Posts - Communitas Montreal

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Death of Brother Fernand Bessette, a great friend of Communitas

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Brother Fernand BessetteFernand Bessette, a Brother of the Holy Cross, died Sunday, 4 October 2020 on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, after a short illness.  Fernand was a long-time member of Communitas who attended our Open Door meetings over the years and even acted as an escort driver for us, picking up and dropping off the inmates from Ste-Anne-des-Plaines Minimum Institution as well as from Montee St. Francois Minimum Institution in Laval.

He was a gentle man who listened more than he spoke, but when he did share his thoughts it was always amazing to learn of all the things he had done with his life.  His sharing about the time he spent living in India was rare, but it clearly marked him in a significant way.

Fernand smiled and laughed easily, and you would never know from his demeanour how much he personally did for the men in prison.  He not only acted as an escort for incarcerated men attending Communitas’ events, but entered fully into the spirit of our activities, even going so far as to be the Santa Claus at one of our Christmas celebrations.  Nearly every day Fernand could be faithfully found in the prisons of Quebec, accompanying men whether as a Chaplain or just as a listener.  He also escorted inmates to other events connected with their work-release and other reintegration programmes.

As a Brother of the Holy Cross he was deeply devout, and a caring and compassionate soul whose heart touched hundreds of men over the years.

He will be greatly missed by his friends at Communitas.

Memories

So sad to hear…  I will always remember whenever the two of us would be going through a door he would tell me… “after you”  & always made me go through first….and he would always say: “The first will be last and the last will be first” and we would always have a good laugh every time……  Gaby.

Sad news indeed! To lose such a giving soul, one who never failed to be kind, is a great loss to us all… I have no doubt he will continue his Good Work in the life beyond – in joy, painless, and limitless…  Roger

“With every contact, even a momentary encounter in a penitentiary parking lot, Fernand had a gift for making the other person feel important. Imagine, he was the one who had embraced another way of life in India while we were playing it safe at home, yet you were the one who came away feeling interesting.”        Steve

 

Email your memories to communications@communitasmontreal.org

Communitas Participatory Budgeting 2020 — And the Winners are!

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We brainstormed, we weeded, and finally, we voted. Communitas members were given $1500 to allocate to proposed projects in 2020-2021 and here are the winning projects.  Thank you to everyone who participated at each stage of the process.   Stayed tuned for more news about these projects.

  1. Host two budgeting workshops at Open Door ($150): the ACEF (Association coopérative d’économie familiale) will help us to evaluate our consumption choices, control debt, create healthy budgeting habits, and avoid traps of consumption.
  2. Prepare a token of appreciation for our host, Christ Church Cathedral ($400). They have hosted Open Door for free for years! We want ideas for a creative way to thank them.
  3. Host computer and tech workshops ($150): pay a techie to help members unravel the mysteries of computers, tablets and cellphones, navigate the web, use software and remain safe online
  4. Create a pick-up service ($200) for our members leaving prison and drive them to their destination
  5. Host a community BBQ for our members ($200)
  6. Host a day of creativity at The Art Hive ($150). They have all the art supplies that you can imagine.
  7. Hire a professional artist to lead an art project at Open Door ($200). This could be visual arts, performance art, theatrical arts, musical art or others.

 

A Communitas letter to our incarcerated participants during COVID

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1 July 2020

(Individual letters were sent via Canada Post to many of our incarcerated participants) 

Greetings from Communitas!

We hope you are hanging in there and that you know that you are in our thoughts.  We have not forgotten that you are in lock-down because of Covid-19, and we share your distress at this situation.

Life outside is also very different.  Not as severe as your situation, but we too have members outside who are confined to their homes and who have not left them for more than four months as a result of COVID!  Yes, some people are more mobile because of their jobs, but they are also more at risk of catching Covid-19 and so more stressed.

We hope that you received our last letter and that you enjoyed the Sou’Wester Spring 2020 edition.  If possible it would be good to get your feedback.  We could include your comments in the next edition.

We get news from CSC periodically about what is going on in the various prisons, and at time of writing, are thankful that there are no cases in B-16, and that the FTC cases are recovering.

The Communitas Directors are in touch with CSC to see what ways are possible for more contact to be established.  We are hopeful that a way will be found for us to be able to make contact via Zoom.  We will see.

Open Door continues apace.  We have a good number of attendees every Tuesday, with between 22 and 30 people zooming in.  Over the past four weeks, Open Door has had the following presentations:

  • Black Lives Matter – Racism in Canada. (Jeri)

An interesting discussion was had among the 27 people gathered for Open Door about what was happening with the BLM movement in the USA, and making comparisons about racism in Canada against both Black and First Nations people.

  • Best case and worst-case scenarios for Climate Change in the next 30 years (Michele)

A presentation was made looking into the future – 30 years later in 2050, and foretelling the best case and the worst-case scenarios if the world did meet its climate change targets in time, or if it failed to meet the targets.  A lively discussion was had after the presentation among the 23 participants.

  • Participatory budgeting – Part 2 (Monika)

The second part of Communitas’ Participatory Budgeting exercise took place among the 22 Communitas members present.  $1,500 was divided (virtually) among the participants for them to vote on 10 projects that were chosen in the pre-Covid days by the Open Doors participants in Part 1 of the Participatory Budgeting exercise.  The 10 projects chosen were:

  1. Host a budgeting workshop
  2. Thank you plaque for the Cathedral Community Bar-B-Q
  3. Host Computer or Technical workshop
  4. Art Expression
  5. Collection of men being released from the pen
  6. Host video-making workshop
  7. Organize outing for Communitas members
  8. Professional artist to lead a project
  9. Organize outing for Communitas members
  10. Attend Art Hire Workshop

Once the results of the vote are computed and released, the $1,500 will be spent by Communitas this year to make sure that the winning activities are implemented.

  • Canada Day Quiz (Margaret)

The night before Canada Day, Tuesday 30 June 2020, we had our yearly Canada Day Quiz led by Margaret as usual.  Quiz questions were divided into the following categories:

History; Geography; Sports; Great Canadians; Canadian Inventions; New Concerns.

Everyone had to answer a question from the category they chose and then they had to tell a Canadian story or give a Canadian joke.  The evening was great, with lots of laughter and wonderful stories shared by all.  We would have wished that your own stories were among them, but we have faith that day will come.

Hope you had a Happy Canada Day!

Your friends from Communitas

Hong Kong’s new national security law

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Here are some excerpts from an article posted to the China Collection website by Donald Clarke, of George Washington University Law School. The full article may be seen at https://thechinacollection.org/hong-kongs-national-security-law-first-look/

Article 38 states, “This Law shall apply to offences under this Law committed against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region from outside the Region by a person who is not a permanent resident of the Region.” I know of no reason not to think it means what it appears to say: it is asserting extraterritorial jurisdiction over every person on the planet.  Remarkably, this provision gives the Law an even broader reach than mainland criminal law. Under mainland criminal law, a foreigner is not liable for an act that’s a crime under the law unless either the act or the effect occurs in China. The Nat Sec Law has no such limitation. Suppose a US newspaper columnist advocates Tibetan independence in their column. They are liable under mainland criminal law only through a real stretching of the law, and in practice, this level of stretching is pretty rare. But they are liable under the Hong Kong national security law without any stretching at all. If you’ve ever said anything that might offend the PRC or Hong Kong authorities, stay out of Hong Kong.

This provision also raises another issue. Suppose you are the above newspaper columnist and you travel not to Hong Kong but to Beijing. Although you may have committed no crime under PRC criminal law, you have under the Nat Sec Law. What if the Hong Kong authorities ask the mainland authorities to detain you and send you down to Hong Kong? Will the mainland authorities turn them down? (Sounds like it will be unsafe for all Chinese abroad to make unpatriotic statements if they intend ever to return to or visit HK or the mainland. This should give students on Canadian campuses additional incentive to report on each others’ statements and conduct and regulate their own.) Article 40 provides that jurisdiction…

Jurisdiction-who handles alleged crimes-is a very important part of the Law.

Article 40 provides that jurisdiction is in the hands of the Hong Kong authorities by default, but that it can be taken away by the mainland’s Office for Safeguarding National Security (more on that when we get to Article 48).  Trials are to be conducted in public, except (you knew this was coming) when the authorities decide not to conduct them in public, on grounds of state secrets, public order, or “other circumstances” (Article 41).

Article 42.  “No bail shall be granted to a criminal suspect or defendant unless the judge has sufficient grounds for believing that the criminal suspect or defendant will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.” In other words, the burden is on the bail seeker to prove that they won’t continue to commit crimes.

Article 60.  The acts performed in the course of duty by the Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and its staff in accordance with this Law shall not be subject to the jurisdiction of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

In the course of performing duty, a holder of an identification document or a document of certification issued by the Office and the articles including vehicles used by the holder shall not be subject to inspection, search or detention by law enforcement officers of the Region. In other words, they are untouchable under Hong Kong law. This is real Gestapo-level stuff. And here’s the kicker: it would seem they are untouchable under mainland law as well. Suppose one such officer commits a deliberate homicide “in the course of duty”. Not liable under Hong Kong law.

Well, what about the Criminal Law of the PRC? Unfortunately, the only PRC laws applicable in Hong Kong are those listed in Annex III to the Basic Law, and the Criminal Law is not listed there. Incredible. It seems that officials of the Office for Safeguarding National Security can move around Hong Kong in their own little lawless bubble.

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