January 29, 2004
A CALL FOR REFORM
Equality rights groups are urging Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan to immediately implement the recommendations released yesterday by the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC). The special report on systemic human rights violations experienced by women serving sentences of two years or more in Canada is a response to a complaint filed by the CanadianAssociation of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) and the Native Women'sAssociation of Canada (NWAC) in 2001.
"The number of times that the Commission calls for reviews, audits and external
accountability shows they understand the urgent need to address the human rights
violations experienced by women prisoners," stated Dr. Ailsa M. Watkinson,
President of CAEFS, which called for the review. "We commend the Commission and
we are especially pleased that they recognize the fundamental flaws in the
classification system. It results in the unnecessary labeling of so many women
as maximum security with 'the harsh treatment this entails'. We welcome the
Commission's call for CSC to design a classification system and corresponding
programs that accommodate women's needs, rather than continuing to treat women
like men 'based on stereotypes and perceptions'," continued Dr. Watkinson.
Throughout the report, the Commission points to the tragic consequences that
result from the defective manner in which women are initially assessed.
Aboriginal women and women with mental disabilities are especially
over-classified, often kept in segregated, isolated living conditions. "Fewer
women classified as maximum security prisoners will mean more women can be
reintegrated into the community in a much shorter time," says Kim Pate,
Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Societies. "We hope
that Minister McLellan will act immediately to introduce a new classification
system and the decarceration strategies that this will necessitate."
CAEFS strongly supports the Commission's proposal for independent monitoring and
accountability mechanisms. The call for judicial oversight reiterates the
recommendations of Madam Justice Louise Arbour. In 1996, Arbour reported on the
failure of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) to follow the law and its
own policies in dealing with women prisoners. "We are hopeful that Minister
McLellan will recognize the vital need for such a body to monitor CSC's
adherence to principles of justice, fairness and the rule of law."
"The Commission's report clearly identifies the discrimination experienced by
women prisoners. CAEFS welcomes the opportunity to work with CSC, as well as the
Ministers of Public Safety and Justice, to help implement recommendations that
are vital to improving the lives of some of Canada's most vulnerable women,"
For additional information contact: Dr. Ailsa Watkinson or Kim Pate at
613-298-2422 and refer to the CAEFS' web site at www.elizabethfry.ca.