There has been another public call for the resignation of Corrections Minister Christine Tell given her handling of COVID-19 in the province’s jails.
Soolee Dinah Papequash spoke on the the steps of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Friday morning after delivering a petition calling for, among other things, the resignation of Tell.
The minister was invited to receive the letter and petition, which Papequash says has over 1,700 signatures, but Tell was unavailable.
“I feel we as grandparents, mothers, have done nothing but bang into closed doors,” said Papequash. “They peek at us, say, ‘Yes, we’ll look into it,’ and then nothing’s ever done.”
In an emailed statement, Tell said the health and safety of people in jails is at the top of her mind, but she also felt certain people might be trying to take advantage of the pandemic.
“While I understand these circumstances are challenging for inmates and their families, I am concerned some inmates are trying to use the pandemic as an opportunity to obtain an early release for which they would not otherwise qualify,” said Tell.
Papequash did not share the full details of the petition. But, she said along with the signatures and backing from 40 organizations the petition includes the demand for an apology from the government regarding its treatment of inmates during the pandemic and five recommendations to improve the conditions in jails, which have recently experienced large-scale, COVID-19 outbreaks.
“I was very angry but my anger wouldn’t get me anywhere, so we stepped forward and decided to be as loud as we can,” said Papequash. Two previous demonstrations have been held on the road outside the Regina Correctional Centre (RCC).
“We would also like to see the incarcerated people be able to contact their families when somebody is gravely ill or has passed,” said Papequash. “Why can’t we have a Zoom meeting?”
Papequash also raised concerns around the mental health of inmates as well as their diets.
Her 22-year-old grandson is in the RCC and she says recently, when he’s able to call, he sounds desperate and morose. According to calls she gets from her grandson and other inmates there are no cleaning supplies at the phones.
Papequash has said she wants Tell to sit down with concerned parties in a healing circle, saying it is not a “challenge; it’s an invite,” and that she would like it done as soon as possible.
In her statement, Tell said the government has “provided two additional 10-minute phone-calls, at the governments expense” for inmates to contact their families. Also, masks additional soap, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer has been provided free of charge.
NDP MLA and justice critic Nicole Sarauer said she attended Friday to listen to the concerns of the people who feel their voices aren’t being heard.
Having long backed calls for Tell’s resignation, Sarauer said “this is yet another example of another situation where family members are speaking out and want to speak to Minister Tell and Minister Tell is nowhere to be seen.”
Tell’s statement did not address the calls for her resignation.
Given her efforts and the efforts of others, Papequash is not hopeful Tell will respond to her or even read the petition.