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Rally held outside Ottawa jail to support inmates on 3rd day of hunger strike

FILE PHOTO -- An inmate can be seen inside a segregation cell at the Collins Bay Institution in Kingston, Ont., on Tuesday, May 10, 2016.
FILE PHOTO -- An inmate can be seen inside a segregation cell at the Collins Bay Institution in Kingston, Ont., on Tuesday, May 10, 2016. THE CANADIAN/Lars Hagberg

GLOUCESTER, Ont. — A rally in support of prisoners on the third day of a hunger strike was held outside the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre on Friday morning.

Prisoner rights advocates, family members of people incarcerated in the jail, and Ottawa MPP Joel Harden were among those in attendance.

Souheil Benslimane, a spokesman for the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project which organized the event, said it was about showing up for the inmates who are taking part in their second hunger strike in as many months.

“If the structures to keep each other safe from state violence aren’t there yet, we will create them,” Benslimane said in a phone interview before the rally formally began.

Read more: Prisoners go on hunger strike at Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre

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A 31-hour strike that started on June 3 led to an agreement between prisoners and officials that there would be healthier food, hygiene products and increased access to reading materials and television.

The current action began because inmates say authorities did not follow through on that agreement.

Deepan Budlakoti, an inmate at the jail, said 70 prisoners in the maximum security section of the men’s facility are refusing to eat or take their medication.

“We’re committed to this hunger strike for as long as it takes so we can have proper food, proper hygiene,” said Budlakoti in a phone interview. “We’re not giving up until these things are resolved.”

Budlakoti noted that moisturizer and other skin-care products are especially important for racialized inmates who have sensitive skin.

Read more: Ottawa jail inmates on hunger strike over food quality, lack of sanitary supplies

“They said that they would remove and change the vendor so every halal and kosher meal would have meat in it,” said Budlakoti. “They said they would provide lotion and body wash, that the canteen would change so it would include items like Vaseline and toothpaste, sunscreen lotion, but it didn’t happen.”

A spokeswoman for Ontario’s solicitor general addressed the hunger strike on Wednesday, saying the ministry has procedures for when inmates refuse meals.

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“Staff are engaging with the inmates at Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre regarding their concerns,” said a statement from the ministry. “The ministry is committed to meeting the needs of our diverse inmate population, by providing a safe environment and culturally appropriate services to individuals in our custody.”

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