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Amanda Hiscocks files discrimination complaint against women's prison and Ministry of Corrections

| November 23, 2012
(L-R) Leah Henderson, Niiti Simmonds and MacDonald Scott spoke at Thursday's press conference held outside the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. Photo: John Bonnar

One year after she pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the anti-G20 protests, Amanda Hiscocks filed a human rights application on Thursday against the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and the Vanier Centre for Women, alleging that they discriminate against inmates in maximum security by denying them programs and services available to those in medium security. 

In her application, Hiscocks alleged that the Ministry and Vanier Centre discriminate against inmates on the basis of political belief, citizenship, mental health status, disability, gender and other prohibited grounds.

“I hope to initiate some changes in their security classification system, which is opaque and discriminatory and contains no fair grievance process,” said Hiscocks in a statement released Thursday. 

“We deserve the right to know the reason for our security designation, and the right to challenge it under a fair grievance process.”

A year ago, Hiscocks pleaded guilty to counseling to commit mischief over $5,000 and counseling to obstruct police for her alleged role in the ant-G20 protests.

On January 13, she was sentenced to 16 months in prison at Vanier Centre for Women and was immediately placed on maximum security.

In maximum security, prisoners are double-bunked and locked in or out of their cells for extended periods of time. There are very few programs and little access to books.

In contrast, prisoners on medium security have their own cells, more access to programs, the yard and time spent outdoors.

Leah Henderson, one of Hiscocks’s co-accused, served a 10-month sentence at Vanier Centre for Women where she spent all but 10 days on maximum security.

“The differences between maximum security and medium security are huge,” said Henderson.

“In maximum security you’re locked up for close to 16 hours a day. You have limited access to resources and you have very limited programming.”

In addition to the quality of life differences, Henderson said the ability to “rebuild” before your release is reduced on maximum security because it’s a more controlled environment.

“Which means when you’re released, it’s more of a shock to the system because you have less freedom,” she said. 

Making it that much harder to adjust to life on the outside.

“In theory there is supposed to be a review of the process after a couple of weeks,” said Niiti Simmonds, counsel for Amanda Hiscocks, at a press conference Thursday morning outside the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario at 655 Bay Street in Toronto.

“We don’t think that took place in Mandy’s case.”

Especially since Hiscocks wasn’t moved to medium security until the end of August.

“I never had a misconduct, was never sent to the hole, was occasionally argumentative and sarcastic with guards but never violent or aggressive towards them, and I had no run ins with other inmates,” said Hiscocks.

“I tried for months to find out why I wasn't being given a chance on a medium security unit but my questions went unanswered by Classifications, the Superintendent and the Regional Director.”

Hiscocks, who is scheduled to be released from Vanier on December 3, argued that the institution wasn’t justified in keeping her on the maximum security wing that long.

“There should have to be a clear reason (for not moving from maximum to medium security) and inmates should have the right to know it and grieve it under a fair process if we disagree,” she said.

“This is something I hope can be addressed at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.”

Hiscocks also expects the Tribunal to deal with the classification system that she said “discriminates against groups of people who are already marginalized in society.”

In the case of people held on immigration hold, immigration consultant and No One is Illegal member MacDonald Scott said a “clear, answerable and accountable process for security designations for migrants being held” is long overdue.

“Without such a process the immigration officers’ decisions are based on race, class and racist and xenophobic criteria,” said Scott.

“Without accountability, the worst of the immigration officers’ biases and racism comes to the forefront.”

Inmates with disabilities can face discrimination too. 

“When a person identifies themselves as having a disability, especially those with needs that fall outside those of non-disabled prisoners, or when staff or administration of an institution labels a person as disabled, it is common to further remove any decision making power from the prisoner, and it is common to increase institutional control over that person,” said DAMN 2025, a a direct action group currently bringing together disabled people, those affected by ableism and their supporters.

After Hiscocks’s application is accepted by the Tribunal, it will be served to the Ministry and the Vanier Centre for Women, who have 35 days to file their response.

A mediation is scheduled and if that’s unsuccessful in resolving the application, then a hearing takes place within the next two years.

“In her application Mandy is seeking a number of public interest remedies to revamp the system to make it less discriminatory,” said Simmonds.

“The Tribunal has the power to award non-monetary policy related awards that will evaluate how maximum security designations are granted and will encourage the respondents or require the respondents to develop more transparent policies that aren’t discriminatory.”

Even though it’s the first time that this kind of application has been launched against the provincial system, Simmonds said “similar concerns” have been addressed at the federal level and there has been “some movement” to improve the federal system.

“We’re hoping that a similar result will happen at the provincial level,” she said.

At this point, Hiscocks is the only applicant but she “encourages current and former inmates held in provincial jails who believe that they have been subject to discriminatory classification to come forward and join in the application.” 

Anyone wishing to get involved in the application is asked to email vanierapplication@gmail.com.

“Prisons will never be about justice, but hopefully the systemic remedies I am seeking in my application will make them a little more fair,” said Hiscocks.  

“Prisoners are deprived of our liberty but we shouldn’t be denied basic human rights and equal treatment.”

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