For Immediate Release – 24 February 2016, Ottawa, Ontario
Protesters will March to Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre to Call For End of Solitary Confinement of Mentally-Ill First Nations Woman
What: March & Rally for Marlene Carter at The Royal!
Where: March from Westgate Mall, 1309 Carling Ave to The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, 1145 Carling Ave.
When: Friday February 26th, 2016.
9:30 am: March begins at south-east corner of Westgate Mall near Monkey Joe’s restaurant
10 to 11:00 am: Outdoor rally near front entrance of Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre
Ottawa, Feb. 24, 2016 – Supporters of Marlene Carter, a First Nations woman who has been held in solitary confinement at the Brockville Mental Health Centre for prolonged periods of time, are rallying on Friday Feb. 26th at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre (The Royal) in support of her human rights. They are demanding she be released from what the Brockville Mental Health Centre calls “seclusion.” Carter is from Onion Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.
For Carter, this current “seclusion” (AKA solitary confinement, isolation, or segregation) means being kept almost 24 hours a day in a tiny 8 x 10 foot room containing a cot and a sink/toilet unit, no TV, radio or internet, limited shower privileges, no right to smudge (an aboriginal ceremony), no right to private counsel with her spiritual advisor, no right to spend even one precious minute outdoors. It also means limited access to the phone.
On Thursday Feb. 11, Carter’s supporters rallied outside the Brockville Mental Health Centre to demand her release from solitary confinement. The rally was led by Elder Albert Dumont (Kitigan Zibi, Quebec), who has been Carter’s spiritual advisor since January 2015. Carter’s supporters also condemned the use of prolonged solitary confinement against anyone in Canada’s prison system.
After the Feb. 11 rally, Elder Dumont announced he would lead the Feb. 26 rally at The Royal to put pressure on George Weber, president and CEO of the institution, by calling on him to immediately release Carter from seclusion. The Brockville Mental Health Centre is part of The Royal’s forensic unit.
The Ontario Review Board determined in January that Carter should be returned to Saskatchewan to be closer to her community and family. Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and professor of law at the University of Ottawa, has known Carter for nearly two decades and will speak at the rally.
Pate supports Carter being returned to Saskatchewan, but is concerned Carter might wind up back at Saskatoon’s Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC), which “will only transfer the location, not change her treatment.” RPC is where Carter was first subjected to solitary confinement and restraint, and where she began to hear voices instructing her to self-harm. Pate has suggested to the Onion Lake Cree Nation that it make an application under section 81 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to have Carter transferred to the custody of the community as opposed to an institution like RPC.
“Marlene Carter’s basic human right to be treated with some form of dignity is non-existent at the Brockville Mental Health Centre Forensic Treatment Unit,” states Dumont. “Instead of caring for her in a humane and compassionate way, she is being treated as if mental illness was the worst of the worst of all crimes a person could be guilty of. People should be outraged and condemn what is going on in Brockville.”
On his website, Dumont is also encouraging a letter-writing campaign to Weber, with Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale, Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould, and Minister of Indigenous Affairs Carolyn Bennett CC’ed. This is because part of Minister Goodale’s Mandate is to: “Work with the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to address gaps in services to Indigenous Peoples and those with mental illness throughout the criminal justice system.” The abuse that Carter, a mentally ill Indigenous woman, is experiencing can only be seen as a gap in service within the criminal justice system.
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Albert Dumont (for media only), firstname.lastname@example.org
Julie Comber (bilingual), email@example.com
Who is Marlene Carter?
To understand how Carter became a victim of the Canadian judicial system, it is important to know some of her history. She endured sexual and physical abuse throughout her childhood, which caused her to attempt suicide several times.
The downward spiral that led to much of Carter’s adult life being spent in institutions started with a conviction in 1999 for non-violent offenses. She was initially sentenced to nine months in prison, but the sentence was extended until 2003 due to an assault she committed while incarcerated. In 2009, she was convicted of several assaults and received a 30-month sentence. Assaults committed while incarcerated extended her sentence again, until 2014.
From 2009 to 2014, Ms. Carter was in Saskatoon’s Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC). She began hearing voices instructing her to bash her head against the floor or other hard surfaces. RPC responded by keeping her in restraints for so long her muscles atrophied, leaving her unable to stand or walk on her own for more than short distances.
In 2014, Saskatchewan tried to have Ms. Carter designated a dangerous offender. The judge did not label her a dangerous offender, and instead stated she should be transferred to a mental health facility that would focus on supporting her mental health.
The Current Situation at Brockville Mental Health Centre
Albert Dumont speaking at rally outside the Brockville Mental Health Centre, 11 Feb 2016. Photo Credit: Julie Comber
Carter was transferred from Saskatchewan to the Brockville Mental Health Centre Forensic Treatment Unit in the summer of 2014. At the request of the Brockville therapeutic staff, in January 2015 Algonquin Elder Albert Dumont began to visit Carter regularly as her spiritual advisor. He took her outdoors to sit and smudge, which Carter had not been allowed to do for years. Dumont witnessed an amazing transformation. Carter went from a state of mistrust and inner rage to becoming calm and hopeful. He also observed that she was intelligent and soft spoken. But by the fall of 2015 she deteriorated once more after Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was imposed on her against her will. A series of assaults followed soon thereafter, leaving staff members shaken and fearful.
Dumont believes that Carter’s traumatic past combined with the way she is currently being treated are responsible for any regression Carter has experienced.
The Ontario Review Board determined in January 2016 that Carter should be returned to Saskatchewan to be closer to her community and family. However, she is still being kept in solitary confinement and no date has been set for her return to Saskatchewan.
In addition to being held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time, Carter was recently subjected to six-point restraint on her tiny cot for at least 14 days. Her hands were bound so tightly to her sides that Dumont observed she could not move from lying on her back to resting on her side comfortably.
Solitary Confinement is Unacceptable
The UN’s “Report on Solitary Confinement” denounces the use of prolonged solitary confinement for more than 15 days. Carter has been subjected to solitary confinement for more than 15 days several times at Brockville.
In addition, the Feb.18, 2016 Maclean’s article Canada’s prisons are the ‘new residential schools’ revealed systematic injustice against aboriginal people in the prison system. Chapter 4 of the article deals specifically with segregation (solitary confinement), and highlights that aboriginal people are more likely to be subjected to solitary confinement, and for longer periods than non-aboriginal inmates. This chapter also tells the story of Kinew James, who died on Jan. 20, 2013, just months before the end of a 15-year sentence, while incarcerated at Saskatoon’s Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC). Carter was also incarcerated at RPC at the time. James was 35, an Anishinaabe Native and member of the Roseau River First Nation in Manitoba. James’ story is eerily similar to Carter’s. Dumont is concerned Carter could also wind up dead in custody if she is not released immediately from solitary confinement.