NCCM calls on Correctional Service Canada to investigate claims of religious discrimination in prisons

At least three human rights complaints launched in past year alone

(Ottawa – November 3, 2015) The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), a prominent civil liberties & advocacy organization, today calls on Correctional Service Canada to fully investigate complaints of religious discrimination against inmates in the country’s federal prisons.

Two inmates have launched human rights complaints about their treatment. Mohammed Karim and Nicolas Hovanesian allege they endured religious discrimination at Grande Cache Penitentiary in Alberta. The allegations include claims they were:

  • Denied equal access to religious services.
  • Denied the opportunity to access religious materials and other items donated by the local community, and were instead charged for these items.
  • Denied conformity to their religious dietary requirements.
  • Received inadequate time to perform Friday congregational worship.
  • Denied access to prayer space due to frequent absence of chaplain on Fridays.

The pair also alleges that the chaplain was showing anti-Muslim films to inmates which fostered a climate of hostility against fellow Muslim inmates. Both Karim and Hovanesian say repeated attempts to seek redress were denied and that they faced retaliatory treatment for speaking out against the treatment.

“These allegations, if found to be true, constitute discriminatory treatment and human rights violations,” says NCCM’s Human Rights Officer Sehrish Amjad. “Prison inmates require support in order to prepare to eventually re-integrate into communities; this includes full spiritual support. Both Mr. Karim and Mr. Hovanesian say they were unfairly treated because of their faith.”

In 2012, the federal government cut funding to part-time chaplains offering support to inmates of non-Christian faiths.  Chaplaincy services were privatized soon after and contracted out to a third party. Imam Yasin Dwyer, the only full-time Canadian Muslim chaplain working in the federal prison system, resigned in protest last fall because he says he was limited in his ability to fully support prison inmates.

At least one other human rights complaint has been launched by a Muslim inmate in British Columbia. Several other inmates have contacted the NCCM to complain of discriminatory treatment.

“These cases highlight the challenges posed by the privatization of chaplaincy services and the concern that religious minorities are not being provided with adequate services.  While the previous administration allotted millions of dollars for an Office for Religious Freedom to advise foreign governments, it cut funding to protect religious freedom right here at home,” says NCCM Executive Director Ihsaan Gardee.