The Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre Is Being Accused of Refusing to Accommodate Ramadan Fasting for Inmates Requiring MedicationWritten by Criminalization and Punishment Education Project
During the month of Ramadan, many Muslim persons fast as a religious and spiritual practice.
Muslim people who are incarcerated at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) are no exception. Some of them observe daily fasts, abstaining from ingesting anything – including food, drinks and medication – from sunrise to sunset. Instead of abiding by provincial and federal laws and policies, OCDC refuses to accommodate the creed-based needs of its Muslim prisoners during Ramadan.
Starting on 24 April 2020, the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project’s (CPEP)'s Jail Accountability & Information Line (JAIL) received dozens of calls from incarcerated Muslim persons confined in all the areas of the Ottawa jail. From these calls, it was reported that OCDC routinely forces Muslim people practicing Ramadan to either observe their religious fast or take care of their health care needs by only providing access to their medication during fasting hours. On 28 April 2020, CPEP sent an email to the jail’s administration, Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, and other Ministry of Solicitor General officials demanding that OCDC health care staff provide Muslim prisoners with their medication in keeping with the dictates of their faith. CPEP’s letter went unanswered and the human rights issue has persisted.
Souheil Benslimane, Lead Coordinator of the JAIL hotline explains the significance of OCDC and the Ministry’s inaction: “Muslim prisoners who are trying to respect their religion are being disrespected by the Ministry and jail’s administration who refuses to accommodate their religious and medical needs. When institutional routines don’t change to accommodate faith-based requirements, systemic discrimination – in this case against Muslims, which is pervasive in Canadian society – is the result”.
Fathima Cader, legal counsel for CPEP in this matter, echoes these thoughts declaring: “This case is as much about chronically inadequate medical services in jails, as it’s about the specific needs of Muslim prisoners with medical needs. The least that jails can do now in the context of a pandemic where prisoners are being exposed to a heightened risk of COVID-19 transmission is to let people find solace in their faith, especially those who are already ill. No one should be forced to choose between their faith and their health”.
Human rights violations at carceral institutions are the rule, rather than the exception. Religious organizations recognize this worrisome fact. Sameha Omer, Director of Legal Affairs at the National Council of Canadian Muslims, explains: “Being a Muslim behind bars during the month of Ramadan can be particularly challenging and the adverse discriminatory treatment of Muslim prisoners is a reoccurring issue. These individuals shouldn’t have to choose between their religion and health because of institutional policies. The OCDC needs to be committed to ensuring that prisoners are able to practice their religious beliefs freely and are treated with respect when they do so”.
The Criminalization and Punishment Education Project, backed by 60 civil society organizations, [including several Muslim community organizations see list below], is calling upon the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General and OCDC’s administration to implement the corrective measures listed by legal counsel Fathima Cader in the letter sent to them on May 7th by 8 May 2020. Should they fail to correct this injustice, CPEP reserves the right to commence legal action without further notice.
Several Muslim and Community Organizations officially support CPEP's letter to the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre including: Assalam Mosque, Black Muslim Initiative, Canadian Association of Muslim Women in Law, Canadian Council of Muslim Women Ottawa Chapter, Canadian Association of Muslim Lawyers (CAMWL), Justice for Soli Campaign, Muslim Chaplaincy of Toronto, National Council of Canadian Muslims, Positive Change Toronto, Ottawa Muslim Community Services, and Sanad Collective