#ABWomenSpeak June 13 - Heather Mason - Transcript
Heather Mason is a former federal inmate at Grand Valley Institute in Kitchener, Ontario, and a women's prison advocate who has been working tirelessly to stand up for the most vulnerable women in our country, criminalised women, who are being housed with male sex offenders as a direct result of Bill C-16. Heather sent a recording of her speech.
Return to summary here
Thank you for inviting me to speak today! It is an honour, and I wish I could be there in person with you. Hopefully, someday soon.
My name is Heather Mason, and I am a former federal prisoner who was incarcerated at Grand Valley Institution for Women (GVI) in Kitchener, Ontario. I was incarcerated when the Correctional Service of Canada, also known as CSC, implemented Interim Policy bulletin 584, which allowed the transfer of males based on gender identity. This policy means that a person may decide what prison they would like to be incarcerated at based on how they identify. Except this policy is one-sided as females who identify as men are denied transfer due to overriding health and safety concerns. Hence why I call it "a policy for males."
I remember when I was first transferred to GVI, the women warned me immediately about Judy, aka Dale and to stay away from him because he was a creep and harassed the women. I remember saying, "We have men in prison with us?" The women responded, "Yeah, but don't ever call him a he or a man. We have to call him a woman and use female pronouns." That was the beginning of what I would come to know as silencing reality and our speech. I was supposed to believe everything and question nothing, or I was a terrible person.
I went along with it out of fear of not getting my parole and again out of fear of having my parole yanked out from under me when I had to live in a halfway house with Chris, aka Kate. It wasn't until I attended the 2019 Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) conference in Ottawa, Ontario when I realized women were being silenced and dismissed when they spoke about their experiences of being sexually harassed or assaulted by male transfers. No one wanted to listen to us, and we were called names and intimidated for daring to speak up about what was going on. I remember I was called "transphobic" by the executive director of CAEFS at the time for asking them to set up a phone line for the women inside. CAEFS and EFry also stopped asking me to speak on panels for them after that.
I later learned by the women that CSC was bullying and intimidating them as well by threatening to place them in segregation/max security if they had concerns and didn't know how to deal with the transfers. Staff also threatened to put bullying into the women's paperwork because they locked Matthew Harks (a prolific serial pedophile) out of their house after he sexually assaulted and harassed some of the women. They were scared of Harks and didn't want to be around him. They ended up listening to CSC and letting him in the house. What goes into your paperwork the parole board of Canada sees and it impacts your ability to get parole.
The women know CSC and CAEFS stance on the trans policy; they've let us all know, and they continue to cite Bill C-16 as the reason males are allowed to be incarcerated with us, CAEFS spouts their mantra "trans women are women" and now the women inside and the women outside in the halfway houses have no one to turn to. They are not only fearful of not getting parole but of having their only support in the community pulled from them. Elizabeth Fry Societies, also known as EFry, operates the halfway houses in the community, so it is a very valid concern that these women have. The women have witnessed the silencing, bullying, and intimidation that has been going on since they implemented this policy in 2017. They also saw firsthand what Steven Mehlenbacher was allowed to do, and they see how nobody offered support to any of his victims even after he was charged with sexual assault and criminal harassment. To this day CAEFS, the only national organization in CANADA that works for criminalized women, pretends they don't know what is going on.
I can't help but think of how predatory men in my life and the lives of women that I know would try to silence us by threatening their victims, so that they don't get caught for their crimes and end up in jail. Today, I see that same predatory, abusive behaviour happening to criminalized women by our very own Canadian government and the organization that is funded to support us. #METOO means nothing when you don't believe us and don't want us to speak about our experience.
Thank you to all you brave women for speaking up and thank you again for asking me to come speak.