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Let's Talk about Phones in Ontario's Jails

Today is Bell Let's Talk Day, an annual campaign to raise awareness and funds for mental health services in Canada. If you follow any criminal lawyers on social media, you'll see that there is a lot of skepticism for the campaign, given Bell's involvement with the phone contract with provincial jails while costs restricts inmates from contacting family and friends, through cost and limits to land-lines.

If you're not familiar with the dire state of telephone access in Ontario's jails, you can check out Caryma Sa'd's illustration or this thread from Toronto Prisoner's Rights Project. Or read Michael Spratt's column for Canadian Lawyer, which outlines the problematic relationship between Bell Canada and the Ford government, concluding: "If Bell Canada and the Ontario government were true advocates for mental health they would stop profiteering off of prisoners who suffer from mental illness."

I don't fault anyone for engaging in Bell Let's Talk, but we need to be critical. So if you really want to help end stigma around mental health and support those in the community, here are some things that you can do that will make a much bigger impact:

- Write Bell Canada and ask them to end this contract that cuts off those in jails from those on the outside.

- Write your MPP and tell them that the state of phones in our jails is unacceptable and needs to change.

- Donate actual money to a mental health organization or other resources in your community. Some suggestions of organizations that help those involved in the criminal justice system are:

o Canadian Mental Health Association

o Elizabeth Fry Society

o John Howard Society

But wherever you want to donate is great! Whichever organization you chose organizations will benefit from even $5, instead of the 5 cents from Bell. 

- Stay informed. Keep reading about these issues and support those who are doing the work, like the Jail Accountability Hotline in Ottawa.

We don't need Bell to talk about mental health. We need to support those in our communities and push for change. 

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