Protesters in Regina give voice to Sask. Penitentiary inmates' demands

People in Regina rallied Wednesday in support of prisoners' rights at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary, calling for "basic, livable conditions" and information surrounding an inmate killed in a riot there last year.

Minister Ralph Goodale says 'number of changes' for prisons to come later this year

Members of the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism want prisoners' rights acknowledged. (CBC)

People in Regina rallied Wednesday in support of prisoners' rights at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary, calling for "basic, livable conditions" and information surrounding an inmate killed in a riot there last year.

"Often prisoners and their families are unable to voice their concerns without fear of repercussions. So having groups like us come forward and give voice and give access to the voice is important," said Chris Kortright with the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism, which organized the rally.

The group said prisoners are asking for:

  1. Edible and healthy food.
  2. Access to basic health care.
  3. Access to cultural activities and elders.
  4. No abusive treatment or violence from corrections staff.
Robbin Whitecap was one of the people hoping to get Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale's attention. (CBC)

Protest co-organizer Robyn Pitawanakwat also called on Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, citing disproportionately high numbers of Indigenous people incarcerated in Saskatchewan.

Goodale said changes are in the works.

"I expect to be coming forward later on this year with a number of changes within the correctional system of Canada to improve the way it functions to make sure that it's delivering on its public mandates."

Death in December

In December, a protest at the penitentiary turned into a violent riot in which one inmate died and eight were wounded.

In the days leading up to the riot, there were concerns by inmates over the portion size of meals, said James Bloomfield, regional president with the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, on Dec. 15.

Jason Leonard Bird, 43, died in December in a riot at Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert. (Holly Lynn/Facebook)

The group behind the rally includes members of Regina-based Colonialism No More. It sent a letter to Goodale in January asking for an "in-depth and wide-ranging" investigation into the riot. It has not heard back.

But the minister said he is willing to listen to all voices to try to improve Canada's prison system.

"The correctional service has begun that investigation and obviously there are some external and criminal investigations underway as well," Goodale said.

"I will listen very carefully to others who may not be a part of the official examination but have views to express as to what needs to be corrected or changed in our correctional system."

While Wednesday's protest was highlighting issues at the federal penitentiary in Prince Albert, Kortright said problems in the prison system exist elsewhere.

Corrections Canada response

A spokesperson for the Correctional Service of Canada said an investigation into the Dec. riot is underway and has not been finalized.

In response to concerns over food the statement read:

  • Meals served to inmates meet nutrition standards.
  • Each menu is reviewed and approved by a registered dietitian and is standardized across the country.
  • Serving sizes are in accordance with Canada's Food Guide.

On health services:

  • CSC must provide essential health care, which includes mental health care, to inmates and reasonable access to non-essential mental health care.that can contribute to the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders.
  • Health services are provided by registered or licensed health care professionals including physicians, nurses, pharmacists, psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists, social workers and dentists.

On safety and security:

  • New measures include building new living units and ensuring full use of available beds.

with files from CBC's Adam Hunter