Today VANDU had an action against what we are calling the ‘mass incarceration agenda’ for Canada. About 50 of us rallied at the Vancouver Public Library, passed out leaflets and then marched on the street back to VANDU in the Downtown Eastside. We chanted “homes not jails”, and “stop the war on the poor” all the way back., and we passed out leaflets from the Canadian Students for a Sensible Drug Policy.
We took this action because we can see the horrible impacts that mass incarceration agenda – basically jailing even more poor people, people who use illicit drugs, Aboriginal people, immigrants and refugees – is going to have on the health and well being of our community.
We call it a mass incarceration agenda because the policies are being enacted at all levels of government and by different political parties. At the federal level, the Harper Conservatives ‘Omnibus Crime Bill’ introduces mandatory minimums for drug offenses, reduces access to parole and pardons and very clearly targets people who use illicit drugs and immigrant and refugee communities. It will mean more people in jail for longer, and when we say ‘people’ you know the type of people we mean – the people in our community – poor people, people who are addicted to drugs, Aboriginal people, migrants and refugees.
Meanwhile the Provincial Liberals are building the jail space to put all the newly minted criminal masterminds in. The first is a $90 million, 216 cell remand centre in Surrey, and a second one is slated for the Okanagan. Both will be privately operated with the Surrey facility already contracted out to a company called Brookfield Financial Corp.
And of course the rogue Vancouver Police Department are happy to fill the prisons with people from the Downtown Eastside and other poor neighbourhoods. People like the woman who came into VANDU this week because she found out she has a warrant for her arrest because she failed to appear at her court date for vending tickets!
The mass incarceration agenda is scary! When parents are separated from their children, when people are ripped out of their communities, when people have to deal with the stigma of being an ‘ex-con’ for the rest of their lives the health impacts are deep, structural and inter-generational.
People’s Health Radio is planning a show on the ‘Ominous’ Crime Bill on October 26, so tune in for more analysis and discussion of how we can oppose this awful agenda.