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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