B.C. inmate complained he was refused kosher meals, but there was one catch | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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B.C. inmate complained he was refused kosher meals, but there was one catch

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December 30, 2020 - 7:40 AM

A B.C. man who was denied a kosher diet while in custody has lost a discrimination case against the provincial government after he failed to prove he was Jewish.

Morgan Griffith launched a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal while incarcerated at the Okanagan Correctional Centre near Oliver.

According to the Dec. 2 Tribunal decision, Griffith requested kosher meals and a Hebrew dictionary on several occasions while in custody in 2017 and 2018 and was given Jewish reading materials but was refused a kosher diet.

The Correctional Centre said he failed to prove he was actually Jewish.

According to the decision, Griffith told the Okanagan Correctional Centre Chaplain he was Jewish through ancestry and his mother had a "Jewish last name.”

The decision says the Okanagan Correctional Centre has a set of guidelines to follow when an inmate requests a kosher meal. A meeting with the Chaplain is set up and the inmate talks about their faith, attending synagogue, and whether a no pork or vegetarian meal would be acceptable. If the inmate insists only a kosher diet will do, the Chaplain then has to verify the person was following the Jewish faith and eating a kosher diet before arriving in custody.

And while the Chaplain tried to verify Griffith’s claim that he was Jewish, he didn’t have any luck.

The Chaplain looked into Griffith’s story but the name of a Rabbi Griffith provided didn't exist and no one at his local synagogue had ever heard of him. 

Although Griffith denied it, the Chaplain said Griffith told him he was not Jewish but had "Jewish heritage" and qualified for kosher meals on that basis.

"Mr. Griffith has neither explained his connection to Judaism nor the role of a kosher diet in it," Tribunal Member Emily Ohler said the decision. "He appears to have little understanding of what a kosher diet entails, or whether he has followed one in the past."

Following the guidelines, the Chaplain did organize a meeting with the president of a local Jewish Community Centre.

The president said Griffith told him he was “not Jewish but had Jewish ancestry” and that his mother was “not Jewish but has a ‘Jewish last name.’”

The president said in his opinion Griffith was not Jewish, had not been eating kosher prior to incarceration, and was not practicing the Jewish faith.

Based on this information, the Chaplain denied the request for kosher meals and instead offered a vegetarian diet. The Chaplain did, however, explain the process for converting to Judaism.

Griffith was originally charged with assault causing bodily harm for an incident in October 2017 but was later convicted on a charge of assault.

Following a period of time at the Okanagan Correctional Centre, Griffith was transferred to the North Fraser Pretrial Centre where again he applied for kosher meals but was refused.

In June 2018 he was released but was back inside by November that year. He again applied for kosher meals and was denied.

“Griffith has put forward so little evidence about his connection to Judaism, the role a kosher diet plays in that for him, and why the denial of a kosher diet affected him adversely,” The Tribunal member said. “I am persuaded the Tribunal could not find that Corrections’ denial of a kosher diet in all of the circumstances constituted an adverse impact related to his religion.”

Since Griffiths' release, he has been convicted of assault causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon or causing harm. He also due to appear in court in May 2021 facing another charge of assault causing bodily harm.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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