Healthcare Inclusion Media release

Media release: Video evidence of need for massive overhaul of provincial justice system

April 6, 2021

For Immediate Release: Video Evidence of Need for Massive Overhaul of Provincial Justice System

Wellness Within, an Organization for Health and Justice is outraged over the most recent documented human rights abuse of prisoners in the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility (CNSCF) in Burnside and call for real change to protect the health and safety of people in our communities.

On April 2, news broke of a video, apparently taken by a corrections officer and posted on the social media site snapchat, The video shows an imprisoned woman with an insulting, dehumanizing caption and refers to the woman as a person with diabetes. The video is an affront to the filmed woman’s dignity and rights to privacy and confidentiality. It also raises grave concerns about the clinical care that prisoners are receiving at CNSCF, the responsibility of NS Health, and of how their health care needs are perceived by correctional staff employed by the Department of Justice.

Incarceration is not appropriate or acceptable for people who are experiencing physical or mental illness. Most people imprisoned in Canada have experienced childhood trauma, sexual and physical abuse, and an enormous proportion are experiencing mental illness, substance use disorder, chronic disease, and infectious disease. The woman in the video is identified as likely to be Mi’kmaw. Nova Scotia and Canada incarcerate Indigenous people at disproportionate and unconscionably high rates. A society is judged by how it treats its most marginalized members. Subjecting people who have already experience trauma to more trauma and then sending them back into the community is inhumane and ineffective. We choose real safety for our communities.

The 1996 Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Certain Events at the Prison for Women in Kingston by Justice Louise Arbour recommended sweeping changes to the justice system after a video came to light of officers grossly mistreating women at the since-closed Prison for Women. The video at CNSCF demands a sweeping overhaul of the Justice system in this province. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls both recommended changes to the justice system to protect the safety of Indigenous people.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Nova Scotia decarcerated 42% of provincial prisoners. There were no negative consequences to this massive effort to protect people from the harm of prison. We believe it is time move beyond incarceration as a solution to social problems and instead focus on such as the universal right to housing, economic equality, decriminalization of all drugs, and massive investment in mental health supports.

Investigating the video incident and terminating the employment of the individual who posted the video is only a minimal first step. We demand:

1.     The immediate release of the woman in the video to safe community-based housing. She requires financial reparations for this egregious harm, and immediate and ongoing access to counselling and trauma support.

2.     Thorough investigation of all other violations of confidentiality and dignity of the people at CNSCF. We are concerned other videos may exist.

3.     An independent, external investigation into clinical care and general treatment in the N.S. prison system, including comprehensive assessment of health concerns of all prisoners, the roles and responsibilities of clinical staff and correctional staff, and policies and procedures regarding treatment and care.

4.     The decarceration of all people currently imprisoned in the East Unit (designated for women) at CNSCF, all of whom are currently at risk and would fear being at risk of this type of abuse.

5.     A long-term provincial plan to cease the incarceration of all women, gender diverse and transgender people, as the Province has demonstrated it can not keep them safe in custody from violence and humiliation.

6.     Reparations for everyone who has experienced violence and mistreatment while incarcerated in Nova Scotia.

Peace and Justice for All in Nova Scotia.