PMUS rallys against Bill C-10
This past Saturday, local organization Poverty Makes Us Sick (PMUS) organized a rally and march rejecting Bill C-10 which is titled the Safe Streets and Communities Act.
This bill introduces mandatory minimum sentences for minor offences. According to PMUS, Bill C-10 continues to develop on the racist and sexist policies of the nation state Canada.
“[PMUS] likes to partner with other [poverty] related issues,” said Joshua Day, point person for PMUS for the Remembering Ashley Smith campaign. “So this past rally, the related issue was Bill C-10 the omnibus crime bill. We see this kind of work as a way of working within communities and using it as a platform to raise issues.”
Day continued to say that PMUS had concerns with Bill C-10 specifically because of the large amount of people diagnosed with mental illnesses, or who have mental health struggles that are in the federal system.
“We’re looking through the lens of marginalized people,” Day said. “Aboriginal people— often times people who have a mental health struggle and are marginalized as such live in poverty because of low rates and social isolation.
Often times, people who are criminalized for being indigenous end up in poverty because of that cultural genocide and barrier to upward mobility. So the event was kind of talking about Bill C-10 through a poverty lens.”
The campaign held was in memory of Ashley Smith, a 19-year-old girl who, on October 19 2007, was watched by prison guards as she hung herself. Smith was struggling with mental illness.
“Basically,” Day said. “Through the community building exercise of the PMUS event, remembering Ashley Smith, we’re kind of reflecting on the language of Bill C-10 and kind of challenging the notion of prison—the philosophy of prison as we know it today in Canada.”
Day went on to describe in more detail the situation surrounding Smith. According to Day, Smith’s mental health struggles were significant, and she had been placed in isolation for 23 hours a day. She went into the provincial injustice system when she was only 13 years old and was written up by prison guards on numerous occasions due to poor behaviour. In the Canadian justice system, the more written reports you have on your record the longer your sentence can become, no matter what the crime. The numerous write-ups on Smith had her placed from the provincial level to the federal prison level.
“Ashley was from New Brunswick,” Day stated. “So all her psychiatric, family and community supports were there. When she came here, she … didn’t have regular access to anybody— including her psychiatrist. Eventually her behaviour was causing the guards to write up a lot of reports, and to punish her different ways and this was taking time and money so an arbitrary and illegal order was given not to enter her cell until she stopped breathing … They literally waited until that moment then rushed in and she was dead.”
Present at the rally on Saturday were about 50 people and Day said that, “The march did swell. We were able to take a lane of the road and have a pretty strong presence on the street.” Marchers took a letter to the police station in Waterloo which discussed the poverty and crime and about taking about the cuts from the Ontario government to social services.
“Also,” Day added, “a really exciting thing I’d like to share is that… I work with people with mental heath struggles, I worked with marginalized people … Because of my own personal experiences of how much damage is done by the court, I filled a baby bottle with the blood and sprayed it on the new court house [on Weber street.]”
Day explained that this act, along with a statement read immediately after, was done. symbolically and to evoke emotion.