The Annual Proulx Roundtable 2024 | Prison Abolition in Canada: Abolitionist Lawyering, Activism, and Intimacies

Wednesday, April 10, 2024 17:30to19:15
Moot Court Room, 3644 Peel Street
Event flyer

There are currently more than 32,000 people in Canadian prisons—institutions firmly entrenched in law, politics, and the national imagination. However, challenges to the legitimacy of imprisonment grow with its lengthening track record of human rights abuses and resistance to the rule of law, rising awareness of its functional limitations and collateral harms, and—with Indigenous persons now representing one third of the federal prison population, and one half in women’s prisons—its increasingly unequal and colonial character. Reform, these challenges hold, is not enough.   

This Roundtable explores what it means to abolish prisons in the Canadian context, and the corresponding legal, political, and deeply personal dimensions of the shift away from imprisonment as a response to harms. To do so, McGill’s Faculty of Law welcomes three important contributors to the conversations and actions around prison abolition: Debra Parkes, El Jones, and Justin Piché. Each invitee will offer their insights into challenges and possibilities, with El Jones performing a selection of her poetry. 


Debra Parkes 

Debra Parkes is a Professor and Chair in Feminist Legal Studies at Allard School of Law, UBC, where she teaches constitutional law, prison law, and feminist legal studies. Her scholarly work critically examines criminal and carceral systems and she has published widely on issues related to gender and racial (in)equality in those systems, sentencing and punishment practices, the framing and adjudicating of prisoners’ rights claims, and abolitionist lawyering.   

El Jones 

El Jones is an award-winning poet, journalist, professor and activist. She has served as both Halifax's Poet Laureate and the Nancy’s Chair in Women’s Studies at Mount Saint Vincent University. Her activism and writing focus on a variety of social justice issues, including feminism, prison abolition, anti-racism and decolonization. Most recently, she has published Abolitionist Intimacies (Fernwood Publishing, 2022), a collection of poetry and prose exploring prisons and their abolition through the Black feminist principles of care and collectivity. 

Justin Piché 

Justin Piché is an Associate Professor in the Department of Criminology and Director of the Carceral Geography (Col)laboratory at the University of Ottawa. He is co-editor of the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons and a member of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project, the Abolition Coalition, the Human Rights Research and Education Centre, and the Carceral Cultures Research Initiative. His newest publications include Pain in Vain: Penal Abolition and the Legacy of Louk Hulsman (Red Quill Books, 2023) and How to Abolish Prisons: Lessons from the Movement (Haymarket Books, 2024 with Rachel Herzing). 

Michel Proulx Memorial Roundtable Fund 

The Roundtable is named after the Honourable Michel Proulx (1939-2007), who devoted his life to the improvement of the criminal justice system and to the advancement of human rights in Canada. Called to the Quebec Bar in 1963, he quickly became known as one of the finest criminal lawyers nationwide. In 1989, he was appointed to the Court of Appeal of Quebec. In 2006, he was awarded the Prix de la Justice du Québec in light of his devotion to the improvement of justice in Quebec. Michel Proulx taught both Criminal Procedure and Evidence in Criminal Matters for over twenty years as an adjunct professor at McGill’s Faculty of Law, in addition to supporting its international human rights programs, and providing counsel and encouragement to students, teachers, and deans. The Faculty of Law hosts the Michel Proulx Roundtable Conferences in Criminal Law to honour his memory. The McGill community is grateful to the Proulx family for making this event possible. 


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