Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, Burnside Jail, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
August 21, 2018 – September 9, 2018
Prisoners engaged in a 20-day “peaceful protest” in response to a call from prisoners in the United States for a national prison strike. Prisoners wrote a letter explaining their motivations for the strike and listing demands. Their letter was published in full by the Halifax Examiner. The prisoners wrote:
“The organizers of this protest assert that we are being warehoused as inmates, not treated as human beings. We have tried through other means including complaint, conversation, negotiation, petitions, and other official and non-official means to improve our conditions. We now call upon our supporters outside these walls to stand with us in protesting our treatment…
We join in this protest in solidarity with our brothers in prison in the United States who are calling for a prison strike from August 21st to September 9th. We support the demands of our comrades in the United States, and we join their call for justice.”
The prisoners demanded improvements in health care, rehabilitation, exercise, visits, clothing, food, air quality and library access.
In their statement, the Burnside protesters cited the impact of prison conditions on prison staff, a connection that is not often clearly made by prisoners during protests. “We recognize that the staff in the jail are workers who are also facing injustice. We are asking for a more productive rehabilitative environment that supports the wellbeing of everyone in the system. These policy changes will also benefit the workers in the jail.”
In response to the strike, Jason MacLean, the president of the NSGEU, the union representing the corrections officers at Burnside, released a lengthy statement on the protest and the list of demands. He stated,
“I have respect for those who, in a peaceful way, give notice of what they want. I commend the inmates for this….my members understand what’s happening and why it’s happening, and in some instances, they agree, and in some instances, they don’t necessarily disagree, but there’s operational aspects, and people are trying to envision how this could be done.”
The protest received national attention as various prisoner rights advocacy groups supported the prisoners. Canadian Department of Justice Minister Mark Furey responded publicly to some of the prisoners’ demands, although he made few clear commitments.
Various outside groups held a demonstration at the Justice Department in Halifax on Thursday, September 6, in support of the striking prisoners. According to the Star Halifax, “a rally hosted by anti-capitalist group Solidarity Halifax at noon saw roughly 70 people from student groups, unions and the general public gather outside the Justice Department building on Hollis St. and march to the provincial courthouse on Spring Garden Rd.”
On September 9, protesters also gathered outside the prison in support of the striking prisoners. According to CTV News,
“Police say about 30 people gathered outside the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility on Sunday night and some reportedly shot fireworks at the facility and also tried to climb a fence surrounding the property…The protesters were removed and police took one man into custody, saying he will face several charges including causing a disturbance, property damage, obstructing a peace officer and assaulting a police officer.”
According to a statement submitted anonymously to It’s Going Down, the September 9 protest outside the prison was organized by “a group of anarchists and prison abolitionists.”According to the statement, prisoners responded to the demonstration from their cells: “At moments when we stopped making noise, we were able to hear rhythmic banging on the windows. Some prisoners waved, and others flicked the lights on and off in their cells.”
In a statement from the striking prisoners, issued to The Halifax Examiner, announcing the end of the strike, prisoners sent a message to those who gathered outside the prison:
“To the protestors who came right down through the woods to the back of the jail, risking their freedom to stand in solidarity with us, you gave us the most liberating feeling. We want you to know, we could hear you, and we believe you: we are not alone. Thank you. We love you, and are grateful to have you by our sides.”
They also drew attention to a prisoner, Josh Evans, who committed suicide shortly after the protest:
“It is with heavy hearts we write that shortly after the end of our protest, a fellow prisoner incarcerated here lost his life. The conditions and environment here speak for themselves. Since the protests started we have been locked down with even less time spent outside, in contact with our families, or getting any recreation. We know how these conditions hurt the mental health of people imprisoned here.”
“The prisoners at the Burnside jail are engaged in a non-violent protest; here is their statement“, Halifax Examiner, August 19, 2018.
“Burnside inmates publish list of demands as protest enters second week“, The Star Halifax, August 27, 2018.
“I’m a Burnside jail inmate, and also a human being. Here’s why you should care about our protest“, CBC, September 4, 2018.
“As prisoners protest, is the province listening?”, The Coast, September 5, 2018.
“Haligonians magnify the message of Burnside jail’s striking inmates“, The Star Halifax, September 6, 2018.
“Halifax protesters show support for prisoners in Burnside jail,” CTV News Atlantic, September 6, 2018.
“Nova Scotia inmate protest rare and effective, national advocate says”, CBC, September 8, 2018.
“Man arrested outside N.S. jail where peaceful protest was underway inside” CTV News Atlantic, September 10, 2018.
“Woman whose brother attempted suicide in jail addresses recent inmate death“, Global News, September 15, 2018.
“Prisoners at the Burnside jail end 20-day strike, issue statement“, The Halifax Examiner, September 12, 2018.
“Newsbrief: Police violence and arrest unwarranted, say protesters outside Burnside jail“, The Nova Scotia Advocate, September 12, 2018.
“‘He fell through the cracks’: Family of inmate who died at Nova Scotia jail seek answers”, Global News, September 13, 2018.
“Judge upholds lockdown conditions at Burnside jail“, CBC, October 5, 2018.