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Former inmate denied kosher meals at Okanagan jail loses human rights complaint

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A former inmate at the Okanagan Correctional Centre (OCC) near Oliver, B.C., has lost a human rights complaint he filed against the B.C. government over access to Kosher meals while in custody.

Morgan Griffith claims he was discriminated against by the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, responsible for BC Corrections, after he was denied food that conformed to the Jewish dietary regulations.

According to a complaint filed with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, Griffith said his request for kosher meals was denied numerous times in 2017 and 2018, while he was in custody at OCC and North Fraser Pretrial Centre.

However, BC Corrections noted that it has a process in place for approving kosher diets for incarcerated people, which was developed in consultation with a Rabbi.

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The approval process involves the incarcerated person meeting with the Chaplain, who first asks whether the person is Jewish.

They next ask about whether the person practices the Jewish faith, attends a synagogue, and whether a no-pork or vegetarian meal would be acceptable.

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Where the person indicates that only a kosher diet would be acceptable, the Chaplain then seeks verification that the person was practicing the Jewish faith or following a kosher diet before arriving in custody.

When the criteria cannot be verified, the request is denied.

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At that point, BC Corrections provides information for incarcerated people who wish to explore converting to Judaism.

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BC Corrections argued that Griffith did not provide enough evidence that he practiced the Jewish faith or had been following the kosher diet prior to incarceration, according to the tribunal decision.

The OCC’s Chaplain contacted the president of a local Jewish Community Centre to speak with the inmate.

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“A transcript of that conversation shows Mr. Griffith explaining that he was not Jewish but had Jewish ancestry, and that his mother was not Jewish but has a “Jewish last name,” said the tribunal in an application to dismiss the complaint, filed by the province.

“It also suggests Mr. Griffith was unsure about the diet he followed at home.”

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When transferred to North Fraser Pretrial Centre, Griffith allegedly gave names of rabbis to the chaplain who did not exist.

In its dismissal application, BC Corrections argued “Griffith would be unable to establish that he had a sincerely held religious belief or practice that caused him to experience a discriminatory adverse impact as a result of the denial of a kosher diet,” if the complaint made it to a formal hearing.

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Tribunal member Emily Ohler ultimately dismissed Griffith’s complaint, citing a lack of evidence.

“It may be the case that Mr. Griffith sought a kosher diet for reasons sincerely connected to a religious belief, but it was incumbent on him to put that evidence forward,” Ohler wrote in her decision.

“Mr. Griffith has put forward so little evidence about his connection to Judaism, the role a kosher diet plays in that for him, and why the denial of a kosher diet affected him adversely, that I am persuaded the Tribunal could not find that Corrections’ denial of a kosher diet in all of the circumstances constituted an adverse impact related to his religion.”

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In September, Griffith was sentenced to two years probation for assault and handed a 10-year weapons ban.

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