Abolition Coalition Statement on Releasing Federal Prisoners

Don’t Kill, Bill: Advocates Call on Minister Blair to Act on Releasing Federal Prisoners

Don’t Kill, Bill:

Advocates Call on Minister Blair to Act on Releasing Federal Prisoners

14 April 2020 – Two weeks have passed since media outlets reported that Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair asked the heads of Correctional Service Canada (CSC) and the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) to put together a plan to release federal prisoners for consideration. Today, people from across Canada are calling upon Minister Blair to release as many federally incarcerated people as possible in order to fight COVID-19.

Incarcerating people during a pandemic is a threat to public health and community safety. Doctors, public health experts, lawyers, prison scholars and the United Nations have all made clear that release is the best way to prevent spread of COVID-19 both behind and beyond prison walls. Beginning later this morning, tweets and images shared on social media with taglines such as “Don’t Kill, Bill” and “Don’t wash your hands of prisoners” (see above) will be used to draw attention to the dangers of incarceration during this pandemic.

Justin Piché from the Abolition Coalition, a collective of organizations working together to secure the release of prisoners during COVID-19 pandemic, is one of the organizers of Tuesday’s tweet storm. Piché states: “What’s Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Blair’s plan to flatten the curve in federal penitentiaries? If they continue to batten down the hatches and wait for the storm to pass – which is clearly failing in Port-Cartier, Joliette, Grand Valley and Mission institutions – the only depopulation of penitentiaries that’ll occur under their watch will be through hospitalizations and deaths in custody. If they’re in favour of retroactive death penalties, they should be up front with the public. If they want to save lives, they need to get on with the business of safely releasing human beings from prison”.

At this time, a robust health response requires releasing people from locked institutions such as prisons, immigration detention centres, psychiatric facilities and youth facilities to the extent possible. To support community transitions advocates are calling upon Minister Blair to put in place adequate supports including housing, access to medication, and other resources. The lack of action by Minister Blair, CSC, institutional heads, the PBC and the Trudeau government is not only a public health concern, but a human rights issue.

Souheil Benslimane, Coordinator of the Jail Accountability & Information Line and former federal prisoner, points to the role penitentiary staff can play in this crisis: “The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers is opposing the release of prisoners during this pandemic. This is appalling, regressive, and harms the most marginalized members of our communities. The union needs to stop promoting prison policies that injure and kill people. COVID-19 presents them with the opportunity to break the cycle of violence against prisoners. We’re demanding that CSC staff, who could potentially be the main carriers of the virus into penitentiaries, live by their titles and make the correct choice”.

Following the tweet storm, advocates and people across Canada will continue to pressure Minister Blair to do his job. Poet, activist and scholar El Jones states: “Minister Blair says he’s asking prison authorities to consider release. He can and must do more than request consideration. He can, for example, use his authority to examine regulatory adjustments and provide resources to the parole board to undertake more hearings. There’s no death penalty in this country. Pandemic isn’t punishment. We fear if Bill Blair doesn’t act, and act immediately, he’ll have to wash his hands because they’ll have the blood of prisoners on them.

The Abolition Coalition’s message is, unlike Minister Blair’s approach to federal imprisonment during the pandemic, unambiguous – #DontKillBill, #ReleaseSavesLives, #CleanOutPrisons now!”

For more information contact:

Atlantic: El Jones

Poet, journalist and community activist / Department of Social Justice and Community Studies, Saint Mary’s University

el.jones@msvu.ca / (902) 401-6325 (calls only / no texts)

Quebec: Ted Thomas

Member, Anti-carceral Group


Ontario: Justin Piché, Associate Professor – Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa / Member, Criminalization and Punishment Education Project

justin.piche@uottawa.ca / (613) 793-1093

Prairies: Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land

Assistant Professor – Department of Criminology Justice, University of Winnipeg / Member, Bar None

b.dobchuk-land@uwinnipeg.ca / (204) 998-1964

Pacific: Meenakshi Mannoe

Member, Vancouver Prison Justice Day Committee

meenakshi.mannoe@gmail.com / (778) 929-4491