A Mother’s cry…

Aug. 11, 2020

(Ed Note: The speech below was by Farhat Rehman, a representative of Mothers Offering Mutual Support (MOMS) in Ottawa.  Farhat’s son is incarcerated and for almost two decades she and the mothers of other incarcerated children have been struggling to replace an inhumane system of punishment approach with more effective and humane healing.  Farhat spoke to commemorate Prisoner’s Justice Day (Aug. 10).  It is so filled with pain, integrity and courage; it is so hopeful in its assertion for a better way that we re-produce it in its entirety.)

Dear friends and supporters of Justice for prisoners,

I am speaking on behalf of Mothers Offering Mutual Support. A support group in Ottawa open to women with family members involved in the Criminal Justice System.

Thank you for being here to once again hear of our experiences as mothers and family members of the incarcerated.

I have been speaking out for reform to our Justice System for a long time. But the reform that we MOMS advocate for, the reform that many people of superior knowledge and expertise in this area are demanding of the government has not been effectively materialized. We still live with a Criminal Justice system that is steeped in an archaic cultural mindset that focuses on punishment of the individual while incarcerated. I remember the hope we felt in October of 2015. Tired of the Tough on Crime agenda of the previous decade that saw stringent laws put into place, we looked to the inspired choices of ministerial appointments and the mandate letters by the newly elected government.

But here we are 6 years later, our hopes and enthusiasm pretty much rendered cold by the non-action or the very slow and inadequate legislation to some doable reforms.

Our rose coloured glasses have long come off as the old policy trends continue.  Some Correctional regulations that were ruled as unconstitutional and against human rights have not been overturned. It seems our political leaders have become comfortable with the risk-averse policies they inherited.

My heart is heavy as I tell you about my son who is in the Federal Regional Treatment Centre at Bath. For almost two decades now, he has been on a roller coaster of wellness and poor mental health. I admire his courage and perseverance in keeping his focus on improving himself intellectually and spiritually by his own efforts and in spite of some very harsh conditions of confinement. Sometimes he has faced health crisis including a life-threatening episode when he was hospitalized and put on life support for 10 days. This incident was frighteningly close to my worst fear that he may become the latest statistic in prison.

He has been able to recover and continues working hard to learn and improve his skills with a new resolve to achieving a productive life in the community if, and when he is eventually allowed to do so.

I too am resolved to continue to support him and advocate for a safe transfer to a non-carceral therapeutic facility.  But I have learned that prisoners with mental health issues are kept behind bars for longer periods of time and in harsher conditions.  The parole eligibility criteria in such cases, is disregarded and much fewer prisoners are allowed parole.

The Correctional Investigator of Canada, Dr. Ivan Zinger’s latest annual report for the year 2018-2019 was submitted in March this year.

In almost every area of the report, frustrating deficiencies have been pointed out and recommendations suggested. For example, under conditions of confinement the report points to a “toxic and abusive work environment at Edmonton Institution” and “Despite CSC efforts a culture of impunity remains a problem.”

Under the Use of Force heading, it points to increase in incidents in the Atlantic regions. Use of force incidents were the highest ever recorded. Some of the most troubling use of force incidents involved inmate-patients at Regional Treatment Centers (RTCs), which are designated psychiatric hospitals.

There were five prison deaths in Custody, the highest in a decade.

Regarding the Quality and Quantity of Prison Food ‘Correctional Services is not meeting its legal and policy obligations to ensure the inmate population is provided adequate and nutritional food.’

‘Indeed, if there is a recurring or unifying message to this year’s report, it is that CSC’s organizational “culture” – the patterns of beliefs, assumptions, norms, codes of conduct, and ways of thinking and doing, that define how an organization acts and behaves– has become too insular, rigid and defensive.’

‘A professional culture that has grown wary and resistant to change, a practice steeped in a tired and worn belief that “this is the way we do things here,” are holding the Correctional Service back from becoming the best it can be.’

 The impunity of the correctional officers, just by their perception of a bad attitude of the prisoner can bring further violence and impunity. My son was being walked to a professional meeting, and the CO demanded he take off his ball cap he was wearing. Perceiving it as an unreasonable request in the winter, my son refused, and was shoved and bashed against the wall grazing his forehead.

In 2017, 10 Million dollars were allocated to establish Therapeutic Ranges in Max security prisons. The Correctional Investigator is ‘unclear what the new funding was actually used for’ and believes as we do, that it is impossible to have therapeutic places in a maximum-security prisons.

The optimism and hope that these annual reports generate in our families remain in a state of suspended animation. The frustration of the OCI is evident, and the disadvantage to Canadian society is enormous.

Parole is still hard to obtain. Parole conditions are still set you up for failure. The smallest breach or a minor infraction can put you back in jail in most cases.

The disproportionate numbers of indigenous people in prisons is a “systemic problem” and “one of Canada’s most pressing social justice issues”.  The Correctional Investigator has called out these deficiencies so often that he might as well just copy and paste these findings from year to year.

Asking for humane conditions with exercise space and equipment, safe areas for learning and reading, recreational programs that provide much needed therapeutic environment and rehabilitation, palatable and nutritious food, together with frequent family contact through phone calls and visits should not be a luxury but a basic necessity to survive and to as a human being, and in order to transition back to community.

Dear friends, we must continue to act together and demand humane alternatives to prolonged incarceration for prisoners particularly those with mental health concerns. We must continue to demand that best practices are accommodated in order to transform Canada’s Criminal Justice System.

Thank you.  Farhat Rehman, MOMS, Ottawa


CBC News – Kathleen Harris
Just 257 pardons granted for pot possession in program’s 1st year – Government had estimated 10,000 Canadians could be eligible for clearing record for simple possession

This realization makes the issue of pot pardon itself questionable and demanding some answers 257 pardons in the first year – 458 applications – with 10,000 eligible.  Critics call the results to date “unconscionable” and a “total failure.”   The Parole Board of Canada, vested with the task, blames the Covid-19 and the limited capacity of the Board to process the applications which delivers the ‘record suspensions.’ https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/cannabis-record-suspension-pardon-pot-1.5678144

CBC News – Jody Porter
Deadly force, neglect kills dozens of Indigenous people in Ontario’s justice system – More than 40 Indigenous people have been killed by police or died in custody in Ontario in the last 20 years

The report is based on CBC News records and study by Thunder Bay Professor Jessica Jurgutis:  “In Canada, policing was founded on the premise that Indigenous peoples needed to be removed from the land and false beliefs that Indigenous peoples are both less human and more-threatening than white people.”  Jurgutis whose academic research looks at the relationship between settler colonialism and imprisonment in Canada is critical of a colonial perspective driving the policing of Indigenous people in Canada, with disastrous results.  https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/thunder-bay/headlines/deadly-force-indigenous-1.5680668