Thursday, May 31, 2012

Harpers Creepy Crime Bill: Operation Maple

One of my favorite alternative news sources: Operation Maple is a mostly video based web site.  They go out on the street and interview Canadian residents about issues of the day and/or issues impacting those individuals directly.

Operation Maple: Mission: Take Canada Back

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Programmes Supporting Vulnerable Women and Children: From Chilling to Heartening

Two programmes aimed at assisting women and children!

A heartening initiative launched by the Elizabeth Fry Society in BC to support the children of those targeted for oppressive sanctions such as criminalisation and imprisonment.  And a disturbing and coersive programme garners partial financial support from the public via a misleading fundraising initiative fronted by the corporate sector.  

Hospital for Sick Children and a Shoppers: Match Made in Hell
Shoppers Drug Mart supports the Motherisk programme at the Hospital for Sick Children in several ways.  The first is a special partnership between Motherisk and "WOMEN", a Shoppers  health programme.  Shoppers provides advertising via an online Motherisk column, in-store brochures and a Motherisk hotline for women who have concerns about toxins in their bodies while pregnant.  

Tree of Life Fundraiser: Funding Greater Motherhood Surveillance 
Then there is the national fundraising initiative by Shoppers Drug Mart called, "The Tree of Life" fundraiser, with proceeds going to women's health programmes.  Motherisk has by far received the largest donations of any women's health programme funded by Tree of Life. 

The Tree of Life Programme is described by Shoppers: "the Tree of Life campaign sees 100 percent of the proceeds donated to women’s health charities within individual communities, allowing women even greater access to services and information they need to stay healthy in mind, body and spirit"

Motherisk: Observing and Inspecting a Woman Near You
Motherisk is a national programme which runs a research laboratory.  One of the main functions of this lab is to surveil mothers through forced hair strand testing.  They do so in the name of supporting women and children!  Sick Kids describes the Motherisk programme: "treating the mother, protecting the unborn".  Sound a little like anti-abortion jargon?  A primary purpose of the Motherisk programme is to fulfill coersive court and Childrens Aid Society orders for women's drug use via hair strand analysis.  

According to Sick Kids, "the ninth annual Tree of Life campaign [2010] raised over $40,000 for Motherisk. This most recent contribution will support Motherisk research into the risk or safety of exposures during pregnancy and lactation, and help ensure the health and wellbeing of women and children."   "risk or safety of exposures" - sounds like a honourable initiative, until we discover that the exposure they are speaking of is drugs in most cases.  Motherisk is the only lab in Canada providing this service to child protection agencies, making the CAS one of if not the largest customer.  

How to Protect Women and Children Where Drugs are Involved?
If mothers were not made to feel threatened through disclosure of drug use, and were encouraged to seek help through the provision of factual information and truly supportive services, maybe, just maybe moms would speak up and seek out the assistance they need.  But no - not in Canada.  Here we prefer to threaten, coerce, terrorize, and force.  Even when this is the least effective strategy, I guess some of us just get off on instilling fear!

For a description of Motherisk as per Shoppers Drug Mart 

2010 Tree of Life Campaign

2011 Tree of Life Campaign

Elizabeth Fry Society: A Social Justice Approach, Supporting Families
The E.Fry Society is on the right track when examining how they can be allies to vulnerable women and children.  They have launched the community based "JustKids" initiative to raise awareness and provide support to kids with a parent in prison.  The idea came from a summer camp idea which served children with a parent in prison.  Many of the childrens comments on the experience centered around being able to speak freely with other kids in similar circumstances and without judgement on themselves or their parent(s).  It can't be understated how important it is for any child facing adversity to be free to speak about their experience.  Its a critical part of community building, and a sense of belonging and ownership to ones own life.

For more info on JustKids

To Learn More About Impacts of Parental Imprisonment

Thursday, May 24, 2012

UpDates to Current Prisoner Advocacy page

Montreal Prisoner Correspondence Project for Trans prisoners providing education to the public and support to prisoners via pen-pal program for gay, lesbian, transsexual, transgender, gender-variant, two-spirit, intersex, bisexual and queer inmates in Canada and the United States. 
Check it out under Current Prisoner Advocacy - New Post 

One day Symposium this August in Ottawa on prison overcrowding and its implications for human rights.
Check it out on "Current Prisoner Advocacy" page or link to google posting here:     Prison Overcrowding Symposium

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ronald Smith Denied Clemancy

I have been reporting on this particular case since Ron's plea for clemency was made public.  The parole boards decision is in and Ron Smith was denied commutation to life and prison and will almost certainly be put to death.  Ron is a Canadian citizen who received support from the Harper govt. only after the Canadian courts forced the conservatives to formally endorse Ron's plea for clemency.   Many believe that resistance and subsequently cold half-hearted support from Harper played a role in denial of clemency.

Ultimately the final decision is up to Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.  Governor's rarely endorse even a positive parole board decision - this negative decision won't likely be overturned by Mr. Schweitzer.  Regardless its imperative that as many Canadians - North Americans write to Schweitzer and plead for Ron's life.

Contact the governor:

Governor Brian D. Schweitzer
Office of the Governor
Montana State Capitol Bldg.
P.O. Box 200801
Helena MT 59620-0801
(406) 444-3111, FAX (406) 444-5529

Lieutenant Governor John Bohlinger
Office of the Lt. Governor
Montana State Capitol Bldg.
PO Box 200801
Helena, MT 59620-1901
(406) 444-3111, FAX (406) 444-4648
by the Toronto Star:

CALGARY—The Canadian Press has learned that a Canadian on death row in Montana for killing two men 30 years ago has been dealt a major blow in his bid to avoid execution.
The Montana Board of Pardons and Parole is recommending against clemency for Ronald Smith — despite his apology at a hearing at the state prison earlier this month.
Smith’s lawyer, Don Vernay, says he’s not surprised at the board’s ruling.
He says it shows that the state of Montana has always wanted to have his client put to death.
The final decision now falls into the hands of Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
Vernay says he hopes Schweitzer will be more open-minded than the parole board.
READ MORE: Canada accused of ‘treachery’ after tepid support for death-row killer

DEER LODGE, MONT.—Lawyers for convicted double killer Ronald Smith are accusing the Canadian government of reneging on an offer to speak on his behalf at a hearing in Montana to determine whether he will get the death penalty or clemency.
The Harper government offered only tepid support for Smith’s plea for clemency with its initial response and made it clear there would be no one making a presentation at the hearing in Montana on Wednesday.
But Smith’s lawyers were excited on Monday when they received news that Marie-Eve Lamy, a consul at the Canadian Consulate General in Denver, was going to read a statement on behalf of the Harper government.
Lamy attended Smith’s clemency hearing Wednesday morning and was added as a last-minute witness for Smith’s defence team.
But in the afternoon, Lamy was gone, which prompted lawyer Don Vernay to read the copy he had of her statement into the official court record.
“We were really somewhat surprised and she said the Government of Canada wants me to read this,” he said, holding a copy of her statement.
“Then this morning she comes up and says, ‘I just heard from headquarters that they don’t want me to read this.’ They want her to read the original one instead. She said to me, ‘This is what they want and what do you want?’ I said nothing. I said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and let her go her way.”
The original letter, signed by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in December 2011, was short and to the point.
“The Government of Canada does not sympathize with violent crime and this letter should not be construed as reflecting a judgment on Mr. Smith’s conduct,” reads the letter.
“The Government of Canada ... requests that you grant clemency to Mr. Smith on humanitarian grounds.”
Greg Jackson, Smith’s lawyer for 25 years, didn’t mince words about what he called an unexplainable change once again in the Canadian government’s position.
“It’s been treachery. It’s almost Shakespearean in nature ...They still supported clemency but they withdrew their enthusiastic support,” he said.
“It’s incomprehensible. It’s been devastating to the family, it’s been devastating to Ron particularly when they’re going around the world now where they’re enthusiastically throwing support to other Canadians facing death in other countries.”
The letter read in court said Lamy was providing testimony at the hearing on behalf of the Canadian government.
“The Government of Canada is confident that the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole will carefully review the case before you today concerning Mr. Ronald Smith, a Canadian citizen.”
The letter, although not a glowing endorsement, was considerably more enthusiastic than the original.
“Mr. Smith has served 29 years in prison for his crime and he has expressed remorse for his actions. The Government of Canada is seeking clemency for Mr. Smith on humanitarian grounds.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs didn’t immediately respond to a request for an explanation.
Jackson said Smith had enjoyed good support from Canada until Harper’s Conservative Party government was elected. Now he doesn’t know what to think.
“I just don’t understand it. I guess they claim that because this is a civilized country we have due process,” he said with a shrug.
“But regardless, a stance against the death penalty should be universal as far as the Canadian government is concerned. How do they pick and choose?”
Smith, 54, has been on death row ever since he admitted to shooting Thomas Mad Man Jr. and Harvey Running Rabbit in 1982. He originally asked for the death penalty, but soon after changed his mind and has been fighting for his life ever since.
He is asking the board to recommend his death sentence be commuted.
The Board of Pardons and Parole intends to release its recommendation on clemency the week of May 21.
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer will have the final say.

Prison(er) Advocacy and Activism Resources Series - Trans

This post to appear regularly will deal with services, organizations, and grassroots advocacy going on in Canada.  (may occasionally include info about radical international advocacy)

Trans Prisoners - New Volunteer Community Service Initiative

Picture Retrieved from:

The Prisoner Correspondence Project is an initiative out of Concordia University in Montreal.  One of the main functions of this particular project is to support LGBTQ folks in prison  through pen-pal correspondence. The Prisoner Correspondence Project links imprisoned LGTBQ people with "free" LGBTQ folks outside.

This resource is particularly important because there are very few services for TransGender persons inside, and because they are often one of the most severely marginalised groups - a fact exacerbated by the particular forms of abuse they are subjected to inside which put them at increased risk of violence by both staff and other prisoners. 

Also on offer to organisations outside the prison system and which serve Trans Gender and all LGBTQ people, are a number of workshops on what safe sex looks like in places which limit access to condoms, and another workshop deals with the particular forms of criminalisation that Trans persons face and the connections socially to discrimination.

The web page also provides a pretty extensive list of really unique written resources for interested parties to learn more about these issues!

Go to to learn more.

To learn more about day to day life for incarcerated Trans prisoners you may want to check out the movie "Cruel and Unusual".  Here is the trailer:

Heres another documentary (10 min total) from the US on Trans Women speaking of their experiences

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Prison(er) Advocacy and Activism Series

End the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) - End the Prison Industrial Complex is a Prison Abolition group in Kingston, On made up of citizens in that town.  Really great, radical work - I highly recommend a look at their blog - below.

The problem around the existence of the Prison Industrial Complex as they (and others) see it:

"Politicians use prison expansion and tough-on-crime legislation as an effective PR strategy to divert people’s attention from the economic, social, and environmental crises of the day. While politicians claim that prison expansion is an economic engine, it actually further criminalizes communities of colour, immigrants, queer folks, drug users, and poor people who become easy scapegoats for our social problems."

Check out this link too.  An anti-prison expansion zine made by the same grassroots activists in Kingston and posted in a PDF file.

Old Prison Reform Joke - New Twist

Not related to "End the Prison Industrial Complex" is this New Twist on Old Joke, now referring to Conrad Black: 

"A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged; a liberal is a conservative who’s been indicted; and a passionate prison reformer is a conservative who’s in one."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hepatitis C Treatment Journal - Post 3

Post 3 - Hep C Treatment Journal

Middle of May - About Twice as Long a Wait for Test Results as Promised

Four weeks ago I was told that the genotype testing I completed would take a couple weeks for results to return.  I don't know about everyone else but to me "a couple" is two.  If it were going to potentially take longer, why can't people simply say, " a few"?

I had prepared myself to hear news in about 2 weeks time - bad news (that yes, I'm eligible for treatment) or worse news (that I'm not).  Now I wait here in the fourth week chewing my nails relentlessly day after day......after day.  I could, I should just call.  Find out if my results came in and they've just been sitting on them, considering a ransom maybe, or biding their time, waiting for me to relinquish the last shred of sanity I have selfishly been clinging to....
Maybe tomorrow I'll call.

So its now tomorrow and I called about my results for genotype testing.  This is the test that will tell me whether I am one step closer to treatment.  Some genotypes are more treatable than others, or perhaps more accurate is that some types have effective treatments developed and others do not.  In North America and other parts of the privileged world most people who are positive for Hep C have genotype 1, the most researched for treatments.  The type which it turns out that I have.

Also as it turns out my treatment staff have had my results for some undetermined amount of time.  "Did you try calling me?"  Yes of course they had tried "a couple" times!  "Oh I see, a couple....". (that vague term which for some really means indeterminable)   "Well did you leave messages?"  Though I knew damn well they had not, I was told that they had tried and were unable to leave a message for some reason they can't quite remember!   OK......???? and WTF???

My immediate thoughts after making an appointment for the next round of blood work and then hanging up, were;
What a half assed, lax attempt to reach me.  If any attempt was actually made at all.  Typical medical, elitist, classist, discriminatory, mentality - all drug users are hard to reach, unstable, disorganized and probably won't return staff calls anyway, so we'll get to it when and if we get to it - all good.

These were thoughts that crossed my mind immediately.  They may or may not have been accurate analysis of what was going on.

Staff and I made a telephone appointment to discuss my results, an appointment which staff also missed by the way.  Though to their half assed credit they did make efforts after that to contact me by calling until they reached me (for which I am grateful).  Who knows what goes on behind the scenes.  What kind of pressure people are under, what environments they may be working within.  Whatever the case may be at the particular Toronto medical establishment I attend (one that I chose because it offers an entire Hep C treatment and support program) I find their handling of my treatment to this point - lacking.  For some, it could be downright dangerous.

What must it be like for people in less privileged parts of the world?  Where resources, staff, and training are often in short supply.....I guess I should count myself lucky?

About HCV: Government of Canada - Hep C

Giving Birth in Shackles

Note from author: If anyone has knowledge of cases where this practice has taken place in Canada, women who want to speak out, news articles, or access to policy or practice documents where this practice is mandated could you please pass it along.  Though I read of the specific case below in the Toronto Star, the article itself seems to have disappeared and I can find no other references to this horror in Canada.
The shackling of women who are in labour and giving birth is positively medieval, and exceptionally cruel.  Only a monster could come up with such a practice.  Anyone who has given birth or supported a mother during this time in her life, knows that women in labour pose no security or escape risk.  It is for the benefit of both mom and baby that labouring mothers be able to move around, shift their weight, stand up, and walk around the birthing room if they feel the need to.  Restricting the womans movement can be dangerous for her and her baby.  Not to mention the egregious emotional harm being done to the woman - harm which is sure to last as long as her memories of the birth.

Though the below article is an American story, this is a practice which takes place in Canada as well.  It just happens to be much less reported on by mainstream or social justice media.  2 years ago in Toronto, a woman was shackled and cuffed while giving birth.  While she laboured cuffed to the bed and feet shackled together, the guard with the keys decided to go for a walk.  While he was gone the woman gave birth, the doctors were unable to find the guard to remove the shackles from her ankles and thus unable to put the woman's legs in stirups or to otherwise allow her to position herself to allow a normal birthing position.  It was difficult for the doctor to catch the baby and further endangered both lives.

Birthing Behind Bars: Fighting for Reproductive Justice for Women in Prison

This Mother's Day, take a few minutes to find out how you can help shape a society where no woman ever has to give birth while in shackles and chains.
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"I never thought of advocating outside of prison. I just wanted to have some semblance of a normal life once I was released," statedTina Reynolds, a mother and formerly incarcerated woman. Then she gave birth to her son while in prison for a parole violation:
"When I went into labor, my water broke. The van came to pick me up, I was shackled. Once I was in the van, I was handcuffed. I was taken to the hospital. The handcuffs were taken off, but the shackles weren’t. I walked to the wheelchair that they brought over to me and I sat in the wheelchair with shackles on me. They re-handcuffed me once I was in the wheelchair and took me up to the floor where women had their children. 
"When I got there, I was handcuffed with one hand. At the last minute, before I gave birth, I was unshackled so that my feet were free. Then after I gave birth to him, the shackles went back on and the handcuffs stayed on while I held my son on my chest."
That treatment, she recalled later, was "the most egregious, dehumanizing, oppressive practice that I ever experienced while in prison." Her experience is standard procedure for the hundreds of women who enter jail or prison while pregnant each year.
Upon her release, Reynolds started WORTH, an organization of currently and formerly incarcerated women based in New York City, to give currently and formerly incarcerated women both a voice and a support system.
In 2009, Reynolds and other WORTH members took up the challenge of fighting for legislation to end the practice of shackling women while in labor in New York State. At rallies and other public events, formerly incarcerated women spoke about being pregnant while in jail and prison, being handcuffed and shackled while in labor, and being separated from their newborn babies almost immediately. Their stories drew public attention to the issue and put human faces to the pending legislation. That year, New York became the seventh state to limit the shackling of incarcerated women during birth and delivery.
Recognizing the power of women's individual stories to enact change, WORTH is launching Birthing Behind Bars, a project that not only collects stories from women nationwide who have experienced pregnancy while incarcerated, but also strengthens their capacity and ability to share their stories. Too often, issues of reproductive justice are separated from issues of incarceration. Birthing Behind Bars ties women's individual experiences to the broader issues of reproductive justice (or injustice) behind prison walls and helps push a state-by-state analysis of the intersections of reproductive justice and incarceration.
This past March, Arizona became the sixteenth state to pass anti-shackling legislation. Thirty-four states still have no legal protection for women who give birth while behind bars. In Georgia and inMassachusetts, formerly and currently incarcerated women, their advocates, and reproductive rights activists are currently pushing for legislation to prohibit the practice of shackling of incarcerated pregnant women during transport, labor, delivery and recovery. Stories of incarcerated women's pregnancies and birth experiences have proven to be powerful tools when educating the general public and confronting legislators to support such a bill.
In 1870, Julia Ward Howe, a feminist, abolitionist and author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, issued a proclamation urging women to celebrate Mother's Day in the United States. For Howe, Mother's Day was not a holiday simply for breakfast in bed, cards and flowers—it was a call for women to shape their societies at the political level.
This Mother's Day, take a few minutes to reflect on the reality of women who give birth behind bars. Then take a few more minutes to find out how you can help shape a society where no woman ever has to give birth while in shackles and chains.
Victoria Law is a writer, photographer and mother. She is the author of "Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women" (PM Press 2009), the editor of the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison and a co-founder of Books Through Bars - NYC. Her latest book, "Don't Leave Your Friends Behind" (PM Press, Fall 2012) addresses how social justice movements and communities can support the families in their midst.Tina Reynolds is co-founder and co-chair of Women on the Rise Telling Her Story (WORTH) and an adjunct lecturer at York College/CUNY. She is a co-editor of "Interrupted Life: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States" (UC Press 2010).

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Support Peter Collins

Conditions Impossible to Meet:
 Peter Collins is a prisoner at Bath Institution near Kingston, On.  He is doing a life sentence under catch 22 provisions, which if not altered, will keep Peter in prison indefinitely.  Read more about this issue and sign the petition to allow Peter a fair chance at Parole.

What you can do:                                                    

See the draft letter at bottom of this post and send a copy to your MP.

About Peter:

Peter has used the time in prison to not only work on himself (a difficult undertaking in the best of conditions), but he has also shown empathy and contributed much effort to educating others about harm reduction, and HIV/AIDS and HCV treatment and prevention in prison and once released.  Issues which impact the lives of prisoners, their families, and the community at large. 
Peter has also developed artistic talents inside and has become an exceptionally gifted advocate, writer, and artist, as demonstrated through the many drawings and paintings currently circulating the internet, prisoner rights, HIV/AIDS service organizations across North America.

For more about Peter's life and the story which ultimately landed him in prison see the Rittenhouse blog posting at:

Peter's art work:


Letter for Peter:

  Could you please paste the following letter into an e-mail and send it to your local MP? Feel free to make any changes or additions you would like in order to personalize the letter. Also, if you know anyone who's not on Facebook who you think would be interested in signing the petition or sending out the letter, please share the link to this site with them. Thanks!

I am writing in regards to a deportable prisoner, Peter Collins. He is a British citizen serving a life sentence in Bath Institution just outside of Kingston.

In 1990 an immigration hearing was held and Mr. Collins was ordered deported. At that time Mr. Collins was advised that he was still eligible for Work Releases(WR), Unescorted Temporary Passes(UTA) and Day Parole(DP), all part of a gradual release process to prepare prisoners for a structured, safe and supported release to the community. Mr. Collins was also advised by his Correctional Service of Canada(CSC) Case Management Team(CMT) that, upon receiving full parole, he would be removed from Canada and returned to the UK.

In 1992, Canada introduced the Corrections and Conditional Release Act(CCRA) and at this time Mr. Collins was again advised, by his CSC CMT to follow his correctional treatment plan and participate in upgrading, employment and to continue working toward his rehabilitation and eventual gradual release. In 2002, amendments were made to the CCRA which completely excluded deportable foreign national prisoners from being permitted to participate in the very conditional release opportunities (WR, UTA, and DP) which help to reduce risk and ensure more successful community reintegration of prisoners.

Mr. Collins was under the impression that he was still eligible to participate in conditional releases under the Canadian Interpretation Act (AI). It was not until the day before his 2008 parole hearing that he was advised, because of legislation changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act(IRPA) and the CCRA, that he was excluded from any community-based conditional release programs and therefore could not participate in the gradual, structured release program that CSC and National Parole Board(NPB) were demanding of him prior to his release.

I am very concerned that Canada’s legislation excludes Mr. Collins from participating in the very conditional release opportunities which CSC and the NPB are demanding of him. The NPB and CSC have a mandate to provide correctional and conditional release opportunities to those prisoners who can be reintegrated into Canadian society. Surely Canadian legislators did not intend for deportation orders to be used to perpetually hold foreign national prisoners while imposing discriminatory and exclusionary policy interpretations. This situation creates a ‘catch 22’ that prevents any realistic opportunity for a release on par with Canadian citizens.

Mr. Collins completed his correctional plan in 1998 and there are no other programs for him to participate in. He has been rated as a low risk for general or violent recidivism. His human rights work has earned him an award for his work in HIV/AIDS harm reduction. For these reasons, I am asking for his release and return to the UK at the earliest opportunity.