Vigil for Loretta Saunders

purple candleI did not know Loretta Saunders, the 26 year old Inuk woman who was writing a thesis on the issue of missing & murdered Aboriginal woman, and who, in a cruel twist of irony, became a “case” she might have chosen to write about.

I do not know her family, her community, or anyone at the university where she was studying.

I am not, even, in spite of my rather misleading-to-many last name, Aboriginal.

And none of that matters at all.

I care. I grieve. And my heart breaks for her family, for those who loved her, and for Canada.

We Canadians pride ourselves on living in one of best countries in the world….

and yet we live in a country where Aboriginal women are regarded as disposable…. used, abused, and left lying alongside our highwaysor worse.

yes, others – both women and men, and even children, fall victim to violence as well… but no other group is as over-represented, statistically, as Aboriginal women in Canada.

Over-represented among the missing… murdered…abused… incarcerated…

it sickens me.

It especially sickens me that Canadians, and especially our current Federal government, don’t seem to care. Not in the slightest.

Helen Betty Osborne died in 1971 – and little has changed since. The bodies of Aboriginal women still, more than 30 years later, continue to be regarded as fair game.

There is this notion that the numbers are so high because “those women” engage in high risk activities…. they ask to be used…abused…murdered? Seriously? Is THAT our position, Canada?

Helen Betty Osborne was not engaged in prostitution or drug use in 1971 – and guess what? Neither was Loretta Saunders in 2014.

Many of the missing & murdered in Canada also were not – and guess what? Even the ones that were were people… moms, sisters, daughters, aunties…women. Human. People…. and oh yeah… Canadian. They loved and were loved. They were PEOPLE, dammit!

To suggest that we do not have a problem is ridiculous.

We have a huge problem here, right here, in Canada.

And we have a Prime Minister who said, during The Apology for residential schools, that

“There is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian residential schools system to ever again prevail”

and yet, he continues to condone, and demonstrate, exactly those attitudes.

I went to a vigil for Loretta Saunders yesterday afternoon.

I attended. I socialized. I held a candle and listened to the words, the music, the pain…

I saw the posters. So many missing and murdered Aboriginal women…. so many.

But what really REALLY spoke to me… broke my heart…was the little girl. So pretty. So innocent. So busy.

She played Candy Crush.

Played with balloons.



Hooked arms with others in the circle.

How is it reasonable that that child has more than 10x the chance of becoming a statistic than my child… or yours?

No, a national inquiry is not the answer.

It should not, in my opinion, even be necessary.

The work that the Sisters in Spirit Initiative was doing was amazing… they collected, and analysed, so much data…and had they been allowed to continue doing their work, I have no doubt that we would now be on the path to ensuring that the problem of missing & murdered Aboriginal women in Canada would be addressed.

But the Harper government did not allow that to happen.

In fact, what they have allowed to happen is captured in a recent press release from NWAC:

Just in the past six months, NWAC has noted that at least eight Aboriginal women have been murdered. “These statistics should raise the alarm for all Canadians,” stated President, Michèle Audette.  Much too frequently, somewhere in Canada, families feel the pain and loss of a loved one who has been a victim of violence. This happens way too often for our Aboriginal people, and to the most vulnerable in our society, the women and girls.”

On behalf of NWAC, President Audette would like to publicly express heartfelt sympathies to the families who have suffered recent losses under such horrible circumstances:

Goforth, Kelly Nicole: 21 year old woman found on September 25, 2013 in Regina, SK;

Ballantyne, Heather: 40 year old woman found on October 29, 2013 in Pellican Narrows, SK;

Desjarlais, Cassandra Joan: 24 year old woman October 31, 2013 in Regina, SK

McKinney, Miranda: 50-year-old woman found on November 3, 2013, from Swan Lake,  MB

Roberts, Jodi: 24 year old woman found on November 27, 2013 near Sucker River, SK;

Boisvert, Tricia: 36 year old woman found on January 23, 2014 near Quyon, QC;

Gabriel, Rocelyn: 20 year old woman found on January 26, 2014 in Portage la Prairie, MB;

•Saunders, Loretta, 26 year old found on February 26, 2014 near Salisbury, NB.

Why is it that Loretta Saunders is the only one of these that seems to have captured the media’s – and Canada’s – attention? Perhaps it is because of her thesis topic? I hope so, but honestly I think not… but that is a topic for another day, perhaps.

In any case, at this point, a National Inquiry seems like the only viable option.

Please join the NDP, Amnesty International, NWAC, and many Aboriginal groups, in the call for a National Inquiry into Missing & Murdered Women.

Write letters. Sign the petition. Go to vigils and marches.

Oh Canada. We can do better. We must do better.




Posted in Aboriginal Issues, Canada, Idle no More, Violence against women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ashley Smith death ruled a HOMICIDE

this inquest jury is awesome.

SO glad they were not swayed by the arguments against.

Ashley Smith’s death was indeed a homicide.

No, no one actually tied the ligature around her neck.

But they did kill her.

They = not the Correctional Officers. They, to my mind =

Cindy Berry.

Ken Allen.

Eric Broadbent.

Joanna Pauline.

Everyone at RHQ & NHQ & the Ministry & the federal government who chose willful blindness over responsibility…. special mention to Mr. Head and Mr. Toews.

Those who (mis)treated, (mis)handled Ashley as a youth.

Those who saw but said nothing. And those who chose not to see.

And a (dis)honorable mention to John Tarala.

More later.


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Keep people out of prisons

While a great many of the questions Andrew Coyle has been asked during his appearance at the Ashley Smith inquest have been about the most serious end of things, i.e. dealing with segregation (or whatever one wishes to call it), I very much appreciate that he persists in trying to put forward the notion that the best approach is early intervention.

Ideally, to keep people out of prisons altogether – but if/when they must be incarcerated, then there too, intervene sooner, rather than later…. don’t let things get to the point where extended segregation is required.

Of course, given my interest specifically in the influence of surveillance in Ashley’s case, I am particularly taken by Coyle’s approach to prisons. He related that when he first went to Brixton Prison, he invited the media in, allowing them full access; an approach that led to the development of a code of ethics for corrections officers, increased engagement with community agencies and volunteers, and a great deal of positive change.

Given CSC’s resistance to transparency – and the Harper government’s record in that respect as well – just can’t see anything like that happening any time soon… but just imagine!


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Resource Issues

Commissioner Don Head testified at the Ashley Smith inquest today.

He kept going back to resource issues and his budget. He actually said, at one point, “my money” …. as in, he has limited resources and he has to decide where to spend his money. HIS money? Seems to me that every last blasted cent he has control of belongs not to him but to Canadian taxpayers.

And he is given a budget with which he is supposed to ensure that the tasks that CSC is charged with are done.

Our Mission: The Correctional Service of Canada, as part of the criminal justice system and respecting the rule of law, contributes to public safety by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens, while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control.

Nowhere in the mission statement or core values or ethics framework or in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act which governs the work of CSC does it suggest that standing around videotaping while inmates DIE is acceptable. In fact, from my reading, and from the testimony of many of those who have appeared at the inquest, preservation of life is supposed to be pretty damn high up on the list of EVERYONE’S priorities. It’s pretty hard to actively encourage and assist offenders to become law-abiding citizens while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control if they are DEAD.

The recently released report Risky Business makes it pretty clear that nothing much has improved for self-injuring women in the custody of CSC since Ashley died. In fact, there are more than a few indications that things have continued to deteriorate since her death 6 years ago. For starters, the number of incidents has TRIPLED over the last 5 years. TRIPLED!!!!

Mr. Head mentioned improvements in communications, resourcing ($50 million for new mental health strategies?!), staff training – and with all that, they’ve managed to triple the number of incidents in which inmates (many of them Aboriginal women) are acting out their pain and despair by harming themselves (and lose another one to apparent lack of staff response to “medical distress”).

And Mr. Head had the nerve to suggest, when asked for his recommendations (as all witnesses are asked) that the jury focus on recommendations that cost nothing, support what they are already in the process of doing, and don’t require too much training time?!

I am still steaming from the sheer  NERVE of the man!

As I suggested in a tweet to him, they should fire everyone that failed Ashley Smith (and Kinew James) – including him – and use that money to provide appropriate care for the seriously ill women that they haven’t yet managed to kill. Outside of CSC.

My favourite question of the day was when he was asked what the cost of NOT providing appropriate treatment to Ashley Smith was… what is the cost of keeping someone that is such a huge drain on resources in segregation within CSC, Mr. Head? Of course, he had no idea – but he did, when pushed, acknowledge that it would, in fact, be possible to come up with such a number. Here’s a thought – add in the costs of settlements to the families when you screw up and manage to kill their loved ones, and the expense of holding Boards of Inquiry and inquests, too - perhaps then there will be some cost benefit to doing things properly in the first place.

The whole system is ludicrous. So much time, energy and resources spent on tracking data, paper, statistics, use of force videos & reports, etc. etc….  scads and scads of data – only to ignore the realities of what that data is showing.  We pay to staff the Office of the Correctional Investigator – and then ignore most of what they tell us. We pay to hold inquest after inquest – and then ignore the recommendations they generate. What the hell is the point of it all?

The whole thing sickens me.

Such a horrific and inhumane use of resources.

We don’t have the death penalty in Canada – except that we do.

Posted in Ashley Smith, Canada, Kinew James, Politics, Prison, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why Wait?

Both the Toronto Star and the Globe & Mail have posted editorials arguing that, as per the Office of the Correctional Investigator report Risky Business which I wrote about in my last post, mentally ill inmates should be provided the specialized help they need. Well duh … but hey… here’s a thought…

How ’bout we provide people with mental health treatment & support when they need it …. you know…. when they first start having problems?  Before they wind up in the justice system at all?

It disgusts me every time I read a newspaper article about serious crimes committed by people with mental illnesses. Does nobody pay attention to how often it turns out that the ~criminal~ actually turned up at an emergency room asking for help before the crime?

We don’t turn people with heart attacks or broken legs away ….  send ‘em home with a number to call to get on a wait list for treatment…someday.

But we sure as heck do when it comes to mental illness. In theory, people who are at risk of harming themselves or others can be admitted to hospital – but you know what? It doesn’t happen that they are nearly as often as you might think.

We send them on their way – I’d have said “home” but hell, so many mentally ill Canadians are living on the streets, even that would be optimistic – and expect that they’ll cope until the system can get around to giving a damn.

And people hurt themselves, and yeah, sometimes, hurt, or even kill, other people.

You know what happens if you ignore problems when they’re small? They get bigger …and bigger yet.

People with mental illnesses should be supported & treated before they lose their education, families, lives, freedom….  every effort should be made to avoid criminalizing them …. and in the event that we FAIL and we do wind up with mentally ill men & women in our prisons, we most definitely need to smarten up and ensure that they receive the treatment they need. And we most definitely need to ensure that we do not punish them for their illness by adding to their sentences for acting out their distress when we fail them.

We can do better.

We must do better.

But far better we put resources toward keeping mentally ill individuals out of CSC’s grasp in the first place than accept their presence there as a given.




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Risky Business

I read Risky Business: An Investigation of the Treatment and Management of Chronic Self-Injury Among Federally Sentenced Women after watching Cindy Berry’s testimony at the inquest today … *sigh*  SO freaking depressing.

We’ve heard from several Corrections Officers over the course of the Ashley Smith inquest that, in their opinion, things are better for women in CSC custody now… that there have been changes… improvements, even. All, of course, which are best taken with a grain of salt.

And sure enough…. the report makes it pretty clear that any claim to such improvements are most likely a function of wishful thinking.

Statistically? Incidents of self-harm have more than tripled since Ashley’s death.

And reading the descriptions of some of the incidents & findings  – ouch. Aboriginal women are over-represented, high numbers of institutional transfers, use of segregation, and additional charges….  and, as always, a lack of respect for inmates as human.

There are some differences. A new CD: Management of Inmate Self-Injurious and Suicidal Behaviour, more use of restraints, and a new report requirement (completion of a Critical Response and Incident Management Plan – a CRIMP – they do like their acronyms) …. but there is little/no evidence included in Risky Business that would seem to indicate any actual improvement whatsoever in CSC’s ability to manage offenders like Ashley Smith.

They have, of course, managed to keep their self-injurers alive since Ashley though – well, all but one of them, and she – Kinew James - apparently died as a result of a medical problem unrelated to self-injurious behaviour….. although one wonders, of course, if the staff’s lack of responsiveness to her pleas for help might have been related to her history of acting out behaviour….. a question for the next inquest?


It is all so frustrating….and yeah, depressing.

These women clearly do not belong in CSC facilities – and they certainly should not be held there for ever increasing lengths of time beyond their original sentences because CSC is so ill-equipped to deal with their needs!

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Comment Threads show Canadians are paying attention to Ashley Smith Inquest

Transparency: not just a catchwordWas reading Ashley Smith inquest: Corrections chief tried to duck testifying at the site and wandered through the comment threads…. haven’t done that for awhile. What a difference!!!

Honestly, when the Fifth Estate documentary first came out and I was reading comment threads, I despaired of my fellow Canadians. The lack of empathy and understanding of so many commenters was appalling…. sickening….    So upsetting; it really changed the way I viewed Canada & Canadians…

Fast forward to more recent comment threads and oh my goodness, what a difference! Even though there are varying levels of knowledge and understanding among commenters, it seems clear that people have moved beyond the simple “it was _________’s fault” to understanding that what happened to Ashley involved many people, many decisions, and many systems.

More information –> more understanding –> more meaningful dialog & discussion … go figure.

A pretty strong argument for transparency, if you ask me.

I find it exciting…and encouraging! Perhaps someday I will be able to go into comment threads on articles related to Aboriginal issues in Canada without despair, too! That would be awesome, wouldn’t it?

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No Stream Today?

Gotta love this whole web-streaming thing…  no idea what’s going on at the Ashley Smith inquest today – and no way to know if there is a delay of some sort, or if someone just forgot  to turn the stream on.

Sure would be nice if someone – anyone – would take the time to tweet an update when ~stuff~ like this happens… or a message on the web cam site… or something.

SO aggravating!

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Ashley Smith Inquest Resumes

Well, the summer is over, school is back in session, and as of tomorrow, 9-Sep, the Ashley Smith Inquest will resume again. Time to clear my side table and swipe my laptop back from hubby (I work on my desktop, watch on the laptop so that I can have it on full screen). Will go down in person at some point in the near future again, most likely, but that’s a long (and expensive) trip each time, so won’t be until after I start getting a pay cheque again.

There are a lot of questions still remaining about Ashley Smith’s death – the key one yet to be addressed by the Inquest is where the order the Correction Officers not enter her cell as long as she was breathing originated. The Inquest has moved up the chain of command – through front line workers and middle managers and supervisors and medical personnel and not yet hit that level. I will be surprised, actually, if any one at any level actually admits to being the originator of the key order.

But while that question – and the many others that have been raised & addressed through the Inquest – are interesting and worth pursuing, it irks me knowing that even when we get to the end of this process and all the reports are in, the recommendations published and all that good stuff, there will still be so many unanswered questions…so many unexplored areas…and so many people who contributed to Ashley’s horrific life and death who will remain unknown, unchallenged, and potentially uneducated about their roles.

By the time she arrived at CSC, Ashley had already been incarcerated for more than 3 years, and she had already made the transition from being a difficult-to-manage brat – a royal pain in the arse, even – to a self-injuring, acting-out, seriously disturbed young woman so severely damaged that a segregated cage seemed the only option.  The Ashley Smith Report which was published by the Ombudsman and Child and Youth Advocate’s Office of New Brunswick in 2008 provides some insight into those three years… into what happened… but it is not, for me, enough.

Those people who were involved in her ~care~ (using the term loosely) over the course of those three years should, in my opinion, have the opportunity to sit their butts in the seat at the front of a courtroom just like the corrections officers and other CSC employees have had to do, and, under oath, face examination into their role in Ashley’s life. And not only the people who worked with her – lets also examine the politicians who made the decisions, the lawyers who represented her, the judges who sentenced her to ever increasing incarceration – who piled on to help turn a 30 day sentence for throwing crab apples at a mailman into a death sentence.

We Canadians don’t believe in death sentences. Supposedly. But Ashley Smith got one. Kinew James got one. Hundreds of other people, as well.  We might not allow judges to sentence people to death – explicitly – but we sure don’t seem to have much problem when it happens ~accidentally~ do we?

In fact, read the comment threads of articles about Ashley Smith, about other prisons who die while in prison…. an awful lot of people seem to be all about blaming the inmate – their fault for being mentally ill, their fault for being in prison, their fault for being dead. It sickens me.  And makes me ashamed to be Canadian.

We can do better. We MUST do better.

I believe that there should be a full inquiry and that it would help us to do better… but of course, that will never happen… at least not this time – maybe the next time… or the next… or the next…


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There’s more to Liberals than scandals…

according to Kathleen Wynne, that is…. we should all look beyond the gas plants, eHealth, Ornge scandals…. lost not lost emails, and huge amounts of taxpayer money that has essentially been flushed…

Yeah okay ….

I’ll look beyond …. guess what, Ms. Wynne? It doesn’t get better when I do that. Let’s look at what I get for my taxes, why don’t we?

My tenants can rip me off for thousands of dollars with the help of the Legalized Theft Board. They can stay in my house for months, paying not one blessed cent, and collecting shelter allowances from Ontario taxpayers – and that’s all just hunky dory fine with the Ontario government. Good use of my hard earned money, eh?

We taxpayers pay taxes for ~services~ like those offered by the Sheriff’s Office – and we pay their salaries and fees for them to take weeks to do anything….and even have to pay them through the month of December when they do NO work. Good use of my hard earned money, eh?

Tenants can do this to my beautiful old house – without penalty …and there’s not a blessed thing I can do about it. Good use of my hard earned money, eh?

You DO know that it’s more likely to be landlords than tenants that pay taxes, right?

So okay …. I’m a ~little~ sour on the whole landlording gig right now… lets look past that too…

The government of Ontario:

  • killed the Community Start Up benefit, ensuring that many low income tenants are stuck where they are.
  • provided funding for necessary surgeries just long enough to reduce wait times and get some good press and then quietly yanked it so that people who were a bit too late, like my mom, get to wait far too long for surgery.
  • failed to act on complaints regarding more than 20 children at an unlicensed day care until, that is, a child died
  • did a lousy job with nursing home inspections - and yeah, people died there too. And, by the way, nursing homes are not an appropriate placement for young people with disabilities.
  • want to talk about mental health services? How many people in need of help are turned away from Ontario facilities? How many are in jail? How is it possible that there could be 12,000 young people on a wait list for mental health services in Ontario?
  • The new & improved Drive Clean program? A joke… not a funny one though

Seriously, in about every place in which I have to interact with the Ontario government in any way, I am beyond frustrated. My tax money is not well spent, and I have no faith whatsoever in you or your government’s desire or ability to change that.

I did try to give you the benefit of the doubt  – even wrote emails to you and several Ministers responsible for areas I have concerns about. Only one response – from the Ministry of Health. You, Ms. Wynne, clearly don’t shive a git about what I have to say… you’ve ignored no fewer than 3 emails … not so much as an acknowledgement (did you know you could set those up to happen automatically? Really not that hard).

So yeah… you can encourage me to look beyond the scandals – but when I do that, the only thing I see is failures.

Was that what you had in mind?




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