A strike by federal prison inmates over a recent government pay cut to wages paid for institutional work has sparked a fundraising campaign with the goal of letting Manitobans offer strikers a show of supportive solidarity.
Up until last week, inmates had been getting anywhere from $1 to $6.90 as a daily allowance for taking part in program assignments and for working various jobs in prison.
But a pay cut of 30 per cent ordered by the federal government came into effect. It prompted a protest that has spread to prisons across the country, including Manitoba's Stony Mountain Institution.
The wage slash means prisoners have a tougher time keeping in touch with their families, save up for their eventual releases or purchase essential items while in prison, Jon Benson of the newly-created Prisoner Strike Support Network (PSSN) said in a statement issued Wednesday.
"They deserve to make enough money to call their families, buy aspirin and save up for their release," Benson said.
The PSSN has launched an online fundraising campaign in hopes of raising $3,919, he said. That's enough to send a one-time gift of $6.90 to each of the 568 inmates at Stony as a show of support, said Benson.
That figure was what the highest-paid federal prisoners made per day prior to the wage cut.
"We hope that a few extra bucks in their accounts during this time they're not being paid will allow striking prisoners to hold out longer and continue fighting for their rights," Benson said. In its first full day, the campaign raised $1,101, he added.
The PSSN is also planning a national day of action for Oct. 23, with a 6 p.m. rally outside the Winnipeg Remand Center, Benson's statement said.
He could not be immediately reached for comment.
The office of Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney replied Wednesday evening to the prisoners' strike.
"Prisoners who do not work will not be paid," said Jean-Christophe de Le Rue, director of communications for Minister Blaney, in an emailed response to the Free Press.
"Prisoners walking off their jobs is offensive to hard-working, law-abiding Canadians. Prisoners are learning how to become contributing members of Canadian society, often for the first time in their lives."
Currently, Stony Mountain is in lockdown as the Correctional Service of Canada conducts a search of the prison and inmates for contraband.