UPDATE, Thursday, 5:09 p.m.: The Ministry of the Solicitor General has confirmed that the hunger strike situation at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre has been resolved after successful negotiations.
A group of inmates at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) have started a hunger strike as they demand healthier food options, better access to cleaning products and improved options to cope with COVID-19 restrictions in the jail.
All 14 men are currently imprisoned in the OCDC's maximum security unit, and have been on strike since 8 a.m., Wednesday, June 3.
The Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP) recieved a statement from one of the men, Deepan Budlakoti.
"We’re in the care of the ministry and we’re supposed to be treated with dignity, respect and professionalism, yet we’re not even provided for as humans," he says. "We’re looked at as animals. The basic necessity of life is food. How can you not provide someone with proper food. They [i.e. the staff and administration] go home, they eat their own meals and have the ability to choose. We’re supposed to be protected by the constitution, but we’re being treated as if we’re not human -- as a number."
The CPEP says prisoners on the regular institutional diet report receiving meals made by Compass Group that are below the April 2019 standards outlined in the Canada Food Guide which are, at times, served frozen. Prisoners on the Halal institutional diet contracted out to Sepha Foods report receiving less meat and lower quality food than other people held at OCDC. They say the portions are inadequate, the food is processed, sides have been replaced with fillers like corn, and there’s no fresh vegetables or fruits, with little variety. Prisoners on the Kosher institutional diet report getting less food, peanut butter shortages, and no dessert items.
The hunger strikers are concerned about their lack of access to liquid antibacterial soap, hygiene products such as toothpaste, body wash and lotion, and canteen items like oatmeal and other healthier foods to supplement the privatized sub-standard meals provide to them by the institution, which are important to maintain their health, particularly in pandemic times.
The strikers also report not having access to basic amenities to cope with the pains of imprisonment such as access to magazine subscriptions, adequate yard time and alternatives to cancelled visits with loved ones.
They’re also frustrated by the about the amount of time they can decide to spend in and out of cells, which limits their ability to physically isolate on a range where some cells are double-bunked despite the unit being under its official capacity of 24 set by the ministry.
The imates are making the following demands:
- To alleviate food discrimination and the lack of protein currently provided by the Halal diet, those receiving Halal meals must be provided peanut butter and Cracker Barrel cheese everytime a meal is served.
- People who receive the Kosher diet must be provided with their original four peanut butters daily, as well as their Kosher bread indefinitely to meet their nutritional needs.
- TVs should be left on until 2:30 a.m. due to COVID-19.
- More new TV channels must be considered as stated by the Deputy Minister’s office.
- Lotion must be provided to all of us on a weekly basis in a 4 ounce container based on the sole fact that there’s no lotion available on canteen, which has been an on-going issue.
- Four ounce containers of body wash or liquid antibacterial hand soap must be provided per individual on the living unit weekly so we can try to keep our hands clean during this pandemic.
- Apple variety rotation, orange variety rotation and additional fruits must be provided (e.g. pears, peaches, prunes, etc).
- Vegetables must be provided on the side with meals (e.g. cucumbers, green peppers, carrots, broccoli, etc.). These items must be provided as per the ministry’s policy that says that the meals they serve to prisoners must exceed or match the 2019 Canada Food Guide specifications.
- Magazine and book subscriptions implementation must happen ASAP as per ministry policy to facilitate our access to our reading materials at a fair cost and to help preserve our sanity.
- Increase access to outdoor activities and yard.
- Provide haircuts or the tools necessary to cut hair as per ministry policy.
- Provide alternatives to visits such as video conference calls, but only as an interim measure as in-person visitations need to be reinstated as soon as Ontario enters the second stage of reopening during the pandemic.
- Allow us more access to our cells during dayroom activities to allow us to physically isolate when needed.
- Increase the six pictures per envelope limit.
- Stop displaying items on the canteen list that are out of stock.
- Increase the number of healthy items on the commissary such as oatmeal.
- Decrease or eliminate processed food from our diets.
The CPEP is encouraging people to stand in solidarity with prisoners at the Innes Road jail by calling OCDC’s Acting Superintendent Mike Wood at 613-824-6080 or emailing him at email@example.com to ensure the demands of the hunger strikers are met.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of the Solicitor General has issued this statement regarding the strike:
"The ministry has policies and procedures for responding to situations where inmates refuse meals.
Staff are engaging with the inmates at Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) regarding their concerns.
In response to concerns raised, the ministry can confirm OCDC continues to provide its inmate population with adequate supplies of soap, toothpaste and other toiletries. (Further details on personal care products provided to those in our custody are available in the inmate guide here) The ministry also provides cleaning supplies so inmates can keep their living areas clean.
While personal visitation is temporary paused at all of our institutions for the safety of our staff and those in our custody, OCDC has implemented interim measures, including increased access to the canteen and additional entertainment options, to ameliorate the impact. Inmates also continue to be allotted designated time out of their cells daily.
All inmates are provided three nutritionally balanced meals plus one snack each day.
Inmates who require a special diet for medical, religious or lifestyle reasons are accommodated accordingly.
The ministry’s policy across all correctional facilities is to provide healthy food options according to Canada’s Food Guide. All menus meet or exceed dietary requirements and contain all the nutrients for the promotion and maintenance of good health.
In relation to inmate photo policies, the ministry can confirm inmates at OCDC are permitted to have up to six at photos in their cell and are able to exchange them at any time upon request."