“I just want to be treated like a human being.”

In Canada?  Why would anyone say that?  What’s going on?  Who is this?  What is happening?

It’s not likely the average Canadian would hear it face to face from another person.  You might pick it up in a radio or television newscast, or when paging through a newspaper in hand or on-line.  Or could it be overheard from the conversation of others in a busy mall food court?  “I just want to be treated like a human being.”

This isn’t about a journalist’s reporting from countries where human rights are ignored.  This is here, in this country, in real time.  “I just want to be treated like a human being.”

This could come from a seasonal agricultural worker, brought here to help grow and harvest our food.  We know there are complaints about the treatment of foreign workers by some corporate farmers.  Or it could be the kids in our child welfare system, housed in foster and group homes where abuses are not uncommon, and where the overdosing of controlling drugs is too frequently a catch-all alternative to therapies.  Are victims of domestic violence and schoolyard bullying whispering this under their breath?

Most of us won’t hear this and don’t hear this from prisoners.  It’s there but it doesn’t get past prison security barriers “designed to keep people in as much as they are to keep people out,” as Canada’s Senate said in a 2019 report about carceral human rights.  The management of the prison “population is largely conducted away from public scrutiny,” the report continued.  Prison inmates can become inured to the vagaries, hypocrisy, and dishonesty that pervades the institutional environment and the air they breathe.  It smothers hope, it chokes the screams.  The words are there though.  Can you hear them? “I just want to be treated like a human being.”

This space has frequently highlighted the proposed revision to a commissioner’s directive on media relations to bring inmate/media access into line with the law and the Charter.  It’s been over three years since Anne Kelly, the head of what we call Correctional Service of Canada, committed to make changes.  A draft is ready and available, but it isn’t in effect.  Why?

Despite all, word can escape the darkness.  Google Joey Toutsaint to read his 3-page complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Committee.  To see Joey Toutsaint in conversation, call up YouTube’s “APTN investigates – 2180 days inside corrections.”  Listen to Mary Wiens interview Nathanael Williams March 10 and March 23 of this year, broadcast on CBC’s Metro Morning.  As a by the way, Nathanael did not get parole.

“I just want to be treated like a human being.”


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