Ninth International Conference on Penal Abolition
May 10-13, 2000
Ryerson Polytechnic Uni and Metropolitan United Church
- Toronto Canada
The concluding session of the Nineth International Conference on Penal Abolition, held in Toronto Canada has choosen Nigeria as the site for the next ICOPA conference. This will be the tenth conference for this growing movement.
|Brett Collins of JusticeAction Australia represented the Australasian perspective and enjoyed the hospitality, good will and enthusiasm of the other attendees, his full report follows...
This is a JusticeAction report going to participants and others who couldn't get to the International Conference on Penal Abolition 9, held in Toronto Canada May 10-13.
Justice Action was given the responsibility of preparing the list from contacts given. That will be finished in the next few days. On privacy and security issues, we would make the list available to anyone who reasonably needs it, if that is the general feeling. Anyone has the right to say to us, now, that they want us to keep their address kept confidentially. That would form a separate list. Otherwise all contacts from ICOPA including the business cards received and old ICOPA lists would form the list. We will also create a chatroom for general use. Several people asked us to keep the messages small due to technical difficulties. We won't send attachments unless requested and people can ask for larger files specifically.
Many people said they hadn't seen the video of ICOPA 8 in New Zealand. A professional film maker did the editing. We are happy to distribute copies either as PAL or NTSC, but would need Can$25 to cover costs. Let us know by email and send a cheque.
JUSTICE ACTION REPORT ON ICOPA IX
This report is a general appraisal of the conference to share it with others who couldn't be there, to give a focus for action and to assist in the preparation of ICOPA X.
Up to 500 people attended each of the four days, representing every continent and about 22 countries. They ranged from a serving life sentence prisoner let out for the day with an old lifer responsible for him, to Angela Davis, to the head of the United Church of Canada. The plenaries used the magnificent church in the centre of Toronto, and workshops were in the Ryerson University rooms.
The structure of the program was: an examination of the hypocrisy of corporate crime, the bias against powerless minorities, the reasons why, and lastly what is being done to confront the problems. It did all those things well within the limitations of the structure. Lots of material was there and everyone had chances to express their opinions at all stages. The tensions of the general community between the rich and the poor, the black and the white, the academic and the oppressed were played out; and recognised.
A most memorable and emotional moment from ICOPA 8 in NZ was in the maori marae meeting house when the mother sang of her daughter being taken from her cell after being with her for 3 years, because the rules said she couldn't remain. I also cried at Toronto when Bill Pelke, whose grandmother was murdered, described his meeting the grandmother of the girl on death row, his reconciliation with the girl and successful battle to save her from execution.
Activism had its direct expression when we notched our first (I think) ICOPA arrests in a march through the centre of the city, confronted by the state's forces on push bikes thrusting them sideways into participants using pedals and handlebars as innocuous batons. A good steadying opportunity for all. They take us seriously. Yeh!
DRUG WAR AMNESTY CALL
The Freedom Ride for an amnesty for prisoners of the Drug War was launched by 1st Nations worker Alita Sauve, to coincide with the lighting of the Olympic Flame in Greece on May 10. Candles lit from a candle carrying the spirit of the London Peace Lamp were passed out to representatives from all continents. In September in Sydney Australia the collation of victims' testimonies from all around the world will base a world call for peace and an amnesty for those prisoners in this Jubilee year.
ICOPA puts people together personally, around focused ideas; reexamines those ideas with new experiences and new people. The results are people return better supported, to do the work in their own communities. The personal contacts are immensely important for the future when coupled with the variety of skills and experiences represented at ICOPA, now available to each other through internet contact.
The organising committee with all its supporters did so well. Still capable of smiles after an enormous effort. Translators to ensure we were truly global, professional video team to ensure the messages go further.
SUGGESTIONS FOR CHANGE
There were too many workshops at the same time. Instead of 20, 4 streams would have allowed more interaction, and with a report back to the plenary the next day to assist in resolutions. Each afternoon a working committee meeting to decide issues like changes, problems and the following ICOPA would be useful.
Flexibility with stability has been achieved by a lack of structure, but relying on key people for maintenance. Responsibility and the workload should be more spread for ICOPA's strength. It would be good to fund a secretarial position which would maintain the diary. Most other tasks could be allocated through a steering committee. Like the draft resolutions can be distributed now.
Fundraising should be decentralised so that a budget can be agreed on and allocated to the regions now. An existing ICOPA fundraising letter should be modified and distributed. The result would be less financial stress on the host organisation and more ownership by everyone.
Any question that we could be shrugged out was dispelled in the final ceremony organised by Elder Barbara Riley of the Walpole Island First Nation. The circle should be part of all future ICOPAs, and maybe earlier. With such a conference you inevitably don't meet everyone, but finally we all did - in group sex as someone said gleefully.
The resounding goodwill and spirit were well expressed by Kiwi Pat Magill who said he'd crawl over broken glass to be at ICOPA X in Nigeria.