A letter of support for the Saskatchewan prisoners’ hunger strike
Solidarity on behalf of the Carillon
As we continue to reckon with the effects of rising COVID-19 cases in homes, hospitals, businesses and our university – and realizing how flawed the response to these cases has been – we cannot forget about those whose health and safety is most dependent on the government’s response. Some of the most vulnerable to new cases of COVID-19 are incarcerated people, who cannot move freely or isolate themselves beyond the terms set by law enforcement and government policy. If we want to know how the Saskatchewan government is truly responding to keep us healthy, people experiencing the pandemic inside prisons are a crucial indicator – and simply put, it is doing a shameful job.
On Wednesday, January 6, prisoners in Saskatoon Correctional Centre (SCC), Prince Albert Correctional Centre (PACC), Pine Grove Correctional Centre (PGCC), and Regina Correctional Centre (RCC) began a hunger strike in protest of institutional conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Scores of prisoners in Saskatchewan have been diagnosed with COVID, with 62 active cases in RCC alone as of January 6. On January 8, another person died while under the province’s care in a prison, this time at PACC where over 200 people tested positive for COVID.
Prisoners and advocates, like organizer Cory Cardinal, are calling for swift action for this vulnerable population. The demands include: the immediate release of all prisoners possible, including the medically vulnerable and those being held without conviction; the immediate resignation of Christine Tell, Minister for Corrections and Policing, who has shown gross negligence and apathy towards these conditions; immediate and ongoing investment in community supports over prisons; and an apology from the Saskatchewan government to prisoners and staff for failing to prepare for and prevent the spread of the virus.
The undersigned Carillon staffsupport the prisoners and their advocates in this brave fight for justice. We believe that all people are deserving of dignity and security of person, and that this right becomes more, not less, important during a pandemic. We recognize that in Saskatchewan, as elsewhere in so-called Canada, prisons are disproportionately populated by Indigenous people (making up a 75 per cent population of provincial jails) and, as such, they are a crucial component of ongoing settler colonialism. We understand that allowing a deadly illness to spread unchecked in these institutions is an act of violence and inhumanity towards incarcerated people, most of whom are Indigenous. We add our voices to the hundreds of people calling for the release of prisoners. We demand the resignation of Minister Tell, and the immediate redirection of funding away from prisons and policing – which are not keeping us safe – and towards the communities we live in.
It is important for us to remember that a set of iron bars or the slam of a wooden gavel do not take away a person’s humanity, nor their right to service by this government. Criminalization cannot and should not rob a person of their inherent complexity, nuance, and rights, nor erase them as a member of our communities. It is far past time we accept prisoners as worthy of basic human dignity and proper treatment under the law, and to deny them any further on grounds of race or systemic apathy is a crime not only against them, but the very values for which we as human beings must hold.
To support the strikers, please sign this letter to the Saskatchewan government, call or write for the resignation of Christine Tell, and write or speak to your MLAs about the importance of safe conditions in prisons and divestment from police.
Marty Grande-Sherbert, op ed editor
Sara Birrell, news editor
Matt T, news writer
Shae Sackman, technical editor
Morgan Ortman, production manager
Taylor Balfour, editor-in-chief
Hannah Sennicar, copy editor
Gillian Massie, web writer
Reese Estwick, staff writer