What will you do for Prisoners’ Justice Day?

Prisoners’ Justice Day has been observed every year on August 10 since 1975 to call attention to human rights and justice for prisoners.

This year, the theme is mental health, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, LAO and the John Howard Society of Toronto will be hosting several leading legal activists for a day of discussion about mental health in the Canadian justice system in honour of Prisoners’ Justice Day. The event is free and open to the public.

Why prisoners’ justice matters

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Sukanya Pillay described the importance of rights and dignity being protected for people who are incarcerated in her 2012 editorial:

When the punishment for a crime is incarceration—as opposed to a fine or a suspended sentence—this means that the prisoner is punished for crime through the deprivation of his or her liberty. Liberty is the right upon which true self-determination and full enjoyment of other fundamental rights is predicated. In other words, the deprivation of liberty is, in itself, the punishment.

The suffering inherent in that punishment should not be unjustly aggravated. Yet, when placed “behind bars” a person is immediately placed into a situation of powerlessness and dependency, and therefore exposed to possible cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment and even torture. While the deprivation of liberty may be legal, the deprivation of human dignity is not.

At issue in prisoners’ justice

Since the establishment of Prisoners’ Justice Day, prisoners’ rights advocacy has focused on a variety of issues affecting prisoners, including but not limited to:

An abridged history of Prisoners’ Justice Day

Prisoners’ Justice Day began following the August 10, 1974 death of Canadian prisoner Edward Nalon, who died in segregation while in Millhaven prison in Ontario. The following year on August 10, 1975, prisoners went on hunger strike and mourned in Nalon’s honour.

In May 1976, the death of prisoner Robert Landers, who was in segregation in the same prison, precipitated the recognition of August 10 as the day of remembrance and mourning for prisoners.

LAO and prisoners’ justice

LAO supports prisoners’ justice on many fronts, including through the work of:

  • LAO staff, duty counsel and private bar lawyers who provide legal advice, information and assistance to prisoners
  • the LAO Prison Law Advisory Committee, a body of experts that meets twice a year to provide advice on prison law and prisoners’ issues to the LAO Board of Directors
  • the LAO Group Applications and Test Case Committee (GATCC), which supports test case litigation that raises prison law and prisoners’ rights issues
  • the Queen’s Prison Law Clinic (formerly the Queen’s Correctional Law Project), a non-profit corporation funded by LAO and the Queen’s University Faculty of Law that provides legal advice and representation to prisoners. They also work closely with other organizations including the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, the John Howard Society of Canada, and PASAN
  • LAO’s mental health strategy, which is examining ways to strengthen the capacity of lawyers, front-line workers, and management to better serve clients with mental illness

Join us

Please join us in observing Prisoners’ Justice Day this year at the August 10 event at Metro Hall, or by any means that may be possible for you.

Some ways that you can participate in prisoners’ justice on August 10 and throughout the year:

Colleen Westendorf

About Colleen Westendorf

Bilingual digital communications specialist at LAO, Colleen has previously worked for CBC/Radio-Canada and the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies. Colleen grew up in Vancouver, spent three charmed years in Montreal, and is now glad to call Toronto home.