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Muslim inmate's discrimination complaint against Kamloops prison will be heard

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February 27, 2017 - 4:30 PM

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KAMLOOPS - A Muslim prisoner who says correctional officers at the Kamloops prison discriminated against him will have his complaint heard.

Andrew Monnette originally filed his complaint in 2015, saying when he was an inmate at Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre, he faced discrimnation based on his religion.

In an application to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, the Correction Centre denied any discrimination against Monnette and asked the tribunal to dismiss his complaint.

But Emily Ohler with the tribunal said in her Feb. 2 decision she was not persuaded by the prison that Monnette's complaint had no reasonable prospect of success.

In Monnette's original complaint, he said the prison discriminated against him while he was incarcerated by not allowing him access to a Qu'ran, prayer beads, a prayer mat and a Halal diet.

At the time, he had been a practicing Muslim for more than seven years. But the prison said in its application when Monnette was admitted to the prison on Jan. 3, 2014, he did not identify as Muslim or request a special diet. 

According to Monnette's criminal record, he's faced charges of break and enter, committing a robbery where a firearm was used, uttering threats, assault with a weapon and possession of stolen property, all stemming from 2013.

From Jan. 3 to Feb. 8, 2014 the correctional centre said Monnette filed six special request forms "none of which involved requests for a religious diet, religious books or religious objects."

Monnette said he did not make those requests because he didn't expect to be in the prison for very long. He was granted bail in February but returned to the Kamloops prison in April 2014.

He said he told staff he was Muslim, and asked for a Qu'ran, prayer beads, a prayer mat and a Halal diet.

"He says he was told to 'prove' he was Muslim and was accused of lying about being Muslim because he is white," the decision said.

After Monnette contacted an Imam to confirm his faith, he said he asked again to be provided the religious items and diet. He was told he would have to arrange for them to be sent to the prison.

The correctional centre challenged that, saying no requests for those items were recorded in his client log, but said he filed 20 special request forms between April and July 2014, none of which concerned religious objects or a Halal diet.

In July and August, Monnette asked to see a chaplain about a religious diet and religious objects, asking again for a copy of the Qu'ran, a prayer mat and prayer beads.

Monnette said an Imam eventually sent him religious objects, but KRCC would not allow him to have his prayer mat.

"He alleges he was told 'if other inmates see it they will want to become Muslim too,'" the decision said.

The prison said its practice is to give inmates clean, wrapped towels to be used as prayer mats and Monnette was given one. Following a request in September 2014, the correctional centre said Monnette was granted permission to attend the chapel to pray. Two prayer mats and a set of prayer beads were placed into his personal effects.

Monnette filed a complaint and another request in September seeking to have his prayer mat. The prison said he was advised he had been given a clean towel to use. In the request form, an employee wrote "Not sure what this pray mat is. Claims he is Muslum... but was denied access to this for some reason."

The next day, a supervisor wrote under a different section, "Use your towel. Complaint resolved." A Warden or Deputy Warden wrote in the final section that elaborate decorated prayer mats are not allowed in the living unit.

Monnette filed another complaint in October asking why he couldn't have his prayer mat. The prison reiterated he was given a towel and also noted a Chaplain had allowed Monnette to pray on his mat in the chapel before Monnette was placed on a supervision program due to behavioural issues.

Monnette also filed a complaint requesting a Halal diet, which was eventually approved. A Warden or Deputy Warden said it may take a few days for the kitchen to become prepared, since it was the first Halal diet at the prison.

Monnette accepted a Kosher diet as an alternative and was eventually transferred out of the Kamloops correction centre in December.

But he ended up back behind bards in March 2015, at which time the prison told Monnette a Halal diet was available and he agreed to it. Shortly after, Monnette filed a complaint alleging it was not a "true" Halal diet and he went back to Kosher meals.

Monnette filed another complaint in May, alleging he was called a "fucking Muslim terrorist" by the correctional supervisor. The supervisor denied the allegations.

Monnette said his Qu'ran was stolen, and in a list of his cell effects, three Bibles are listed but a copy of the Qu'ran is not. Monnette is seeking an order that prisoners be given the same access to all types or religion.

The prison said Monnette's Qu'ran wasn't stolen, but more likely the correctional officer creating the list used the word 'bible' in a generic sense to refer to a copy of the Qu'ran.

In her decision to allow Monnette to have his complaint heard, Ohler said "Mr. Monnette's religion played a role in delays or refusals to provide him with the requested religious objects."

While the correctional centre said provincial practice is for a clean towel to be used in lieu of a prayer mat, which was decided after consulting with Muslim religious leaders, Ohler questions what gave rise to that advice.

Ohler also said the prison doesn't explain why a prayer mat cannot be provided to inmates. She said in the Deputy Warden's affidavit, he said Catholic inmates aren't allowed personal rosary beads, but are provided beads by corrections.

"Mr. Monnette suggests this as an example of differential treatment that Muslims receive," Ohler said.

She said she is not persuaded by the correctional centre that Monnette's complaint has no reasonable prospect of success.

A hearing date for Monnette's complaint has not yet been scheduled. None of the allegations have been proven and Ohler made no findings of fact in her decision.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Ashley Legassic or call 250-319-7494 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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