May 10, 2020 – What would Mom say…

 (Ed note: We are grateful to the MOMS of Ottawa for this timely and powerful reminder that besides being the centre of family affection moms are also a moral bulwark against our callous and hurtful ways of dealing with one another.  The entire newsletter consists of their reminder to us of the need to deeply embed in human rights what our mothers taught us from birth.  The final piece is a finely crafted transition poem from Rashani Réa on the same topic.) 
 Mothers Offering Mutual Support (MOMS)

May 8 2020 – Why Don’t Human Rights to Public Health Apply to All Canadians?

MOMS Ottawa is a women’s support group in Ottawa. We are mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers.  Each member of MOMS has a loved one who is currently incarcerated or has transitioned to Community Corrections from Canada’s federal or provincial correctional systems.   Prisoners are not nameless and faceless to us – they are our loved ones and we are terrified of what may happen to them as the result of incarceration and COVID-19.

We join the chorus of calls for decarceration measures where possible to prevent catastrophe in our federal correctional institutions due to COVOD-19.  We have seen the outcomes of overcrowding and lack of physical distance in our long-term care facilities.  The Chief Public Health Officer of Canada has stated very clearly that prisons are similarly vulnerable.

We are increasingly alarmed by the concerns raised by advocates and experts and are disappointed with the pace at which these concerns are being addressed.

In response to questions and letters sent, the Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister Blair, the Correctional Service of Canada and the Parole Board of Canada have assured Canadians, that “appropriate measures” are being taken in federal penitentiaries to protect individuals in their charge. However, recent reports submitted by Dr. Ivan Zinger, Canada’s Office of the Correctional Investigator as well as anecdotal evidence reported from several incarcerated individuals  lead us to believe that those “measures” are far from adequate. There has not been any evidence of substantial increase in prisoner releases in response to the COVID-19 threat.

We are deeply concerned at reports that prisoners who are ill or awaiting test results are kept in lock down, essentially 23 hours per day with 20 minutes for phone calls or showers. These conditions are bound to have catastrophic consequences for many prisoners who already struggle with mental health issues and may be self-harming and suicidal .  We agree with OCI that this is a violation of universal human rights standards.

MOMS Ottawa joins John Howard Society, Elizabeth Fry Society, the Office of the Correctional Investigator, Senator Kim Pate and many other human rights groups across Canada, in calling upon Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and the Correctional Service of Canada to use all possible available legal measures to considerably reduce the prison population to enhance safety for the security officers, inmates and by extension, the communities in which they reside.

We support calls for swift action, including:

  • Release of prisoners who are nearing their mandatory release date,
  • Release of prisoners who are non-violent offenders,
  • Release of prisoners who have health conditions which make them particularly vulnerable to catching the virus
  • Ensure that there is a safe release plan and follow up

We are asking for these measures to ensure social distancing within institutions for those who cannot be released in order to avoid the toll the virus will take under the current problematic conditions of confinement.

We urge CSC to be more transparent in allowing outside inspections and to report progress in reducing prison populations due to COVID-19, all within the framework of public safety and security.  Good prison health is also good public health.

“Fundamental human rights and dignity adopted through a public health emergency must be respected. As things stand…the confinement measures now in place are harsher than what judges had in mind when offenders were sentenced for their crimes.”  Dr. Ivan Zinger

In Canada, a prison sentence should not be a death sentence.


Ms.Farhat Rehman

613 830 7175


Ms. Anne Cattral

613 263 5640

 Love isn’t something that we do.

It simply moves through our being

Reshaping us again and again

Until all the falseness has gone to seed

And the frail husks

Of who we are

Fall away or break into prayer

Becoming kindling for the long winter.

Rashani Réa  (From Beyond Brokenness, Xliberis Corporation, 2009, p. 97)