Caravan demonstrates outside Maple Ridge prisons

Two rural jails are latest to see protesters calling for release of inmates amid COVID pandemic

  • Apr. 26, 2020 12:50 p.m.

A caravan of vehicles is expected outfront of Maple Ridge’s two provincial prisons within minutes.

It’s a convoy of demonstrators calling for the release of inmates because of COVID-19.

The group, headed up locally by Vancouver Prison Justice Day committee member Meenakshi Mannoe, is expected to hold #FreeThemAllCaravan action outside Fraser Regional Correctional Centre and in response to growing concern about COVID-19 in prisons across Canada.

It’s part of a protest happening today, coast to coast, Mannoe said. It will involve driving past “sites of confinement and hold online caravans to demand freedom for prisoners and migrant detainees subject to the violence of the Canadian carceral state during the pandemic,” she said Sunday morning, just ahead of the demonstration.

READ MORE: Federal prison tensions rise amid COVID lockdowns; activists want releases

Participating groups and individuals are demanding prisoner releases, competent release planning on the part of governments, community supports such as transitional housing – where required – and a universal basic income that’ll position those being diverted and decarcerated from custody to live in security during and beyond the COVID-19 crisis, she explained.

“Today’s multi-city event continues the work of last Sunday’s #FreeThemAllCaravan organized by Solidarity Across Borders because, while significant carceral population reductions have occurred in places like Nova Scotia, where there’s still more work to be done, other jurisdictions have remained stuck in the mud, elevating the risk of incarcerated people to COVID-19 exposure,” she said.

RELATED STORY: COVID-19 is not a ‘get-out-of-jail-free card,’ says B.C. judge

Advocates have been sounding the alarm about the risks posed to prisoners since the pandemic took hold in Canada more than a month ago. Yet, according to Mannoe and others, the federal government has ignored these calls.

“As the federal government was busy examining its options and ignoring the advice of experts, advocates, and community-based service providers that have spent their lives getting and keeping people safely out of state custody, COVID-19 took hold in places like Mission Institution,” she added.

“In recent days, we’ve learned of a case where CSC [Correctional Service of Canada] released a prisoner from Mission without a plan to self-isolate locally for 14 days in transitional housing, to ensure he didn’t have the coronavirus, before safely transporting him to his home community to execute his longer-term re-entry plan. While we all watch the crisis unfold in federal prisons, including at Mission – where more than 100 prisoners have now tested positive for COVID-19 – I want to be clear: the same risks exist in all detention centres, including provincial jails. This weekend, our caravan will travel to two warehouses run by the province of British Columbia –carceral sites that have failed to massively decarcerate as a response to the pandemic.”

READ MORE: Federal handling of COVID-19 outbreak at Mission Institution criticized by MPs, advocates

The demonstration is expected to run from about noon to 2 p.m. between the two provincial prisons, one incarcerating men, the other incarcerating women, in the rural area of north Maple Ridge.

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