $1 billion hellhole to the virus. The more governments insist on incarcerating people, the longer they expose people to COVID-19 behind and beyond the walls, which only deepens and prolongs the imprisonment and coronavirus pandemics”.

Despite calls for depopulating carceral sites being accompanied by demands for significant investments in community supports for people being steered away or out of carceral institutions, troubling reports emerged this past week illustrating government incompetence and the need for recommendations for robust re-entry resources to be taken more seriously. Meenakshi Mannoe from the Vancouver Prison Justice Day Committee, who’s organizing today’s caravan in the metro Vancouver area, explains:

“As the federal government was busy examining its options and ignoring the advice of experts, advocates, and community-based service providers that have spent their lives getting and keeping people safely out of state custody, COVID-19 took hold in places like Mission Institution. In recent days, we’ve learned of a case where CSC released a prisoner from Mission without a plan to self-isolate locally for 14 days in transitional housing, to ensure he didn’t have the coronavirus, before safely transporting him to his home community to execute his longer-term re-entry plan. While we all watch the crisis unfold in federal prisons, including at Mission where more than 100 prisoners have now tested positive for COVID-19, I want to be clear: the same risks exist in all detention centres – including provincial jails. This weekend, our caravan will travel to two human warehouses run by the province of British Columbia – carceral sites that have failed to massively decarcerate as a response to the pandemic.”

Seeking to prevent the further transmission of COVID-19 and the loss of life, the Abolition Coalition remains steadfast in its message to governments across the country – #ReleaseSavesLives, #CleanOutPrisons and #ExpandCommunitySupports now!  

For details on today’s caravan stops visit:

https://www.facebook.com/events/620446565216500/6565216500/

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