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Response from CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly to Communitas Letter expressing concern over the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on Canada’s prison population

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Dear Mr. Huish,

Thank you for your correspondence of March 26, 2020.  CSC is committed
to protecting the safety and health of staff, inmates, and the public
during these unprecedented times. CSC employees, especially those who
are working in our institutions, on the frontline, and in communities
supervising offenders are working tirelessly day in and day out to keep
our operations going under exceptional circumstances.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our institutions, CSC has suspended
visits from the public and volunteers, as well as all temporary
absences, unless medically necessary, work releases, and non-emergency
transfers of inmates.

Understanding the impact these measures have on the inmate population,
CSC has temporarily waived the food, accommodation and telephone
deductions, and maintained the inmates’ level of pay. We recognize that
family contact is essential, especially in these challenging times.  As
such, we have added additional minutes to the inmates’ phone card and
have seen an increase in the number of telephone calls and
video-visitation.  We will continue to monitor these measures as the
situation unfolds.

To protect our employees, CSC ensures ongoing prevention education and
awareness and active screening of all critical staff entering the
institutions.  Staff must adhere to all health and safety directions
provided, including but not limited to active screening, hand washing
before entering the site, physical distancing, cleaning of common areas
and equipment, and following public health’s advice when off-duty.  In
addition, institutional routines and rosters have been modified to
prevent and minimize the spread of the virus within the institution.

CSC has also equipped its correctional staff with the required Personal
Protective Equipment, including masks. CSC has enhanced its cleaning
protocols, including disinfecting common areas of contact.  When an
employee tests positive, CSC works with the local public health
authorities to implement a number of measures, such as contact tracing,
ensuring self-isolation, testing others as needed, and disinfecting the
site. Finally, CSC has implemented its own tracing capability and is
working collaboratively with the Public Health Agency of Canada.

To protect inmates, CSC is self-isolating inmates being transferred to
federal custody from the province for 14 days, providing them with soap
and hand sanitizer, keeping them informed through regular communiques,
and working with inmates to review existing treatment plans with a focus
on older offenders and those with serious underlying health conditions.
CSC has protocols in place when an inmate tests positive for COVID-19,
such as placement in medical isolation in his or her cell or room.
Where required, CSC is providing masks to inmates.  Finally, CSC is also
equipped with low oxygen flow equipment to treat milder cases and has
established clear protocols and procedures with local hospitals should
inmates need to be transferred to those facilities for treatment.

As we move forward, CSC is continuing to actively monitor, plan and
engage with health authorities on further precautions we can take to
prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our institutions and communities to
minimize the risks for the public, employees and inmates. We remain in
contact with local public health departments across the country so we
can stay up-to-date on issues, solutions and best practices.   CSC staff
and inmates are identified as priority one for testing, and like all
other Canadians, we are tested by local public health authorities.

In regards to the release of offenders, the _Criminal Code of Canada_
and the _Corrections and Conditional Release Act_ (CCRA) are the
legislative frameworks that govern both the eligibility dates of
federally sentenced inmates and the requirements for release
consideration.  CSC has worked collaboratively with the Parole Board of
Canada (PBC) to streamline the case management process and is actively
reviewing cases of inmates whose risk can be safely managed in the
community for presentation to the PBC.   As noted by the PBC on their
website [1], they will consider the offender’s health or health risk
posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, if relevant as part of the risk
assessment, along with all other information on file.

In addition, CSC is in regular contact with its community partners,
including Community Residential Facilities (CRF), to ensure we work
together to address any challenges presented by the current situation.
Community Residential Facilities continue to follow public health
guidance and we are working to ensure they have the proper supports and
resources during this time. CSC is also looking at all options in order
to ensure that we are not creating undue accommodation pressures on our
CRF partners.  CSC is working with the PBC to ease the pressure on the
CRFs during the pandemic, by recommending a change to the residency
requirement from a CRF to a home or family environment, where such a
placement is risk appropriate.

Please rest assured that CSC takes its mandate very seriously and
understands that there is no greater responsibility than having the care
and custody of other human beings.

Finally, please note that updates on CSC’s response to COVID-19 are
posted on our website [2].

Hoping you are staying safe and healthy.

Anne

Anne Kelly

Commissioner / Commissaire

Correctional Service Canada / Service correctionnel du Canada

340 Laurier Ave. West

Ottawa, ON

K1A 0P9

Communitas letter regarding corrections and conditional release during COVID 19

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March 26, 2020

The Honourable Bill Blair
Minister of Public Safety
House of Commons
Ottawa, Canada
K1A 0A6

Commissioner Anne Kelly
Correctional Service Canada
340 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, ON
K1P 0P9

Re: Corrections and Conditional Release during COVID-19

Dear Minister Blair and Commissioner Kelly,

Communitas is a non-profit community organization operating CoSA and various other social reintegration programs in Montreal in collaboration with the criminal justice system, faith communities, and other relevant actors for the safe and lawful return of federal offenders into free society. We are writing today out of concern over the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on Canada’s prison population, and, by extension, on the health and safety of all Canadians.

The heightened threat COVID-19 constitutes for our prison populations has been acknowledged by all the involved parties, including your offices. We recognize that this challenge to your responsibility to protect Canadians, both inside and outside the walls, is a daunting one, and we are aware that you are actively struggling to meet it. Yet, like the many organizations who have already written on this issue, we are convinced there are other crucial steps which should be taken.

A number of legal avenues exist which would allow you to effect a drastic reduction in the populations of the penitentiaries and residential facilities without, however, throwing out the bedrock principle of public safety. At the same time, we contend that in this new reality, the traditional approach to evaluation of risk serving to maintain current levels of incarceration would create a deadly different sort of risk coming from another direction. The judiciary have begun to abide by this imperative in their own risk assessments. In R. vs. J.S., 2020 ONSC 1710, the Ontario Superior Court, in granting bail, ruled,

“In my view, the greatly elevated risk posed to detained inmates from the coronavirus, as compared to being at home on house arrest is a factor that must be considered in assessing the tertiary ground. I want to be clear that I am not suggesting any failure of the correctional authorities to take appropriate steps to attempt to keep inmates healthy, and to attempt to limit the spread of the virus. But I take notice of the fact, based on current events around the world, and in this province, that the risks to health from this virus in a confined space with many people, like a jail, are significantly greater than if a defendant is able to self-isolate at home. (…) I note that this factor concerns not only Mr. S.’s own health, but also the preservation of scarce hospital resources to treat patients. If more people are infected, those resources will be more strained. This factor must, of course, be balanced with the other tertiary ground factors.”

The message here is that it now is legitimate, indeed, required, to place the dangers of continued incarceration on the scale when weighing the risk of release.

It is patent that a safe way to release a great number of offenders could be found if the competent authorities were to cast an expeditious eye in their direction. A glaring example is found in the residential facilities, where offenders already judged safe to circulate in the community are often triple bunked, and are denied all hope of practicing safe hygiene. But the potential for release is not limited to the halfway houses, or even to the minimum security institutions. There are plausible candidates throughout the system waiting on parole eligibility dates, on the preparation of reports, on a date for an in-person hearing. Others, afflicted by the frailties that come with old age and pre-existing medical conditions, are pre-ordained to succumb to the coming explosion of coronavirus if they are not quickly removed from the carceral environment.

As for those who must remain incarcerated, other practical measures to enhance their safety have been proposed by the Correctional Investigator and many others. We encourage you to embrace these constructive suggestions.

We trust you will exercise courage and creativity in making novel use of the existing legal tools to get our incarcerated fellow Canadians to a safer place before they suffer the ravages of this relentless foe.

Wishing you and those around you good health throughout this crisis, I remain

Yours truly,

Peter Huish,
Chairperson of the Board
Communitas Inc.

Open Door Goes Virtual

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Seventeen people attended the first virtual Open Door on Tuesday, March 23.

Using Zoom, anyone with a computer or telephone can join in. It was an excellent first meeting, talking about our experiences with the
Coronavirus. We plan to hold a virtual Open Door every Tuesday at 7 pm while the Diocese building is closed.

Call 514-244-6147 for details

Communitas and COVID 19

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After much discussion, consultation, and reflection, the Communitas Board of Directors has reluctantly decided to suspend all Open Door, Table Talk, and other Communitas activity temporarily as a preventative measure against the COVID 19 Virus spread, in line with what government and public health officials are requesting.

Social distancing, which is an essential tool in the fight against the virus, greatly limits Communitas as we carry out our mission of creating community.  For the next while, Communitas will use social media and other forms to stay in touch with our members.

Communitas is looking into how social media can best be used to protect that sense of belonging we have always endeavoured to foster amongst our members.  More information will soon follow.

If you wish to be notified by email of all developments, please email coordinator@communitasmontreal.org or call the office: 514-244-6147.

We thank you for your understanding.

Community Building Workshop Open to Communitas Members and Friends

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You are invited to participate in a two-day Community Building Workshop on March 14th and 15th, 2020, from 9 am to 5:30 pm, at 2145 avenue Charlemagne, near Metro Pie1X (some parking is available).

The purpose of the workshop is to become a healthier Communitas team by learning more about each other and celebrating our inclusivity and differences non-judgmentally.

This activity of Community Building is sponsored by Communitas and is free, but contributions are encouraged (to help with the expenses for meals and rent), according to each participant’s means.

Lunches and beverages are supplied and will be enjoyed in community.

The process was designed in the US by Scott Peck in the early 1980s and has been practiced in many countries around the world. Often participants have spoken of the workshop as a Life-Changing Moment.

For enrollment, please see Margaret at Open Door, or contact Monika at 514-244-6147 or by email at coordinator@communitasmontreal.org

Communitas Fundraising Campaign Reaches its Goal

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Communitas wishes everyone a very Happy New Year and a prosperous decade ahead.

We start the year on a positive note having achieved our 2019-2020 fundraising goal of $18,000 on the very last day of 2019!

A huge thank you to all our donors and well-wishers for this wonderful show of support for our community.

A very special thank you to our anonymous donor who matched all donations given In memory of Hugh MacCormack.

 

Communitas Board of Directors

Fall fundraising photo

Restorative Justice Week in Montreal — Nov. 17-25, 2019

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National Restorative Justice Week this year takes place from Sunday, November 17, until Friday, November  22.  Communitas will be taking part in activities along with our sister organizations in the Montreal area.  We strongly encourage you to attend one or many of the planned activities listed below.

Sunday, November 17

11 am: Beginning of RJ week at St. Joseph’s Oratory
Salle Pichette, St. Joseph’s Oratory (Montréal)
11 am: Liturgy in the Crypt
12:30: Lunch
1:30 – 4 pm :
RJ witnessing (CSJR – in French)
Writing and collage workshop on the theme: Cultivating our Collective Gardens
Hosted by the partners of the Montreal Community chaplaincy.
Registration: acmontreal@hotmail.com / 514 978-8881. Suggested contribution of $10 for the meal.

10 am: Art therapy Workshop
Hosted by the Montreal Museum of fine Arts and CSJR
2200 rue Crescent (Montréal)
10 am to 12-30 pm
Registration : csjr@csjr.org / 514 933-3737

Monday, November 18

7 pm: Reflection and discussion evening (in French) on the theme “From Social Transition to Restorative Justice”
Hosted by Centre justice et foi and CSJR
25 rue Jarry Ouest (Montréal)
Looking at examples of rebuilding the social and urban fabric by restorative means. For more information: www.facebook.com/events/792230257897662/
7 pm to  9:30 pm

Tuesday, November 19

6 pm: Presentation on restorative justice as part of the Victimology Certificate Program at the Universite de Montreal. For students only

6-30 pm:  Communitas RJ focus Group meets with members of the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral  (closed meeting)

7 pm: Communitas — Open Door
The discussion this week will be about a restorative approach to a Crime in the Community.
1444 Union (across the street from the Bay building)

Thursday, November 21

7 pm : Soirée Entrée Libre  (in French)
Maison ACM (2745, rue Charlemagne, Montréal)
Soirée conviviale d’échanges sur le thème de la justice réparatrice et de la dignité humaine, en présence de personnes actuellement incarcérées ou l’ayant été, de personnes ayant été victimes, et de bénévoles.

Friday, November 22

6 pm: Festive Closing of RJ week
2715 chemin de Côte Sainte-Catherine (Montréal)
Buffet, followed by an informal evening with music performed by Dominique, John-Ross, Mohammed and Isaac.
Hosted by: Montreal Community Chaplaincy, Conseil des Églises pour la Justice et la Criminologie, Corporation Jean-Paul Morin, Communitas, Relais-Famille, Cercles de soutien et de responsabilité du Québec, Présence Compassion, Maison Orléans, CSJR and Entrée Libre
Registration: acmontreal@hotmail.com / 514 978-8881. Suggested contribution of $10 (for the meal)

Communitas Doubles Your Donation

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Dear Friend of Communitas,

A sincere thank you for your support of Communitas.  Last year’s donations were matched by an anonymous donor in memory of Hugh MacCormack, a longtime member and passionate supporter of Communitas.

This year, we are DOUBLY blessed, as an anonymous donor has again committed to match all donations given in Hugh’s memory, received before December 31, 2019.

Communitas continues to accompany and support men coming out of prison to rejoin society in safe and productive ways.  In 2018-19 we convened 185 Circles of Support and Accountability, fed 559 people at Table Talk and welcomed 1,358 people at Open Door.  Twice a month 6 to 7 volunteers visited the Minimum Security prison in Laval. Also, a new restorative justice focus group attracts 10 to 15 members each month.

The growth in our activities demonstrates our commitment to creating safer communities.
Please take advantage of the special offer this year of your donation being DOUBLED.

Online donations can be made through the Communitas website with the following link:
https://communitasmontreal.org/donate/.  Please label your donation “In memory of Hugh.”

Cheques should be addressed to Mouvement Communitas, with reference to Hugh MacCormack.

We deeply appreciate your care and commitment to our shared life in Communitas. We all receive so much as each gives what he or she can.

Thank you again,

Peter Huish
Chair
Mouvement Communitas
3974 Notre Dame Street West, Suite B
Montreal, QC H4C 1R1

Fall fundraising photo