April 21, 2015 - 11:29 AM
KAMLOOPS - A Muslim man has filed a human rights complaint alleging the staff at the Kamloops jail refused to allow him to practise his religion while he was behind bars.
Andrew Monnette, 25, claims officials from Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre would not give him access to a halal diet, a Qur’an or a prayer mat — instead offering him a towel as a stand-in.
Monnette is asking the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal to make an order that inmates of all faiths be allowed to access to their religious materials. He is also asking that he be compensated for “significant anxiety” he claims to have experienced at the jail.
He alleges in his complaint to the tribunal that discrimination against him began in April 2014, when he was in the centre awaiting trial on a string of assault and firearms charges, and continued until his transfer to a Prince George jail last December.
Monnette — who converted to Islam several years ago while serving time — claims he was told to "prove it" when he informed jail officials of his religion, and one employee told him he was lying about being Muslim because he is white.
He said he contacted an imam he knew from a federal jail in the Lower Mainland and was eventually provided with a Qur’an, prayer beads and a prayer mat.
"I was allowed to have the Qur’an and the prayer beads, but was told that I could not have the prayer mat because, 'If other inmates see it, they will want to become Muslim, too,'" the complaint states.
"I was told that I could use a towel as a substitute."
Monnette said he appealed to jail staff on a number of levels to be allowed to use his prayer mat and was met with a number of terse replies: "Not sure what this pray mat is, claims he is Muslim," "Use your towel, complaint resolved" and "Elaborate, decorated prayer mats will not be allowed on the living unit."
Copies of those appeal documents are attached to Monnette’s complaint against BC Corrections.
"Islam is important to me and has changed me a lot," the complaint reads.
"I credit all my personal and interpersonal gains to it. It has opened my eyes to how my actions hurt myself and others."
BC Corrections has not yet filed a response and none of the allegations have been tested in court.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015