Strike began as a fast in solidarity with Saskatoon inmate unable to visit daughter
A group of women in Pine Grove Correctional Centre are on hunger strike due to alleged poor living conditions at the jail.
Faith Eagle said she initially began the strike on Oct. 31 as a ceremonial fast for an inmate in the Saskatoon Correctional Centre, who she says can’t visit his daughter in hospital. The fast escalated to a hunger strike against poor conditions, she said, including the quality of drinking water.
“It smells like sewer water,” said Eagle in a phone interview.
“You get sick from it. I’ve got to say this bluntly, you get diarrhea, stomach aches, bloating. In our cells, sometimes it’s yellow, it’s brown. I have a sample of it. I had to keep it because nobody was believing me.”
Pine Grove, located in Prince Albert, is the only women’s jail in Saskatchewan. Eagle has been remanded there for 18 months, and said the water quality has been a concern the whole time.
She went on hunger strike a year ago for the same reason.
An emailed statement from SaskBuilds and Procurement said it’s not aware of any concerns or issues with the water quality at Pine Grove.
“The ministry is actioning supplementary water testing as a precautionary measure to confirm the water quality,” reads the statement.
“Government’s priority is ensuring the safety and well-being of staff and inmates.”
According to SaskBuilds and Procurement, the City of Prince Albert provides potable water to the jail. Testing is only required after completion, alteration, extension or repair of water distribution works, when it’s shut off, or after a water main break.
Another concern, according to Eagle, is a lack of time outside – something she says is important for physical, mental, and spiritual health.
“Our courtyard is nothing but black dirt and it smells like sewer. Our benches are right by the manhole, you can’t even get to enjoy fresh air. It’s not a proper courtyard,” explained Eagle.
She added that, many days, “it would be by luck” that they’re able to go outside. For two or three hours at a time, Eagle said inmates are allowed into a common area to watch TV.
“We get treated like kids, like you can’t talk to us like adults. When we do speak up, they just get mad at us and they just lock us right away.”
Eagle said five inmates are refusing meals, but are still drinking juice, milk and coffee.
The Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety said it’s aware that the group is refusing meals “for personal and cultural reasons.”
“Pine Grove staff will continue to monitor and meet with the inmates to ensure their health and safety and discuss any concerns they may have,” said the ministry.
Sherri Gordon said she’s been speaking with Eagle weekly for about a year through her advocacy organization Beyond Prison Walls Canada.
She said another concern at Pine Grove is a lack of cultural services. For example, Gordon said she spoke with a man in the Prince Albert Correctional Centre who was provided with ingredients to make bannock, but that the women aren’t given the same opportunity.
Gordon also highlighted not addressing grievances.
“One girl sent me a huge two envelopes full of grievances that they put through, they never get dealt with. Sometimes they don’t even make it to the director,” she said.
She emphasized that the inmates aren’t saying they shouldn’t be in jail.
“Most of them, they know they did something wrong and they have a moral, legal obligation they need to fulfill and they just want dignity and respect,” said Gordon.
“We want to be treated equally, we want to be treated like human beings without discrimination or being taken advantage of,” she said.
“We want our voices to be able to be heard.”