Regional jail program tries to ease religious, cultural tension
OTTAWA — A new program is planned to support Muslim inmates at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre and help inmates, staff and management “in developing awareness and understanding of both cultural and religious diversity” within the jail, according to the provincial ministry that oversees it.
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services is looking for someone to provide “multi-cultural community program and liaison services” for about 100 male and female inmates of various ethnic origins at the Innes Road jail.
The search comes at the same time that the ministry is involved in a human-rights dispute with the jail’s former superintendent, who alleges she was fired two years ago after raising concerns about systemic discrimination against inmates.
Asked whether the program is in response to any of the complaints made to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario by the former superintendent, Asfia Sultan, ministry spokesman Brent Ross replied that, “while we are unable to comment specifically on matters that are before a tribunal, we can say that this program was created to respond to a growing demand and an increasing Muslim population.”
About one-third of inmates at the jail identify themselves as Muslim, Ross wrote in an email response to questions, and there are similar programs for Christians and Aboriginals. The idea for the program was raised two years ago with Muslim volunteers and the Somali Mothers, a group of women whose sons were detained or had been in trouble with police, according to the ministry.
“It was understood that there was a need and a solution was sought,” Ross wrote.
As for why such a program has not been in place for Muslims until now, Ross wrote that, “as with any program, it takes time to develop and procure funding.”
Hawa Mohamed of the Canadian Somali Mothers Association said she was pleased that the program is moving ahead, but it’s important that its provider is an immigrant organization.
The correctional system lacks staff who are Muslims or visible minorities, Mohamed said, and a problem for inmates, many of whom are young, has been that “no one looks like them” or has a similar background.