Canadians contribute to the perpetuation of a prison-industrial complex that mistreats detainees, say the organizers of an event to commemorate those who have suffered at its hands.
A vigil Thursday, August 10, at the Mackenzie Hall Community Centre marks local observation of Prisoners’ Justice Day, during which inmates and advocates across the country will recognize those who have died in custody. The annual memorial began following the death of Edward Nolan, who committed suicide while held in a segregation cell at Millhaven penitentiary on August 10, 1974.
UWindsor law professors Jillian Rogin and Sujith Xavier are members of the Prison Justice Network Windsor-Essex, which is hosting the event and invites public participation.
“The atmosphere we are trying to create is to provide a space for a community discussion,” says Rogin. “We are looking to start a conversation about how prisons and detention are conceptualized, to memorialize people who have suffered under these conditions and to think about ways to move forward.”
Xavier says his passion for the issue grew out of his personal experiences, first as a refugee who came to Canada as a child, and then as a lawyer representing those seeking refuge in this country.
“One of my clients was thrown into detention because she was deemed a liar,” he recalls. “She was incarcerated for over a month, leaving behind her three Canadian-born children, including a two-year-old baby.”
He says such harsh treatment is a regular aspect of the system.
“There are a lot of things happening in the name of the administrative state that people don’t know about,” Xavier says. “People would be shocked and appalled.”
Rogin notes those concerns extend to local conditions.
“This is happening in Windsor. This is not a Toronto issue; this is not a Vancouver issue,” she says. “Over-incarceration of Indigenous people is not a problem just in Saskatchewan.”
To highlight the violence against Aboriginal communities in particular, Thursday’s event will feature a drum circle in addition to speakers addressing their own lived experiences in the penal system. It will run 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday outside the former courthouse and jail, located at 3277 Sandwich Street.