A coalition of groups is calling for women to be removed from the Leclerc Detention Center, located in Laval, due to its history of deteriorating conditions. Groups have been calling on the provincial government to address the detention centre’s conditions since 2016, when it took over the facility from the federal government and reopened the prison. The federal government had closed Leclerc in 2012 after deeming it unfit according to modern standards for prisons. In 2016, the Quebec government moved all female detainees from the outdated Maison Tanguay correctional facility to the Leclerc Institution. This immediately sparked criticism that the mixed-gender facility was not properly equipped for the influx of women and was therefore putting them in danger. The government subsequently moved the men from the Leclerc facility and promised that the location would serve as a temporary solution for the women housed there. On December 10, 2018, a coalition of human rights groups, including the Ligue des droits et libertés and the Fédération des femmes du Québec, wrote to the Quebec Public Security Minister, Geneviève Guilbault, demanding that women be removed from the facility. In their letter, the coalition calls Leclerc “totally unsuitable on a human, architectural, and penological front.” At the time of writing, the coalition had not received a response.
The coalition is demanding immediate action from the provincial government. In their letter they cite numerous complaints regarding the women’s standard of living in Leclerc. These conditions include recurring infestations of mice and bedbugs, as well as dirty and unsafe drinking water. The people within Leclerc have been instructed to let the water, which comes out brown, run for ten minutes before using it. Additionally, the prison is understaffed. As a result, time at the prison’s library and gym, as well as time outdoors, have been greatly reduced. Christmas and Mother’s Day visits were also unexpectedly cancelled. The letter also points to larger systemic issues within the carceral system, such as “humiliating strip searches, abusive guards, and limited access to psychological help or medical needs.”
Louise Henry, who was incarcerated at Leclerc for six months in 2017-2018, detailed the conditions in the institution. She spoke of the “filth, complete indifference, and human degradation” present at the institution. According to Henry, the prison has pipes leaking sludge, clogged toilets, and maggot-infested drains, the bathrooms thick with fruit flies, and the vents blocked by rust and dust. She described the faulty heating and cracks in the walls of the cells; cells are consequently so cold that women have to sleep with their winter coats on. On the Leclerc Institution’s Facebook page, Sandra Latour, who is serving an intermittent sentence at Leclerc stated that, in her experience, the correctional officers have “no respect for the inmates” and that “their first motivations are to show us that they hold the power in their hands instead of helping us re-enter into society.”
Lucie Lemonde, a lawyer, activist, and UQAM professor who is a member of the coalition, highlighted that the women within Leclerc are there due to what she describes as “‘survival crimes’ related to poverty: small thefts or drug-possession charges.” Lemonde insists that “we can find different solutions than sending them there.”