Skip to main content

A Reflection on Elizabeth Fry Week from CAEFS’ Directors


Over the last week we have had critical conversations about life sentences in Canada. We heard from multiple people from within the CAEFS network as well as collaborators and allies about this egregious form of punishment and its history within Canada.

We want to start this reflection by acknowledging the courage and truth-telling that came from the people who are serving life sentences who led and participated in our panels. It is significant that people were willing to share the reality of their life under a life sentence. Throughout the week, these interviews and panel discussions brought to life the truth about life sentences in Canada: who these sentences are given to the most (often those who are already the most marginalized and punished); that a life sentence does not end when the sentenced person is released from prison; that there is a direct link between Canada’s colonization practices and life sentences; and that the impact of a life sentence reverberates outward, affecting families and loved ones in harmful ways.

A goal of engaging in public awareness this week through live discussions with people with lived experience of the prison system has been to provide space for people whose voices are often left out of public discussion, in the hope that we can raise awareness about the persistent ways that discrimination and bias underpin the Canadian legal and prison system. Our work is often challenging, as we strongly believe in working across difference to achieve those fundamental values we all want in society – a kind world where people are not discriminated against by their race, class, age, ability, sexual orientation, relationship status, gender expression or their gender identity.

Many of our discussions this week have focused on how people are being criminalized by their race, but similar discriminatory logic exists in relation to all protected grounds. People are also being criminalized in Canada by their class, by their sexual identity, and by their gender. CAEFS stands firmly against attributing negative qualities to any broad group of people. In fact, we are committed to challenging thought that attributes negative qualities to any people at all. Instead, we work to demonstrate that it is deficits within our social systems and structures which are harmful, and which lead to the many social problems we face. We believe in upholding the rights of all.

We also want to recognize the important role of our member organizations. Reflecting on the ways that CAEFS and our locals work together with people who have been incarcerated, and the variety of ways that we do and can use our work to advocate for change while continuing to provide much-needed community-based supports – community-supports that seek to address systemic gaps, rather than pathologize individuals. We must work to be in solidarity with people serving life sentences, seek out opportunities to share power, and release harmful approaches that are rooted in paternalism.

May we work in solidarity toward a world where everyone has what they need. May we continue to remain in space together and have the difficult discussions, and in doing so, treat one another and ourselves with kindness and empathy. Thank you for your time and participation. May we wake every day and do our best, toward a more just world. 

In love and solidarity,

Emilie, Nyki, and Jackie