History of Prisoners' Justice Day
In support of prisoners and prison justice activism in Canada

August 10th is a day set aside to remember all the men and women who have died unnatural deaths inside Canadian prisons.

  • The Building of Canada's First Prisons
  • Dissociation/Segregation/Solitary Confinement/the Hole
  • The Building of a Super Max
  • The Death of Edward Nalon
  • August 10, 1975
  • The Death of Robert Landers
  • Royal Commission of Inquiry
  • Other Inquiries and Reports of Note
  • To all Prisoners and Concerned Peoples from Across Canada
  • August 10th, 1976
  • Prisoner Deaths
  • Solitary Confinement
  • The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • Women in Prison
  • Native Spirituality Inside Prison
  • Racism Behind Bars
  • CLAIRE CULHANE - Prison Abolitionist
  • Prison Justice Day Becomes an International Day of Solidarity with Prisoners
  • The Number of Issues Focused on Over Twenty-Five Years Has Been Extensive
  • Prisoners' Justice Day is...
  • Notes on the Compilation of Material for this History

    This material was published by the Vancouver Prison Justice Day Committee in 2001. This history does not cover all of the many ongoing issues and struggles facing prisoners in Canada today, nor does it cover all of the struggles of the past, or even all of the many events organized in honour of Prisoners´ Justice Day both inside and outside of the prison walls. Our goal was to recreate the climate of the struggle and oppression in the prison system during the early part of the 70´s leading up to the first National Prison Justice Day.

    Wherever you find the shackles of oppression you also find the spirit of resistance. There are a great many prisoners who were and still are involved in the struggle for prisoners´ rights within the walls. Out of respect for these prisoners we have decided to tell the story without naming them personally, except in the cases of Eddie Nalon, Bobby Landers, Jack McNeil, Howard Brown, Jack McCann, Leonard Peltier, and Dino and Gary Butler. As seen throughout the history of this movement, all prisoner protests, whether peaceful or not, hold the threat of serious repercussions from prison administration. Documentation for this history of struggle came from many sources, first of all from our own involvement in organizing on the outside, as well as from the experiences of other prisoners´ rights activists, many of the struggles outlined here are well documented in the numerous books about Canadian prisons.

    We would like to thank all of the people who contributed in their own way over the past 25 years, and most of all we would like to thank the many prisoners who have shared their stories and struggles with us.

    The first Prison Justice Day graphic (top right hand corner of this page) was created by a prisoner at Matsqui Medium Security Prison, BC.


    The Building of Canada´s First Prisons

    Prior to 1835, confinement as punishment was not used. Upper and Lower Canada used a mixture of transportation to other countries, banishment, fines, corporal punishment, mutilation and death to deal with crimes against society. In the 1700´s the first workhouses were built to house some criminals, but mostly vagrants, beggars, prostitutes, disobedient children and servants, the sickly, the aged, people with mental health issues and the poor. With the emergence of a defined class system developing in Canada in the 1830´s, and the building of the first federal penitentiary in 1835, the Kingston Penitentiary, Canada´s prison system would become a major tool of repression to be used against this country´s "dangerous underclass". The prison system would be plagued throughout its history with inquiry after inquiry into corruption and abuse. The first call to abolish prisons in Canada came in 1848.

    The 1970´s were a time of change within the prison system. Prisoners were getting organized on a scale that had never been seen in Canada before. With pressure coming both from outside the system, and within the prison walls, great gains would be made in the treatment of prisoners, but not without a price.

    The construction and operation of prisons is one of the largest growth industries in Canada.

    By 1977, on any given day there were 9,300 prisoners behind bars, with an annual operating budget of $300 million. Today there are over 30,000 prisoners at any one time, and the annual budget for Correctional Services of Canada has reached $2.4 billion. By 1991, 2.5 million Canadians had a criminal record. In 1999, a study commissioned by CSC stated that at any one time 5.5% of the prison population is in segregation.


    Dissociation/Segregation/Solitary Confinement/the Hole

    The first solitary confinement unit was built inside Kingston Pen in 1894 and named the Prison of Isolation. In today´s language you will find no mention of solitary confinement in the directives that govern prisons, it is now called dissociation or segregation, but to prisoners across the country it is still known as solitary confinement or the hole. According to prison policy there are three categories of dissociation:

    A prisoner in solitary confinement at Millhaven in 1970´s writes that much of the blame for the death of his fellow prisoners rests on the shoulders of the prison administrations and the guards, and their excessive, oppressive use of what they call segregation:

    "Segregation is in effect solitary confinement without the restrictive diet. Solitary is used against prisoners who continue to resist against the oppressive environment within the system, and it is used to extremes that are hard for anyone to believe possible in a modern-day society. It is used to wear us down, to degrade us, humiliate us, and to try and break our spirit. They want to make a man less than a man, and when they find that they can´t make a dent in his resolve they just keep him in solitary."


    The Building of a Super Max

    Fashioned after Archambault Maximum Security Prison in Quebec, Millhaven was being built to replace the old Kingston Penitentiary, and many prisoners and staff were to be transferred over. This new type of prison was designed with surveillance and control in mind. Rather than the old lock and key design of earlier prisons, this new Super Max was controlled by an electronic console that could open one or all doors with the push of a button, cameras were installed that could monitor the movements of prisoners, and there would be call buttons in each cell where the prisoner could contact a guard or vice versa. In fact, Millhaven opened its doors earlier than planned in 1971 to accommodate prisoners being transferred after the riot at Kingston Pen where 600 prisoners took control of the prison for four days. The riot had started in response to the very building of this new "Big Brother" style institution where it was rumoured that every cell was bugged, every move picked up by camera and every whisper to be recorded by microphone. When the riot ended, prisoners were loaded on buses and shipped off to Millhaven, where they would spend months in lock down as the prison was not yet complete. Upon arriving, some were stripped and forced to run a gauntlet of guards with riot sticks. Some of these prisoners pressed assault charges against the guards who had beaten them. The case went to court and the guards were acquitted. However the guards were angry that the Canadian Penitentiary Service CPS (later renamed Correctional Service of Canada CSC) had allowed the charges to go to court.

    Millhaven was to become a dungeon with modern refinements. A subcommittee of the Commons Justice Committee 1976 reports

    "it´s early history was marked by the use of clubs, shackles, tear gas and dogs, often in combination. Dogs were let loose on prisoners in the yard and in their cells. Gas was used to punish prisoners frequently ----- in March 1973, as often as three or four times a week. Prisoners who were first shackled, sometimes hands and feet together, were then beaten with clubs, made to crawl on the floor, and finally gassed."


    The Death of Edward Nalon

    On August 10th 1974, prisoner Eddie Nalon bled to death in the segregation unit of Millhaven Maximum Security Prison located in Bath, Ontario.

    Eddie was serving a life sentence and had been in and out of segregation from the start of his sentence. He was well familiar with prison procedure and knew the workings of the Segregation Review Board. Even though Eddie took his own life in the early morning hours of August 10th, evidence clearly shows that the hand that held the razor blade belongs solely to the prison system and its apathetic administrators.

    In June of that year Eddie was housed in general population in one of the working living units in the of the prison, and wanted to transfer from this unit to one of the non-working living units. He was told by guards that the only way this might happen is if he refused to work, so he signed a form saying he refused to work in the hope of getting the transfer. Instead he was taken to segregation on June 7th to await a hearing on the institutional charge of refusing to work. On June 14th, he was tried in the Warden´s Court and given the maximum penalty for a lifer, 30 days in solitary confinement (the hole) with restricted diet. On or about the 14th of July, he was released from the hole and sent back to segregation. On the 24th of July the Segregation Review Board dealt with Eddie´s case and recommended that he be left in segregation but added that if he wanted to get out of segregation he should make a request to that effect. On July 28th Eddie sent a note to a classification officer asking to get released back to general population. That note was received on July 29th. The Inmate Training Board dealt with the case on the 31st and recommended this transfer. Releases from segregation in that prison normally took place on a Friday. Between July 31st and August 10th, no one in the institution communicated to Eddie that he had been ordered to be released from segregation. As an experienced prisoner, Eddie was aware that if he was going to be moved from segregation, he would have been moved on August 2nd or August 9th. In the early morning hours of August 10th Eddie slashed his left inner elbow severing all veins and arteries.

    Both prisoners and prison officials testified at the Coroner´s Inquest into Eddie´s death, May 13-16 1975, the following recommendations came from the Verdict of Coroner´s Jury:

    RECOMMENDATION: that communications effecting a change of status for any prisoner (IE internal or external transfer) be carried out without delay and that such communications be in written form and filed.

    The prison psychiatrist had recommended that Eddie not be in segregation. It is unclear whether that recommendation was ever seen by the Segregation Review Board and it appeared as a matter of practice that psychiatrists and doctors had little input in regard to the use of segregation.

    RECOMMENDATION: that the prison medical practitioners (GP and psychiatric) give any recommendations (concerning a prisoners emotional or physical state which would have a bearing on his stay in segregation) to the Segregation Review Board to assist them in making a decision.

    The evidence revealed that the panic buttons in all the cells in the institution were non-functional. While in some cells the actual buttons had been broken, the Director indicated that the receiving mechanism in the control towers had been disconnected by the guards. The evidence also indicated that the time clocks at the end of each range were broken. The guards blamed that on prisoners and the prisoners said the guards had done it so they wouldn´t have to make hourly rounds.

    RECOMMENDATION: that the emergency signal systems in each cell and the time clock which assures regularity in range patrols be made functional, with steps taken to provide that they remain functional.
    Note: the guards union was later successful in having mandatory hourly punches of the time clock discontinued.

    The evidence at the inquest indicated that because of a shortage of staff the first guard who noticed Eddie´s condition was not authorized to open the cell door. He placed a call to another guard and perhaps a few minutes passed before the door was opened. Once the door was opened the guards entered, and even though there was blood all over the place, they made no attempt to find the source of the bleeding and made no attempt to stop the bleeding. The guards testified that there was a faint heart beat and they attempted heart massage and artificial respiration.

    RECOMMENDATION: that the medical personnel of Millhaven Prison conduct in-service training in emergency first aid procedure for all correctional staff who have not been retrained in the last five years, and that this be an on- going program.

    The evidence at the inquest indicated that on May 12th, 1975, a Task Force (the Vantour Study Group on Dissociation) appointed by the Solicitor General had commenced a study at Millhaven concerning the use of segregation. The Coroners´ Jury made the following recommendation:

    We recommend to the Task Force, appointed by the Solicitor General to study penal segregation, that consideration be given to the reduction of punishment by segregation, and that alternatives, (optional to the prisoner charged) be instituted. We feel that for certain persons who find difficulty in coping with emotional stress - mental anxiety.- sensory deprivation, that other punishment would be more acceptable, corrective and humane.


    August 10, 1975

    On the first anniversary of Eddie´s death, August 10th 1975, prisoners at Millhaven refused to work, went on a one day hunger strike and held a memorial service, even though it would mean a stint in solitary confinement. Many of the alleged leaders in this one day peaceful protest would still be in segregation a year later. Note: although refusing to eat or refusing to work are among the only options for peaceful protest available to prisoners, both are viewed as disciplinary offences by prison administrations.


    The Death of Robert Landers

    On May 21st, 1976 another prisoner died in the segregation unit of Millhaven Prison. Bobby was very active and outspoken in the struggle for Prisoners Rights. He had been doing his time at Archambault Maximum Security Prison, near Montreal, Quebec. He was on the Inmate Committee at Archambault, where prisoners were in the process of organizing a prisoner strike to better conditions inside*. Bobby was involuntarily transferred to Millhaven just before the strike in January 1976 and thrown into the Hole. On the night before he died Bobby tried to get medical help, however, the panic buttons in the cells had still not been repaired. He wanted to see the nurse, who could be heard laughing and talking with guards out in the office, at the end of the range. He and three other prisoners all called out for her to come on to the range, but were ignored by both the nurse and the guards. In the morning they found Bobby dead and a scribbled note on his bed that requested medical aid and described symptoms that indicated a heart problem. At the inquest into his death it was determined that he died from a heart attack and a heart specialist confirmed that he should have been in an intensive care unit, not in solitary confinement.

    "Called to testify at the inquest, the warden of the institution said in effect that the punishment (solitary) had been intended to stop the victim from getting prisoners´ rights respected."
    Luc Gosselin, Les penitenciers: un systeme a abattre. Ed. Cooperatives Albert St-Martin, p.27

    *[note on Archambault prisoner strike: prisoners stopped work on January 15 1976, only 15 of the 360 prisoners refused to support the strike. The strike lasted 110 days, it ended peacefully and succeeded in providing the prisoners with slightly better living conditions. The Manifesto they presented included sixteen demands: the end to restrictive visits and correspondence, the formation of a Citizens´ Committee with decision making powers, a Prisoners Committee whose constitution be accepted in it´s present form, abolition of segregation, improvements to health care, and others covering recreation, work, parole, food and more. By December 1976 some of the objectives of the Inmate Committee had been met, including contact visits with family and friends.]


    Royal Commission of Inquiry

    The years between 1971 and 1975 would see numerous government commissions of inquiry, all resulting in recommendations for fundamental changes to the system of segregation/solitary confinement. There would be little or no implementation of these recommendations. Some of the more notable inquiries were:


    Other inquiries and reports of note have been:

    To all Prisoners and Concerned Peoples from across Canada:              June 14,1976

    On August 10th, 1976, the Prisoners of Millhaven Maximum Security Prison will stage a one day hunger strike in remembrance of our two fallen comrades, EDWARD NALON and ROBERT LANDERS, who died in Millhaven segregation (solitary confinement) on August 10th, 1974 and May 21st, 1976, respectively; and in remembrance of all our fellow comrades and brothers and sisters from prisons across the country who died in the hands of an apathetic prison system and its people.

    Furthermore, it is a protest against the Millhaven Administration, the Canadian Penitentiary Service, and the Members of Parliament for their continued indifference to the recommendation of the Inquest Jury made at the inquest into Edward Nalon´s death. The recommendations concerned Emergency First Aid Procedure; medical and psychiatric treatment for solitary confinement prisoners and that the emergency signal systems in the cells and the time clock which assures regularity in range patrols be made functional and that steps be taken to provide that they remain functional. None of these recommendations were enacted by the above mentioned authorities.

    We protest against the continuous inhumane use of solitary confinement (segregation) and the repeated whitewashing by spineless individuals in the Government who are forever having inquiries into the use of solitary and its effects on a person´s mental and physical state and then hide the real facts of its use from the people.

    We call upon our Brothers and Sisters from all prisons across the country, and upon all concerned peoples of Canada, to give their support to our one day hunger strike in remembrance of our comrades and to UNITE AS ONE VOICE IN OUR STRUGGLE for better understanding...compassion and EQUAL JUSTICE FOR ALL.

    Jack McNeil & Howard Brown

    For the Prisoners of Millhaven


    August 10th, 1976

    Thousands of prisoners across Canada went on a one day hunger strike. While Prison Justice Day Committees were formed in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia to organize community events to draw attention to the prisoners concerns.

    In BC, ex-prisoners, the United Prisoners´ Rights Movement (later to become the Prisoners´ Rights Group), The Women Prisoners´& Prisoners´ Family Rights Committee of the BC Federation of Women (later to become Joint Effort), Public Education About Prisons, the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, lawyers and concerned citizens joined together to organize a 24 hour Vigil & Fast outside both the BC Penitentiary in New Westminster and Oakalla Regional Correctional Centre in Burnaby. The groups would highlight a number of issues, some of which are still the focus today:

    Prisoner Deaths
    In 1976, the rate of prisoner suicide was 12% higher then the national average. Between 1976-1978 there had been a total of 639 suicide attempts at Oakalla alone.

    Over the years prisoner suicide rates have dropped, however suicide is still a leading cause of prisoner death, especially amongst prisoners doing provincial sentences - less than two years. Quebec has the highest incidence of prisoner suicide. In the federal prisons the leading cause of death has just recently become natural causes. With an aging prisoner population, poor diet and limited access to treatment for serious illness, this is not surprising. Prisoners are not allowed the same health care options as are available on the outside, either in terms of prevention or treatment. At one time Tuberculosis used to run rampant through the prisons, the new danger has become Hepatitis C. Murder is the third cause of death we focus on, whether it comes at the hands of guards or through prisoner on prisoner violence it is a direct manifestation of an apathetic prison system. Given the level of tension that can exist inside of prison, prisoner on prisoner violence is relatively low.


    Solitary Confinement
    The Wardens Court could charge and sentence prisoners to solitary confinement, the prisoners have no means to defend themselves against these internal charges, as they were not allowed the use of either witnesses or lawyers. Prisoners could spend weeks, months, or even years in solitary confinement, locked for 23 ¸ hours a day in a tiny cell, with virtually no human contact. Solitary confinement cells vary across the country: Oakalla had a segregation unit within the main prisons South Wing, but it also had solitary confinement units built underneath an old cow barn that was on the property. These were 5x7´ cells, furnished only with a mattress, a bucket for a toilet, and a bare lightbulb that burned 24 hrs a day. Daytime was distinguished by two sparse meals and night by two glasses of water. At BC Pen the segregation unit was officially called the Special Correctional Unit SCU, but because of its location was commonly referred to as "the penthouse". The cells measured 61/2x11´, consisted of three concrete walls and a steel door with a five-inch-square window. There was a steel slab covered with a foam mattress at night, a toilet/sink combination unit and a light that burned 24 hrs a day. The bulb was 100 watts during the day and reduced to 25 watts at night. Exercise was limited to walking up and down the corridor outside the cells for 1/2 hour a day.

    The McCann vs The Queen case involved seven prisoners from BC Pen who collectively spent 11 1/2 years in solitary confinement, the longest period being that of Jack McCann who once did 1,471 continuous days. The prisoners won their court challenge and solitary confinement as used at BC Pen was deemed to be cruel & unusual punishment. Even this finding would not bring an end to the abuse of solitary confinement in Canadian prisons.

    Kent maximum Security Institution, Agassiz BC, would be built to replace BC Pen. When Kent opened its doors in 1979 it was hailed to be the new model prison - providing progressive programs for rehabilitation in a humane and secure environment. Within two months prisoners would light fires, riot and take hostages over the demands for an end to unnecessary body searches, the denial of visiting privileges and the excessive use of solitary confinement (H Unit) for the slightest infraction. There was also a one-month prisoner strike over the postponement of the implementation of "rehabilitative programs". By 1981, the Kent Lifers´ Organization was so concerned about the use of, and harassment of prisoners in solitary they issued a 54 page statement, excerpts from that statement read:

    "...placing prisoners in a cell, hand-cuffed and shackled for days at a time and taking away all clothes, bedding, personal effects and food...unnecessary use of mace, fire-hosing and pointing guns at cons...unnecessary beatings upon hand- cuffed prisoners...10 minutes for showers every five days...only 20 minutes exercise every 2 days...locked up sometimes for 24 hours a day for weeks at a time..."

    "...prisoners have been in there up to and over 6 months. It is shocking to see such a pretty- looking new prison like Kent carry on the bad practices that made the BC Pen the cesspool it was."

    "Prisoners have struck, rioted, burned and taken hostages, always at great cost to themselves, all to bring public attention to their situation. Again this is yet another plea - for a complete enquiry into the unfair methods with which prison justice is dispensed, and a tormented cry for help in abolishing some of those practices which are not only cruel, but irreversibly mind-destroying as well."

    "We have been sentenced to prison as the punishment, not to be punished".


    The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights

    Article V: No one shall be subjected to torture, or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.

    Women in Prison

    When you look behind the walls of this nations prisons you will see that the vast majority of prisoners are there for non-violent crimes; this is especially true in the case of women. In 1976, as today, women represent a small portion of this country´s prison population. It is for this reason that the needs of women in prison have been overlooked, especially in the area of meaningful treatment and programs, and this lack of support continues right through to post release needs as well. Historically the programs available to women in prison have been based on the programs developed for incarcerated men.

    When we look at women´s crime we find that the type of offences committed by women reflect the social and economic standing of women in our society. 75% of the women serving time are there for minor offences; shoplifting, fraud or drug and alcohol offences. When we examine the needs of women in prison we see that they reflect the same needs as those of women in the community. 35% of provincially and 48% of federally sentenced women have a grade 9 education or lower - 40% have been classified as illiterate. The majority of women doing time were unemployed at the time of the arrest. 70% of the world´s poor are women. Single mothers with children under the age of 18 have a poverty rate of 57% and if the mother herself is below the age of 25 this rate jumps to 93%. 2/3 of the all federally sentenced women are single mothers, for many of these women incarceration means losing their children to social services and then having to try and regain custody upon their release. 72% of provincially and 82% of federally sentenced women have histories of physical and /or sexual abuse. In terms of violent offences committed by women 62% of these charges are for "low-level" or "common assault".

    There are currently 64 women serving life sentences for murder. Most women doing time for violent offences committed their crime against a spouse or partner and they are likely to report having been physically or sexually abused - often by the person they assaulted.

    Until recently, there was only 1 prison for federally sentenced women, so if convicted and sentenced for a period of more than two years you would be sent to maximum security Prison for Women (P4W), in Kingston Ontario. For many women this meant total isolation from family, friends and community. P4W was built in 1934, (prior to that federally sentenced women were held at Kingston Pen). The lack of relevant programs, the programs that a prisoner needs to expedite their release and the isolation of the women from their home communities, amounted to torture for the women sent there.

    The incidence of self mutilation in prison is twice the rate of that in society and is even more prevalent within the women´s prisons, especially during times of stress. Slashing is seen as a serious disciplinary offence within the prison system and often leads to time in the hole. Although suicide is not as common amongst women prisoners as it is with men, between December 1988 and the spring of 1992, seven women took their own lives at P4W. Six of these women were First Nations, the seventh was the first woman in Canada to be classified a dangerous offender. The classification as dangerous offender means that you can be imprisoned for an indeterminate length of time.

    For over 50 years inquiry after inquiry would recommend the closure of P4W . Most of the women who are imprisoned are considered low risk/high need prisoners, however when the move to close P4W finally came in the 90´s, instead of putting valuable funding into the development of appropriate community reintegration resources, CSC built 5 new prisons for women. Since the building of these new prisons we have witnessed increasing incarceration rates among women even though the country´s crime rate has been on a steady decline for the past seven years. As well, it was determined that any woman classified as a maximum security prisoner, would not be sent to these new prisons, instead they would be housed in separate units at the mens prisons. Your security classification in prison is determined by a number of factors, not just on your sentenced crime but includes your perceived needs. First Nations women and women with mental health and capacity needs are disproportionately classified as maximum security prisoners.


    Native Spirituality Inside Prison

    In 1976 Leonard Peltier, of the Lakota Sioux Nation and a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), was in prison at Oakalla. Leonard was kept in solitary confinement and denied access to spiritual leaders and the right to observe his religious beliefs. Native religion was not recognized in Canadian prisons, in fact, earlier in this century participation in native religious or cultural practices was a criminal offence and punishable under Canadian law. Leonard would be unjustly extradited to the U.S. to stand trial for the murder of two FBI agents during a shoot-out at Oglala, South Dakota.

    The struggle to gain Native Religious Freedom would be taken up again almost six years later. Again, the struggle would start at Oakalla, when Dino Butler, a Pipe Carrier, and his cousin Gary Butler were imprisoned there in February 1981. This time the struggle would find a hard won success. By the end of the year Dino and Gary would be allowed to hold ceremony in the south wing, while the prison made plans to extend the ceremonies to other prisoners in the other wings. Dino and Gary were sent to Kent Maximum Security Prison in January 1982. At that time 30% of the prisoner population was of native descent and there was no opportunity for them to practice their religious beliefs.

    The Native Brotherhood Culture Club immediately took up the struggle inside Kent while The Society of the People Struggling to be Free, the Native Prisoner Support Group, and the Prisoners´ Rights Group took it to the streets. The struggle would spread to prisons across the country and the battle would rage on for more than two years. Many of the prisoners involved would end up in solitary confinement, involuntarily transferred, or in the case of one prisoner beaten by guards, but the prisoners spirit would not break. There were numerous negotiations, fasts and work stoppages and increasing pressure from the outside. Finally, prisoners at Kent went on a spiritual fast to pray for the recognition of their religious beliefs, they vowed to fast until this recognition came, every day more prisoners would join in the fast, it lasted 34 days. In 1984, provisions for the practice of native religion would be written into the Commissioners Directives that govern prison policy. However these directives would not encompass all forms of practice. Religious observance varies from Nation to Nation, and as First Nations prisoners are more likely to be involuntarily transferred from region to region, they often find that their only options for spiritual guidance comes from a differing system of belief.

    Dino was one of Leonard´s co-accused in the death of those FBI agents, however Dino and another man Bob Robideau stood trial separately from Leonard. Both Butler and Robideau were acquitted. The jury concluded that the defendants were in fact firing at the agents, but it decided this was not excessive in the heat of passion. They also gave explicit credence to the defense´s contention that an atmosphere of fear and violence existed on the Pine Ridge Reservation and that the defendants could have been shooting in self-defense. The acquittal was significant, as well, because it pointed to an FBI conspiracy to provoke the incident on June 26, 1975, and to railroad a number of Indian activists into prison for taking part in the exchange of gunfire. A key element in exposing the plot came from the governments own witnesses who testified it was the FBI who fired the first shots. All charges had been dropped against the fourth defendant Jimmy Eagle. Leonard was the only one left. False affidavits were used to extradite him from Canada, and at his trial in the U.S., the evidence that was used at the Butler/Robideau trial was not allowed to be entered into evidence. Leonard was convicted and sentenced to serve two life sentences. His struggle for justice and freedom has never stopped, he has gained support worldwide, there are numerous books and films about him, and there are always ongoing campaigns.

    For more info on Leonard Peltier contact:
    Leonard Peltier Defense Committee: www.leonardpeltier.net
    Leonard Peltier Defense Committee Canada: lpdccfd (at) web.net (email address from 2005)


    Racism Behind Bars

    In 1976, First Nations represented only 2% of the total Canadian population yet they comprised 28% of all male prisoners and 25% of all female prisoners. Here in BC where first nations made up only 1% of the province´s population, they made up 40% of the prison population. In Saskatchewan, where they represent 3% of the provinces population, 95% of the male and 80% of the female prisoner population were first nations. In Canada the main policing of first nations people is carried out by the RCMP, which was established as a military force in the latter part of the 19th century specifically to remove native people from prairie lands coveted by white settlers. In 1999, the first nations adult incarceration rate was 735 per 100,000 population compared to a national average incarceration rate of 151 per 100,000 population. First nations youth are also incarcerated at disproportionate rates, they make up only 4% of Canada´s youth population, but represent 26% of incarcerated youth. While numbers vary from year to year, the fact remains; First Nations have been and continue to be over- represented in Canadian prisons. In an attempt to address this over- representation CSC and First Nations communities have been working together to construct Healing Lodges for lower security federal prisoners.

    In Ontario, people of colour are also being imprisoned in disproportionate numbers. People from the community lobbied government to hold an inquiry into systemic racism in Ontario prisons. In 1994, the Royal Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System came up with 10 recommendations. While this inquiry focused on Corrections in Ontario, the same concerns have been echoed by first nations and prisoners of colour across the country.


    CLAIRE CULHANE - Prison Abolitionist

    No history of the prisoners rights movement in Canada would be complete without a section on Claire Culhane. It is a story of an incredible woman who would singlehandedly take on CSC, not once or twice, but every day of her life for more than two decades. Claire had been many things to many people, she was a mother, a grandmother & great-grandmother, a nurse in Vietnam, a union activist and a global community activist, but to prisoners all across this country she was the voice that would speak on their behalf, no matter what. A life that had already been filled by 40 years of social activism would lead her to the doors of Canada´s most impenetrable fortresses - it´s prisons.

    In 1974, Claire volunteered to teach a women´s studies class at the Lakeside Regional Correctional Centre for Women, but the event that would draw her into the struggle for prisoners rights began on June 9th 1975. Three prisoners who were about to be returned to solitary confinement at BC Pen took 15 hostages, the standoff with prison officials lasted 41 hours and ended with the emergency response team storming the hostage takers. In the process the guards shot and killed one of the hostages, Mary Steinhauser, a young correctional officer who had gained the respect of prisoners by implementing courses for prisoners in solitary. Over the next month, Claire would join in demonstrations outside both Oakalla and BC Pen in support of prisoners who were staging sit-ins and work strikes over the conditions inside. Her participation with the Prisoners´ Union Committee would result in the cancellation of her women´ studies class, but that was not about to keep Claire out of prisons. A group of Vancouver area activists would set up the Prisoners´ Rights Group (PRG). She was one of its founding members. The mandate of the PRG was to help prisoners to help themselves - especially in matters of involuntary transfers, finding competent lawyers, filing and following up grievances, qualifying for parole hearings, getting access to health care, educating the public and finally, to advance the gradual implementation of the philosophy of prison abolition.

    In 1976, she also joined the newly formed Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC). This group was formed by the Canadian Penitentiary Service (CPS), later to become Correctional Services of Canada (CSC), in an attempt to better it´s public image. Claire had found the crack in CPS´s armor - a way in. The CAC was in the process of establishing itself; meeting with the newly formed Inmate Committee at BC Pen, as well as with the prison administration, the guards and the guards union (Public Service Alliance of Canada), when BC Pen erupted in a full scale riot. The CAC would be called at the request of the prisoners to help negotiate an end to the riot. The prisoners had control of the prison for 3¸ days before a memorandum of understanding between the prisoners and CPS was agreed upon. Claire had been there through it all, she would spend 80 hours locked in with the inmate committee, the fear was that if the CAC left the prison, the military and police stationed outside the prison would move in and take the prison by force. She later wrote a book about it called "Barred from Prison: A Personal Account". As the title suggests, within 4 days of helping to negotiate the end of what was called one of the worst prison riots in fifty years, Claire would find herself barred from BC Pen. This would extend to include all but two federal prisons in BC and all of those in the provincial prison system, :allegedly in the best interest of the Institution". This only strengthened Claire´s conviction that prisons were not only built to keep prisoners in but designed to keep the public out. She set about letting the public know what was going on inside. She was able to keep in touch with prisoners through correspondence and contact with their family and friends. Many of the prisoners from BC Pen would be transferred to other prisons across the country, and as the conditions in the rest of the nation´s prisons were no better than the conditions in BC this provided a national platform from which to organize.

    Claire was a woman of action; she staged many sit-ins at the wardens offices, picketed outside the gates and on Parliament Hill, hosted a cable tv show called Instead of Prisons, responded to every article about prison written by the press, wrote articles of her own, and spoke extensively on the subject of prisons as social control. Whenever a prisoner wrote the Prisoners´ Rights Group with a concern the response from Claire was immediate, letters would fly up the chain of command at CPS/CSC, to the politicians in Ottawa and finally to the media if necessary. As Claire set off on her Barred from Prison book tour, her intention was to stop and visit as many prisoners as wanted to see her, in as many prisons as would let her in. This was not the policy of prisons at the time, you were only allowed to visit one prisoner, in one prison, in one region. There is some speculation as to whether the prisons on this first tour were more afraid to keep Claire out then they were to let her in. She managed to visit every maximum security plus several of the lower security prisons outside BC. By 1985 she had written her second book "Still Barred from Prison: Social Injustice in Canada", this tour would kick off her next action, a twenty five day protest on Parliament Hill, against the use of the twenty-five-year-minimum-sentence. In 1987 with the court dates drawing near, Claire´s visiting privileges would be reinstated.

    On the inside Claire proved to be an ally of the most valuable kind, one that not only campaigned for the rights of individual prisoners - but one who saw the system as a whole. For Claire, to challenge the prison system was to challenge all of society. The Prisoners´ Rights Group letterhead would read:

    We can´t change prisons without changing society, we know that this is a long and dangerous struggle. But the more who are involved in it, the less dangerous, and the more possible it will be.

    In her third book on prisons "No Longer Barred from Prison: Social Injustice in Canada", she would write:

    "We can only proceed, individually and collectively, to make whatever improvements are possible in our respective areas of concern, sustained by the hope that others are doing the same".

    Ever the organizer, Claire would include a Do-it-Yourself Manual for Families and Friends of Prisoners at the back of this book.

    On the outside Claire was an inspiration, a role model and a social conscience to more that one generation of activist. As an organizer of the first Prisoners´ Justice Day Committee in BC and the driving force behind 25 years of public recognition of National Prison Justice Day, we would like to thank Claire for her dedication to a struggle that we all hope will one day end.

    Claire worked for the peoples of this earth
    from September 2nd 1918 until April 28th , 1996


    Prison Justice Day becomes International Day of Solidarity with Prisoners

    In 1983, prisoners in France refused to eat in recognition of August 10th, the following statement would be read on the Paris radio station Frequence-Libre

    Why not have on August 10 an international day of solidarity with our imprisoned brothers and sisters,
    For here or elsewhere, prison kills,
    Whether it be Nalon in Ontario, Bader or Meinhoff in West Germany,
    Claude or Ivan in Switzerland, Bobby Sands in Ireland,
    Mirval, Haadjadj, Onno, Youssef or so many others in France,
    Whether they are serving 53 years like Alexandre Cotte or 16 years like Youssef,
    Whether they are considered political or common prisoners,

    By the mid 1990´s prisoners in parts of Germany, England and the United States would join this day of peaceful protest.

    The number of issues focused on over twenty- five years has been extensive:

    Double Bunking
    Youth Incarceration
    Safe Tattooing Inside
    Special Handling Units
    The Wrongfully Convicted
    Twenty-five Year Sentences
    The Right to Freedom of Speech
    The Women Self-defense Review
    Abolition of National Parole Board
    The Right to Vote in Federal Elections
    Decriminalization of Victimless Crime
    Health Care Needs of Prisoners With HIV & AIDS
    Return to Shorter Sentences with 1/3 Time Off For Good Behaviour
    Medical Care and the Same Options for Treatment as Outside Prison
    The Integration of Protective Custody prisoners into General Population
    Decarceration - Release of Prisoners Who Already Served Their Sentence
    Alternatives to Incarceration - the Eventual Abolition of Prisons
    The Recognition of Political Prisoners in Canada
    Early Intervention Programs for At-Risk Youth
    Moratorium on the Building of New Prisons
    The Incarceration of Refugee Claimants
    The Prisoners´ Right to Unionize
    Privatization of Food Services
    Needle Exchange Programs
    Privatization of Prisons
    Involuntary Transfers
    Education Programs
    Gating of Prisoners


    The Right to Recognize August 10th Without Reprisals


    ...August 10, the day prisoners have set aside as a day to fast and refuse to work in a show of solidarity to remember those who have died unnecessarily -- victims of murder, suicide and neglect.

    ...the day when organizations and individuals in the community hold demonstrations, vigils, worship services and other events in common resistance with prisoners.

    ...the day to raise issue with the fact that a very high rate of women are in prison for protecting themselves against their abusers. This makes it obvious that the legal system does not protect women who suffer violence at the hands of their partners.

    ...is the day to remember that there are a disproportionate number of Natives, African-Canadians and other minorities and marginalized people in prisons. Prisons are the ultimate form of oppression against struggles of recognition and self-determination.

    ...the day to raise public awareness of the demands made by prisoners to change the criminal justice system and the brutal and inhumane conditions that lead to so many prison deaths.

    ...the day to oppose prison violence, police violence, and violence against women and children.

    ...the day to publicize that, in their fight for freedom and equality, the actions of many political prisoners have been criminalized by government. As a result, there are false claims that there are no political prisoners in north american prisons.

    ...the day to raise public awareness of the economic and social costs of a system of criminal justice which punishes for revenge. If there is ever to be social justice, it will only come about using a model of healing justice, connecting people to the crimes and helping offenders take responsibility for their actions.

    ...the day to renew the struggle for HIV/AIDS education, prevention and treatment in prison.

    ...the day to remind people that the criminal justice system and the psychiatric system are mutually reinforcing methods that the state uses to control human beings. There is a lot of brutality by staff committed in the name of treatment. Moreover, many deaths in the psych-prisons remain uninvestigated.

    Prisoners' Justice Day Committee