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Nova Scotia has responded to prison protest with nothing but contempt

By prioritizing public opinion over alarming and abusive conditions, justice minister Mark Furey shows us his fundamental disregard for the human rights of those incarcerated.

Manuel Moncayo-Adams Sep 8, 2018 5:36 AM
A solitary confinement cell, like one of many holding inmates at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility. The coordinated North America prison strike ends Sunday, September 9.

I have a family member in the Burnside prison. I’ve watched the peaceful protest out of Burnside unfold with a touch of hope and optimism. But the statement given by Justice minister Mark Furey makes me angry, frustrated and tired.

Our provincial government has shown that it does not want to be held accountable: not to prisoners and not to the public. Our government has shown its willingness to selectively provide basic services, and Nova Scotians who deny the legitimacy and sincerity in our incarcerated community’s demands and peaceful protest are denying fundamental access to rights and resources that should be accessible to all.

The government’s response to this peaceful protest is one of contempt. Despite clearly laid out concerns and demands on the part of the protesters, Justice minister Mark Furey denied them access to fair debate. Nowhere does the minister mention access to healthcare. Nowhere does the minister mention the community’s demand for contact visits, their demand for basic healthy food or the simple fact that inmates still are not receiving the yard time they are entitled to under the Corrections Act.

As El Jones pointed out, in his statement Mark Furey is not addressing prisoners. He is addressing the public. No one should have their basic human rights debated and held at the mercy of those who might never share their situation. By prioritizing public opinion over alarming and abusive conditions at Nova Scotia’s largest prison, Mark Furey shows us his fundamental disregard for the human rights of those incarcerated.

The simplest thing Justice minister Mark Furey can do is to change his language. Furey refers to the incarcerated community as “...offenders who come from vulnerable environments...” Why do our family members have to be continuously referenced in the context of their crime but not in the context of their humanity?

The peaceful protest that the incarcerated community in Burnside launched was one framed on a quest for basic human rights. Mark Furey consistently avoids the use of words and phrases like ‘people,’ ‘community’ and ‘human beings’ strategically. What better way to deflect the humanitarian concerns of incarcerated communities than referring to them as offenders, a word that evokes images of crime and disrespect? I will no longer stay complicit in the disrespect and willful dismissal of calls for access to basic services.

Our Provincial Government is accountable to Nova Scotians to provide every resident with a dignified existence. Mark Furey needs to approach our incarcerated community with respect and empathy. Nova Scotians will be waiting.


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