AGM speech October 2014 – Bryonie Baxter, Executive Director, Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa

 

Good evening everyone. I want to begin by thanking you for joining us tonight. We are very pleased to see you here. Before I begin I also want to draw your attention to the new funding initiative we have in your package from Fundscrip. Fundscrip is an innovative program that lets you earn cash rebates for our group based on things you buy everyday like groceries, gas and other household items.  Every month you spend hundreds of dollars for things like food, gas, clothing, pharmacy, restaurants, electronics, home renovations, department stores, and so on.

All you have to do is pay for some or all of your purchases using GIFT CARDS bought at face value from FundScrip participating retailers and a percentage of every gift card purchased is contributed to our group’s fundraising efforts. So instead of paying with cash or a debit card, you use a gift card that you purchased through our group. It costs you nothing extra but you just earned money for our organization. We would appreciate your support and all information about the program is on our webpage.

I was listening to CBC radio driving back from Grand Valley Institute (the Federal Prison for women) one day in July. The show that was playing was Spark, with Norah Young and I had tuned in to an analysis of gender stereotyping of robots.

Yes robots.

Friederike Eyssel, a professor of Gender and Emotion in Cognitive Interaction Technology at Bielefeld University, along with her colleague Frank Hegel, researched gender stereotyping of robots by showing them two different photos. One was a photo of a robot with long hair and the other a picture of a robot with short hair. Other than hair length, the photo was exactly the same.

Then they asked the participants questions about the robots. To what extent is the robot sociable, warm-hearted, and nurturing? To what extent is it dominant, assertive, with a sense of agency?

According to Eyssel, not only was the robot with short hair perceived as having stereotypically male qualities, participants also believed it was better suited to tasks like guarding, protecting, and fixing.

The robot with longer hair was seen as better suited for tasks like taking care of children at home, and taking care of a household.

 

The show was looking at the issue “Will Robots Make Us Sexist?” Soraya Chemaly argues that the male-dominated tech sector is affecting the way we design artificial intelligence. Public perception of the robot’s appearance is linked to their perception of the suitability of the robot to the task they are built to do. In other words, producers of robots looking to build a commercial robot for work in a nursing home perceive they will have more success marketing that robot it they create it with longer hair and a more feminized appearance.

 

As if this wasn’t frustrating enough, the show went on to talk about google searches and auto fill. You know what that is, it’s when you type words into google and google offers suggestions about the words that come next based on the frequency with which those words follow the ones you have typed. Apparently, if you type the words “Women Should” in google, auto fill will provide the following answers and remember, these are based on the greatest frequency with which these words finish the sentence on google searches…

 

  • Remain silent in church
  • Not laugh in public (this one thanks to the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister)
  • Not be in the military
  • Not run
  • Not wear pants
  • Be disciplined

 

 

You can conduct a similar experiment with similarly depressing results using any other group prone to sterotyping (Aboriginal people should….Black people should….). The only thing you need to know is that google search self customizes to your search history so you may get different results.

 

It got me wondering about stereotypes of prisoners. And so I tried it. I typed in Prisoners should and got the following answers.

 

Prisoners should…

  • Not be educated
  • Have no rights
  • Be punished
  • Be given religious teachings
  • Work
  • Not have luxuries

 

And most troubling of all…

 

  • Be used in medical experiments

What all of this reveals is twofold. First of all, it tells me that the mandate of feminist organizations like ours in combatting gender stereotyping and offering gender specific service is still very much needed. Technology, rather than pushing the edges of our sex role stereotyping is only serving to replicate it.

 

And this also tells me is that we still have a long long way to go in educating the public about the realities of who Prisoners are and why they end up in jail, and what we need to do as a society in order to reduce crime. People still see people who have done time as the “other” when in reality they are our sisters, our mothers, our daughters. Classifying them as “other” in their minds allows us to treat them with less dignity and respect than we would accord other fellow human beings. Based on those answers, I imagine it will be a long time before the need for Elizabeth Fry Societies across the country diminishes to the point that we can close our doors.

 

I have spoken before at previous AGMs about the troubling path Canada is on regarding incarceration and corrections. Tough on Crime thinking has us travelling the path of the failed penal policies of the United States. Today 1 out of every 100 adults in America is incarcerated, for a total incarcerated population of over two and a quarter million people – (which incidentally is almost double the incarcerated population of China). And a full ½ of those people are incarcerated on drug charges. (Pew Charitable Trusts Public Safety Performance Report 2008). In fact, there are so many people incarcerated in the US now that Sesame Street devoted an episode for children on having a parent in prison. Think about it – Sesame Street! The US has incarcerated the equivalent of the entire population of Kuwait. Now in Canada we are still much lower than this at about 1/6th the rate of imprisonment of the US, but we are trending up, and this is troubling In 2013, which is the last time we have data on this, the incarcerated population of Canada reached an all time high, and we can predict this trend is continuing. And it’s not just about incarcerating more people – Parole grant rates have dropped 20 per cent in five years and offenders are serving longer periods of time before their first release. As Steve Sullivan points out in his October 2014 article in Ipolitics, keeping criminals in prison longer may sound good to some but it also means less time in the community with the kind of supervision and conditions requiring them to take programs, and it is expensive to the public purse. Without even counting the costs to women and their families who pay the brunt of the lacks of reintegration supports, keeping only 5 women in Federal jail for an extra year costs taxpayers more than $1 million (2013 Annual Report, Public Safety Canada).

 

The Elizabeth Fry Societies are trying to stop these troubling trends – all of them. We challenge the sexism and racism inherent in the corrections and policing systems. We challenge the notion that incarcerating people is the way to achieve less crime and advocate for greater access to community based alternatives to incarceration as a way to reducing recidivism. And if they build a gender stereotyped robot to work in Corrections no doubt we will challenge that too. With the work of our Provincial and Federal networks – the Council of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Ontario and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, we have made some good gains. We have clarified with the provincial Ministry that it is not illegal for a woman to refuse to wear a bra in prison. We assisted Christina Jahn in her fight for better treatment of women with mental health issues who are incarcerated and restrictions on the number of days prisoners with mental health issues can be segregated and we are proud to say that not only did Christina win that fight, but she also received a CMHA Community Appreciation award for her tenacity in that battle. We assisted Julie Bilotta in her fight for justice after she gave birth to baby Gionni on the floor of a segregation cell and have seen some positive changes to policy regarding pregnant women and new mothers after that travesty. We have also assisted Transgender prisoners in their fight to be assigned a cell based on their gender identity rather than their gender assignment at birth.

 

And in between all that, we help women and youth with the daily challenges they face in reintegrating post incarceration or post conflict with the law and avoiding further criminalization. We help them get identification and medication. We help them get schooling and reading glasses in jail and out support for those things are funded entirely out of donations. We help them find housing they can afford (or almost afford) and help them stabilize that housing when they find it. We help them successfully complete diversion programming to avoid a jail term where possible. We help them with trauma counselling, anger counselling, theft and fraud prevention counselling. We help youth feel better about themselves, communicate better with parents and caregivers, find alternative and better ways to problem solve and manage conflict. We help people with mental health and addictions issues with a range of programs from DBT (dialectical behavioural therapy) to addictions counselling and relapse prevention programming as well as getting their “tools” done so they can be accepted into residential treatment programs. We help women prepare for court, prepare for prison, prepare for the parole board, prepare for community, prepare for a crime free life. We help them with financial planning and budgeting, stabilizing their incomes. We help find ways to leave abusive and violent situations. And sometimes we just help them stay safe – with harm reduction supplies and bad date lists and a peer support supper club for women in the sex trade.

 

And you help us help our clients. By showing up here today you are demonstrating your support for our mission and vision. Whether you are here representing a Ministry, a community agency, a social advocacy group or just representing yourself; whether you are here as a volunteer, a Board member, a staff member, a client or ex-client or just an interested member of the community – the fact is you are here, learning about what we do, where the need is, and where we must continue to push for change to create a justice system predicated on justice rather than punishment. We need to make a cultural shift away from a Law and Order Agenda, a Tough on Crime Agenda, to a Justice agenda. And I guarantee that when we successfully achieve that, we will see further reductions in crime across the country as people are supported in their attempts to turn their lives around rather than punished for being poor, being racialized, being socially disadvantaged, being victims of violence, having mental illness…

 

I want to thank you for coming. We have here today with us a woman who can tell us what it is to experience incarceration first hand and I want to acknowledge and thank her for her bravery in speaking publically about her experience. And we also have with us today many other women with first-hand experience – clients of our agency – here to hold us accountable to the standard we have set for ourselves and also celebrate those small achievements we have been able to make.

 

To our Board, our staff, our volunteers, our supporters…thank you for all that you do to help us in our mandate and help our clients in their goals. You are an amazing group of people with huge hearts and we could not achieve any of it without you. I know that I am so often caught up in our destination that I sometimes forget to appreciate the journey, especially the goodness of the people met on the way, so let me take the opportunity to remedy this now and say again thank you for the gifts of your time, your talents and your commitment to the agency’s mission. This current year is proving to be a tough one for us financially and a year. But it is important that we remember that if we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: and if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, success would not be so welcome. In this, my seventh year with the agency, I look forward to learning and growing through the tough times together so we can better appreciate and celebrate our future success.

 

Thank you and enjoy the rest of the evening.

 

 

SAVE THE DATE – 2014 ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING – THURSDAY , OCTOBER 16

2014 Annual General Metting

2014 Annual General Meeting

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK—FAR FROM REALITY TV

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK—FAR FROM REALITY TV

Kelly Rose Pflug Back spent most of her teenage years hitch hiking and riding freight trains across Canada, living in abandoned buildings and flop houses, even protest camps. It was a protest, in fact—at the G20 Summit in Toronto—that resulted in a handful of mischief charges against Pflug Back, and eight and a half months of detention at the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton, Ont., in 2012.

Watching Orange is the New Black, the Netflix series that drew rave reviews for its so-called cutting edge portrayal of the gritty life of women behind bars, was surreal for Pflug Back once she was released from custody. Its jovial sitcom sensibility was entirely misleading. It didn’t show the contagious diseases that result from poor hygiene and dismal health care behind bars. It didn’t mention the insidious sexual harassment of guards toward women prisoners, the claustrophobia, or the concrete box that served as an “exercise yard.”

Pflug Back, a Toronto-based author, poet and activist, will share stories of women prisoners she met, the conditions those women face once they are safely hidden from prying eyes and how society’s perception of life in prison, shaped by media and inexperience, is at odds with reality, as the guest speaker for this year’s Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa’s 63rd annual general meeting.

Come join us for a lively and enlightening talk, followed by discussion, about punishment, human rights and dignity in Canada’s prison system from the co-founder of Voices Unchained, a magazine which publishes art and writing by incarcerated women.

When: October 16, 2014, 6 p.m.
Where: Pine View Golf Course, Gloucester Hall, 1471 Blair Rd., Ottawa
RSVP: jody.brenton@efryottawa.com, 613-237-7427, ext. 113

Refreshments provided

The Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa is a not-for-profit United Way member agency devoted to helping women and female youth who are, or may be, at risk of coming into conflict with the law. It offers a variety of programs and services to provide women with confidential supportive living and learning environments so they can live independent, self-supporting lives. EFSO also provides transitional housing in a 12-bed facility designed to assist women with reintegration into the community post-incarceration. Learn more at www.efryottawa.com.

UNDERSTAFFED ONTARIO JAIL FACING RIOTS, CHAOS IN WAKE OF RECENT FIRINGS

Josh Elliott, CTVNews.ca

Published Sunday, September 7, 2014

To read the article online and to view the video clip, click here.

The Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre in London, Ont., remains under lockdown after a chaotic week of staff firings, work refusals and prisoner unrest.

A riot broke out at the EMDC Saturday night, when jail managers were attempting to control unruly inmates during the jail-wide lockdown. Cells were flooded, lights were broken and inmates in the female detention wing were banging on their doors and windows.

EMDC correctional officers say they’re worried inmates have concealed shards of broken glass to use as weapons later.

The Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre in London, Ont., remains under lockdown.

“Our fear is now that those offenders now have weapons in their cells,” Tammy Carson, the health and safety representative for correctional officers at the EMDC, told CTV London.

The chaos started last Wednesday, when five correctional officers and an EMDC manager were fired in connection with the Oct. 31, 2013 beating death of inmate Adam Kargus.

The ministry of correction services says the terminations were over the officers’ involvement — or lack of involvement — in what led to the inmate’s death.

Kargus was beaten to death in an EMDC shower last Halloween. One inmate was charged with second-degree murder and two others were charged with lesser offences.

Then in March, three jail staffers were also charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life in connection to the 29-year-old’s death. They were among those fired Wednesday.

Members of the correctional officers’ union reacted to the firings with a series of work refusals, forcing a jail-wide lockdown that’s been in place ever since.

The union representing correctional officers at the jail says overcrowding, understaffing and inmate violence have made conditions unsafe for employees working there.

“Health and safety is important for everybody,” OPSEU local 108 president Dominic Bragaglia told CTV London.

Bragaglia said he asked EMDC managers earlier this week to call in a Crisis Intervention Team to bring the jail under control.

But he said EMDC management did not call the Crisis Intervention Team, saying they’d prefer to deal with the problem themselves. Instead, Bragaglia said they’ve asked for staffing help from managers at other jails across the province.

Off-duty correctional officers have also been called in to help the undermanned facility.

The Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services issued a statement to CTV London addressing the crisis late Saturday.

“The safety of our corrections staff and inmates is our top priority,” the statement said. “Because of a work refusal by corrections staff, EMDC remains in lockdown to maintain safety and security.”

Inmates will continue to receive meals and medical treatment while the Ministry addresses the situation, the statement said.

“The Ministry continues efforts to work with the union to fully restore operations and lift the current lockdown.”

Six of Ontario’s 29 jails had more than 200 cases of inmate-on-inmate violence last year, according to statistics obtained by The Canadian Press last April. London’s EMDC was included among those six.

OPSEU president Warren Thomas condemned the firings in a statement on Wednesday.

He said the firings undermine the judicial system, as the individuals who were fired have not been found guilty in court.

“We find it gravely troubling that front-line officers are being held out as the scapegoats for a broken correctional system that the government fails to address,” he said.

Thomas said correctional officers at the EMDC have been “sounding the alarm” about poor conditions for the last two years, without a response.

With a report by CTV Kitchener’s Nadia Matos

Transgender woman’s jail treatment prompts complaints

Katlynn Griffith placed with men at Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, Elizabeth Fry Society says

CBC News

Posted:Mar 07, 2014 4:29 PM ET

A transgender woman arrested in Cornwall last month was housed with men at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre before being transferred to the women’s section, according to a group that advocates for women in the justice system.

The Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa said Friday it plans to file a complaint with Ontario’s ombudsman and a human rights complaint on the inmate’s behalf over how police and workers at the jail handled her detention.

A transgender woman from Cornwall was placed with the men at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre before guards decided to move her to the women’s section of the jail. (CBC)

Katlynn Griffith of Cornwall was arrested on Feb. 15 on a domestic assault charge and sent to the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre on Innes Road.

Griffith, who is in her late 20s, has male anatomy but identifies as female.

She was placed in a holding cell with four men, said Bryonie Baxter, the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa.

Shared cell with 2 men

Baxter said Griffith was concerned about her safety and asked to be put into protective custody.

Guards moved her to the protective custody section and placed her in a cell with two accused male sex offenders, Baxter said.

She was in the cell overnight and into the next day before she was transferred to the women’s section of the jail.

Baxter said while in custody, Griffith was subjected to homophobic slurs from inmates and requests to perform sexual acts and was allegedly referred to as ‘it’ by guards.

Jail sought clarity from province

The incident came to light two weeks later when the union for Ontario jail guards asked the province for an update to policies regarding transgender prisoners, but at the time, it wasn’t clear that Griffith had spent time in the men’s section of the jail.

Denis Collin, the local president of OPSEU at the detention centre, said Friday his understanding was that the inmate was placed with men but only for “a very short period of time” and as soon as management learned about her case she was moved to the women’s section.

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services said it handles the sexual identity of its inmates “on a case-by-case basis.”

In a statement to CBC News last week, the ministry said transgender inmates “bring a unique set of circumstances when coming into the provincial correctional system.”

Individuals may self-identify as transgender or authorities may notify the jail the inmate is transgender during the screening process, the ministry policy states. Correctional officers take self-identification into account “along with objective evidence such as medical evidence or other physical attributes” to determine where the inmate should be placed.

The policy “allows for discretion in recognizing the needs of the individual and the other inmates in the institution.”

Policy needs to change, says advocate

Earlier this month, a transgender person who identified as female, but had male anatomy, was housed with the male population in a Toronto jail. The inmate’s passport indicated the prisoner was female, and the decision to house her with men led to an outcry online. Subsequently, the transgender woman was moved to a women’s jail.

Bryonie Baxter -  Executive Director

Bryonie Baxter, who is with the Elizabeth Fry Society, said the problems jail guards are having handling transgender inmates indicates the province’s case-by-case policy isn’t working. (CBC)

Baxter said Griffith’s situation may have been confusing for both her and the jail guards, as she had been in custody there in 2013 when she did not identify as a transgender woman.

But Baxter said these cases show the provincial policy needs work.

“If these individual cases keep coming up, it’s indicative that the policy isn’t enough, it is not working as they have indicated it would,” said Baxter.

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services said in a statement Friday it is undertaking a review of its policy on transgender inmates in provincial custody and will be consulting with all stakeholders.

Seeking Accountability by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) for its treatment of Women with Mental Health Concerns

- Coroner’s Jury releases its verdict in the Ashley Smith Inquest -

After 107 days of evidence and testimony in the Ashley Smith Inquest, the five woman jury declared Ms. Smith’s death a homicide. Ms. Smith spent her brief adult life inside federal segregation cells across Canada, having been transferred seventeen times in less than one year. On October 19, 2007 nineteen year old Ashley Smith died by ligature asphyxiation in a segregation cell at Ontario’s Grand Valley Institution. Although she was on “constant observation” and “suicide watch”, her death was witnessed by correctional officers following a directive not to intervene until she was no longer breathing. 104 recommendations are contained in the verdict.

Some of the 104 recommendations by the Coroner’s Jury include:

  • That there be adequate staffing of qualified, mental health care providers with expertise and experience in treating mental health issues, self-injurious behaviours, suicidality, and trauma at every women’s institution;
  • Use of indefinite solitary confinement should be abolished;
  • Use of segregation or seclusion  be restricted to a maximum of fifteen consecutive days;
  • No criminalized person should be placed into segregation for more than sixty days in a calendar year;
  • Increased access to family and supports (and, at minimum, weekly contact), in person or via technologies, when criminalized women are detained outside of their geographic region;
  • Opportunity for women to meet with advocates from non-governmental organizations, such as the Elizabeth Fry Society, at any time;
  • Adoption of a revised Code of Ethics, applicable to all CSC staff, that highlights their obligation to preserve life and provide timely access to medical services;
  • Independent audits into implementation of jury recommendations be conducted, with their findings released to the public.
  • Audit of CSC by the Auditor General of Canada

As noted in the jury’s verdict, Ms. Smith’s case demonstrates how Canada’s correctional system and federal/provincial health care can collectively fail to provide an identified mentally ill, high risk, high needs woman with the appropriate care, treatment and supports. CSC reports that 29% of women in detention are identified at admission as presenting with mental health problems, an increase of more than 120% since 1996/1997.  Further, as the 2012 Annual Report of the Correctional Investigator of Canada, Howard Sapers, noted, there was a dramatic increase in the number and prevalence of serious self-injury incidents (often an indicator of an underlying or untreated mental illness) in federal prisons in the last five years. Sapers also noted an increase in use of force interventions, citing the fact half of all use of force incidents involved women with identified mental health issues. Further, two-thirds of all use of force incidents in the regional facilities involved Aboriginal women inmates. His report also stated that: “In the last five years, the number of federally incarcerated women has increased by almost 40% while the number of Aboriginal women has increased by over 80% in the last decade.”

Taken together, the reports of the Correctional Investigator of Canada, and the verdict of the Ashley Smith Inquest jury tell us that there is much work to be done to address the chronic issues in Canadian prisons. Women in detention are an extremely marginalized group who are often in prison as a result of larger systemic reasons. While the jury recommendations are welcome, the root causes of women’s detention such as poverty, racism, colonialism, and violence – fundamental issues affecting women’s equality that start outside of prison walls – must be addressed in order to prevent women being incarcerated in the first place.

The Ashley Smith case is unfortunately one among many instances of cruel and inhumane treatment of women in detention in this country. Canadians now know about her case, but we should not assume it is an isolated case, and nor should we do anything less than call upon the government to address the systemic causes of the increasing imprisonment of women with mental illness in this country.

In the meantime, the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) welcomes, and awaits, the government’s adoption of the jury’s recommendations.

Ashley Smith coroner’s jury rules prison death a homicide

An Ontario coroner’s jury in Toronto has ruled the self-inflicted choking death of Ashley Smith in her segregated prison cell was a homicide.

​Smith, 19, originally from Moncton, N.B., was imprisoned at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., when she died in 2007.

She had tied a piece of cloth around her neck while guards stood outside her cell door and watched. They had been ordered by senior staff not to enter her cell as long as she was breathing.

Presiding coroner Dr. John Carlisle read the jury’s findings Thursday afternoon, concluding,”May she rest in peace, and may God bless her memory.”

The five-woman jury made dozens of recommendations after hearing evidence from more than 80 witnesses in almost 11 months of testimony.

Among the recommendations was that there be no requirement for staff to seek authorization prior to intervening in crisis situations.

​The recommendations include:

· Smith’s death be used as a case study to demonstrate how health care and the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) failed her.

· Within 72 hours of admission to a federal institution, all female inmates be assessed by a psychologist to determine whether self-injurious behaviour exists.

· Female inmates receive support from female psychologists and support workers.

· The CSC ensure nursing services are available on site for inmates at all times.

· There be adequate staffing of qualified mental health staff at every women’s institution.

· The CSC expand the scope and terms of psychiatrists’ contracts to enable them to perform duties in a meaningful way.

· A federally operated treatment facility for high-needs, high-risk women be created.

· Decisions about clinical management of inmates be made by doctors, not CSC staff.

· Inmates must have access to an independent patient advocate system

· Indefinite solitary confinement for prisoners be abolished.

· Until indefinite solitary confinement is abolished with CSC, its use must be restricted to no more than 360 hours.

· Meetings between prisoners and support staff should not happen through food slots (something that happened frequently with Smith.)

· Prison staff be allowed to refuse orders without fear of reprisal.

· Prison staff at all levels be personally responsible for everyone’s right to life.

· Female inmates be accommodated in regions closest to family and supports.

Smith’s mother, Cora-Lee Smith, was not in Toronto for the reading of the verdict.

Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Frye Societies – a group that works with female inmates – had hoped the jury would return a verdict of homicide.

“Many staff members have reported that she did advise them that she knew what she doing was dangerous, but she also knew it was their job to save her,” said Pate.

“So it is very clear that a combination of the order not to intervene that was sanctioned, seemingly right up to national headquarters of Correctional Services Canada, combined with the impact that had on staff, is really a major contributor to her death.”

Homicide is defined as the killing of a human being due to the act or omission of another.

Pate said homicide verdict would not mean any criminal or civil responsibility, but would only indicate Smith’s death was preventable.

In the last year of Smith’s life, the mentally troubled teenager was shuffled 17 times between nine institutions in five provinces.

Full article from CBC

Murder highlights importance of sex-worker safety

As police search for the person responsible for the recent slaying of Ottawa sex-trade worker Amy Paul, the Somerset West Community Health Centre is promoting safety tips for women selling sex during this time of “heightened concern,” says an outreach worker from the centre.

Paul, a sex-trade worker based in Vanier, was reported missing on Sept. 9. Her body was found in a hay field south of Ottawa, near Kars and Osgoode, on Sept. 20.

“Due to the fact that the police are looking for a possible serial killer of sex workers in the Ottawa area, we thought it was timely to put out some safety tips,” says Allison LaVigne, the community outreach worker behind the centre’s efforts.

LaVigne worked with Sarah Gott, a social work student at Algonquin College, to design posters with safety advice for sex workers and put them up around Somerset West, located on Eccles Street. The posters encourage workers to be aware of their surroundings, avoid isolated areas, and work with partners.

The centre is also launching a self-defence program, which was originally designed by sex-trade workers and police in Vancouver. The workshops will teach sex-trade workers how to physically defend themselves and also about Canadian laws surrounding self-defence.

LaVigne says the workshops use a “train-the-trainer” model that teaches women how to defend themselves against violence and then encourages them to share those tactics with other sex-trade workers. “It’s a sex worker legacy for other sex workers,” she says.

As the main distributor of Ottawa’s Safe Inhalation Program, which provides safe materials such as clean glass stems and protective mouthpieces for people in Ottawa who use drugs, LaVigne says that the Somerset West centre has a unique role in sharing safety information.

“Because we have our Needle Exchange Safer Inhalation van that goes out six days a week, we’re out doing front-of-the-line outreach with the on-the-street population,” says LaVigne. “We serve a population of survival sex workers that other organizations don’t.”

The Ottawa Police have recently shared similar tips for sex workers.

“We want the sex workers to be safe, so what we recommend is that they take on the buddy system,” says Insp. Chris Rheaume.

“You’re dealing with a type of business that is very risky to start with,” he says. “Do we condone (sex work)? Obviously not. I wouldn’t recommend that anybody get into that business. But it’s one of these things that we can work together in a partnership to try and make it safer for them.”

Not everybody believes that sharing these tips is effective.

Christine Bruckert, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa, says that sex workers are already aware of the need for these kinds of precautions.

“It’s rather annoying, the police or the community centres telling sex workers (to follow this advice) when these are things that sex workers have been doing for years,” says Bruckert.

Additionally, she says, many of these tactics are “undermined by the law” and “aggressive” policing.

On June 13, the Supreme Court heard the case of Bedford v. Canada, which challenged Canadian prostitution laws. A decision is expected later this fall.

“Really, nothing has changed in the way that women are policed. And it won’t until that decision is reached,“ says Bryonie Baxter, the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa.

Baxter adds that policing is “driving sex work into the margins of the city, away from areas where women have supports in place, where they’re more visible.”

Along with the organization POWER, Bruckert says she is asking the police to stop enforcing laws that prevent sex workers from behaving safely — “especially in light of the fact that they’ve identified a predator.”

LaVigne says that although the Somerset West Community Health Centre’s programs may lead to immediate harm reduction, there are deeper issues that need to be addressed.

These include criminalization, stigma, poverty, addiction, and a legacy of colonialism that has left aboriginal women disproportionately affected by this violence.

“Are these simple tips and self-defence workshops enough?” says LaVigne. “Absolutely not. Society needs to address the impact it has on survival sex work.”

Full article from Centretown News

Ottawa woman’s human rights settlement sparks sweeping changes for Ontario jails

OTTAWA — The province of Ontario will make sweeping changes to the way its jails treat mentally ill women and administer solitary confinement after settling a human rights complaint with a bipolar and terminally ill Ottawa woman.

Christina Jahn filed a complaint against the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, alleging the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre discriminated against her by locking her up in segregation for more than 200 days instead of treating her mental illness.

On Tuesday, the ministry reached a settlement with Jahn, promising to change the way they operate by screening all inmates for mental illness, devising treatment plans and training staff to better deal with the mentally ill.

The ministry also agreed it will no longer use segregation for people with mental illness unless they can demonstrate they’ve considered and rejected all other alternatives. Inmates with a major mental illness who are placed in segregation will be examined by a psychiatrist every five days, according to the settlement.

As part of the settlement, the ministry agreed to conduct a study within the next 18 months to measure the need for a secure treatment centre for mentally ill female offenders, something critics have complained is long overdue. The province currently has a 100-bed secure treatment facility for men, but nothing for women.

The findings and recommendations of that report will be provided to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, according to the agreement. The ministry has committed to acting on the recommendations within another 18 months, or publicly explain why they won’t.

The 43-year-old Jahn, who is dying of advanced breast and bone cancer, also received a cash settlement, although the exact amount is confidential. She had been seeking a record $250,000 in damages in an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal hearing that was supposed to have started Monday. The two sides reached a settlement before the proceedings began.

“The compelling facts of this case have really caused the ministry to wake up and agree to serious systemic change for inmates with mental illness,” said Jahn’s lawyer, Paul Champ. “To the credit of the ministry, I’ve never seen a government department agree to such positive and far-reaching changes.”

Jahn said her fight wasn’t about the money.

“It was a matter of discrimination, the way I was being treated,” said Jahn.

“I think it’s a good start in order to get some change going on in the way people are treated. I hope that others after me won’t have to go through this and that people who have experienced this will come forward with their stories,” she said.

Jahn alleged that the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre discriminated against her on the grounds of mental illness and gender when they denied her cancer medication, left the lights on in her cell night and day, forced her to sleep on the floor without a mattress and shut off her cell’s water for days at a time.

She spent at least 23 hours a day in a windowless cell during separate stays at the Innes Road detention centre in 2011 and 2012.

During one of her stays, Jahn missed a scheduled surgery and chemotherapy. She needed an emergency mastectomy after being released from the jail because her cancer had become so advanced.

“It was the worst treatment I had ever had,” said Jahn, who insisted that the public interest remedies promised by the ministry be made public. “It seemed like a decision was made and I wasn’t getting out of there under any circumstances.”

Raj Dhir, a lawyer for the Ontario Human Rights Commission, said the settlement not only addresses Jahn’s experience, but the policies and procedures that led to her being placed in segregation in the first place.

“It recognizes that the lack of accessible treatment and programs, and the use of segregation, can have severe consequences for inmates with mental disabilities,” said Dhir.

“The ministry has committed to making a number of changes to better address the mental health needs of incarcerated individuals. These changes are consistent with recommendations by experts, oversight bodies and Canadian and international health and human rights organizations,” he said.

Bryonie Baxter, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society, said the changes are long overdue.

“I think it’s a good step toward better treatment to people with mental illness in Ontario prisons,” said Baxter, who praised Jahn for being “incredibly brave” in challenging the ministry and forcing change.

“We’ve been asking for this both from the ministry and the ombudsman’s office for years. What happened to Christina could have been prevented had they moved on what was clearly a need far more quickly,” said Baxter.

Jail documents revealed Jahn, serving sentences for resisting arrest, shoplifting and causing a disturbance, was being held in segregation for no other reason than her mental illness.

It was apparent the guards thought little of Jahn, whose lawyer acknowledged she was a challenging inmate because of her mental illness. In one memo, a jail guard described her as being the “thoroughly disgusting, rude and obnoxious inmate that all staff have experienced in the past” when explaining why the water to her cell was being shut off.

Jahn alleged her treatment led to “harm to dignity, humiliation, mental anguish and reckless discrimination.”

Champ earlier alleged the jail treated Jahn in an “utterly cruel and degrading manner” and the treatment she received was the “worst to ever come before a human rights tribunal.”

As a result of the settlement, the ministry will also become more transparent. They will revise the handbook that is provided to inmates to include prisoner rights and ministry policies, and will post the document online.

Neither has ever before been done, and Jahn complained that the ministry refused to provide her with such information while she was detained.

Full Article from the Ottawa Citizen

The 8th annual October 4th Sisters In Spirit Vigils

On October 4 2013, The Elizabeth Fry Scoiety of Ottawa held a vigil in solidarity with The Native Women’s Association of Canada.

© 2008 The Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa. All Rights Reserved
Created by: bv02