Prison racism

The Senate of Canada’s Standing Committee on Human Rights in its interim report released in February of 2019 on the state of human rights of inmates in our federal prisons addressed racism in the system as part of its investigation.
“The committee wishes to draw attention to the fact that it has heard personal storis of racism and discrimination from almost every Black individual with whom it has had contact during its fact-finding visits.  This includes persons serving sentences and those administrating them.  Discrimination was often based on multiple, intersecting identity factors like gender, race, language and ethnic origin.  These experiences transcend the correctional environment and condition the way Black people in Canada experience the world.  As one witness stated, ‘one aspect of anti-Black racism in the prison system is that it is not only applied to prisoners but also to Black communities, families and advocates.’  Another told the committee that they would need to live a year in her skin to fully understand her testimony.”


Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told the House of Commons standing committee on public safety on Monday, November 2 last year that Indigenous and racialized people experienced “really bad results” in the federal criminal justice system.  “We know that Black Canadians and Indigenous peoples are overrepresented in the Canadian justice system and we are prepared to make significant actions, both in investment and legislation, in order to change that,” he added.  Minister Blair agreed with committee members that “timelines clearly defined” were necessary to address racism, some would argue systemic racism, within Correctional Service of Canada.

There isn’t a Black or Indigenous inmate in our federal prison industry who has not experienced racist treatment.  Now, we also have prison staff who allege systemic racism in the agency, too.

“They’re all talk.  Our input, our opinions, our feedback – it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make a difference.  They just slough us off.  This kind of treatment – racism – shouldn’t go on.”  This is Jennifer Constant, one of two CSC correctional officers who are representative plaintiffs in a proposed class-action lawsuit against Correctional Service of Canada filed in Federal court on January 11.  The statement of claim says that, “CSC management and staff treat racialized staff as though they are inmates.  It is an ‘us versus them’ mentality, and racialized CSC staff members are on the outside.”  The suit can proceed once its proposed class – all racialized people who worked for or with CSC – is certified by a judge.


Hold on.  We’re talking here about federal public servants supposedly working on our behalf and in our best interests who are financed from basement to roof, from underwear to tunic, from tire to steering wheel, from first day of training to graduation, and for each hour of a shift, by diverse communities of taxpayers that include racialized minorities who are factually paying government employees to discriminate against them!  Are we still in Canada?

Racism is learned.  Racism is taught.  As hard pressed as we would be to point to a country where racism is not a part of the landscape, perhaps we should credit “the former guy” in Washington’s White House who endorsed racist and white supremacist factions with exposing the depth of it in the United States, and in Canada.

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” 

We out here in the community have the freedom of movement and access to the seats of power to petition for action against this pestilence, unlike the men and women in prisons.  To finish with an excerpt from that senate report, one we’ve printed previously at least twice. “The security features inherent to federal correctional facilities are designed to keep people in as much as they are to keep people out.  As a result, the management of the federally-sentenced population is largely conducted away from public scrutiny.  Invisible to the general population, federally-sentenced persons are often forgotten.”

What Bill Blair told the House committee is old news.  Will anything change this time?

The inmate rating system discriminates, and another lawsuit, next…….





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