The Termite Collective is a “Montreal-based collective that supports folks doing time.” The group works to share a critical analysis of the Canadian prison system, and spreads information and awareness through workshops, plays, and other events. The group also contributed to a letter to Justin Trudeau when he was first elected in 2015, titled “Demand Prisons Change: A Letter to Justin Trudeau.” The letter addressed ten key themes that pertain to the wellbeing and dignity of Canadian prisoners and outlines the demands of inmates and non-inmates alike for prison reform. As far as the representatives from the Termite Collective are aware, the Trudeau administration has yet to legally implement any of the requested reforms.
One of the key issues discussed in the workshop was the overrepresentation of certain minority groups in Canadian prisons. Canada’s colonial past – particularly its residential schools and Child Welfare System – has contributed to the disproportionate rates at which Indigenous men and women are incarcerated. The presenters pointed out that this is a clear example of the ongoing colonization that still affects Indigenous Canadians today.
However, Canada’s colonial past is not the only negative aspect of the nation’s past that impacts its modern-day prisons. A less commonly known history, according to event organizers, is the connection between Canada’s modern prison system and slavery. While research that analyzes the link between slavery and prisons is common in the context of the United States’ system, far less of this research has been conducted with a focus on Canadian prisons, largely because this piece of Canadian history is often forgotten.
The Termite Collective’s representatives further noted that in recent years, the number of white incarcerated Canadians has gone down, even as the total number of people in Canadian prisons has grown. According to the presenters, there has been a seven percent increase in the number of Black Canadians entering or reentering the system in the past year alone. In addition, Black and Indigenous Canadians who have been in prison are less likely to be granted parole and find meaningful employment once they leave the system, and are more likely to experience brutality and suffer from a general lack of resources.
After addressing the history of the Canadian prison system and shedding light on some of the injustices that inmates experience, the presenters transitioned into discussing the growing prison abolition movement. Prison abolitionists believe that prisons should not exist at all, as these institutions represent a retributive approach to punishment, rather than a rehabilitative one. Abolitionists take various measures to push this agenda, including resisting government efforts to build new prisons, and fighting for reform for those who remain incarcerated.
The presenters emphasized the difference between crime and harm: many crimes, though breaches of written laws, do not always cause direct harm to another person or to society. The Termite Collective’s representatives maintained that punishing others for harmless crimes is simply a means of granting power to already powerful groups.
The workshop concluded with an explanation of what it would take to create a reality in which prisons did not exist. In order to accomplish prison abolition, environments in which individuals are held truly accountable for their actions would have to be built, and communities would have to revolve around shared value systems that assist in conflict resolution. The representatives ended their presentation with a final thought: until prison abolition can be fully realized, it is a collective responsibility to support those who are incarcerated, and to build resistance within and outside of prisons.