Innocents behind bars in Canada and America
Winnipeg – November 23, 2023 – Greg Banks was 20 years old when he was tortured by Chicago police and coerced into confessing to murder. He spent 24 years behind bars before being exonerated. Banks is one of the hundreds of individuals – most of them African‐American men – who were tortured by Chicago police until they confessed to crimes they hadn’t committed. Many were incarcerated for decades before being exonerated. Some remain in prison even though Chicago established a reparations fund to compensate police torture victims and their families in 2015.
Banks, now an activist and educator in the movement to end systemic racism in the justice system, will join other experts and advocates in a panel discussion on systemic racism and wrongful convictions at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) on Tuesday, November 28 at noon in the Manitoba Teachers’ Society Classrooms.
Canadians have also experienced the staggering human cost of systemic racism in policing, courts and correctional facilities. In Manitoba, for example, Allan Woodhouse and Brian Anderson, two Anishinaabe men from Pinaymootang First Nation who were wrongfully convicted of a 1974 murder, were acquitted after five decades fighting to clear their names. Both men have said they want to see change so that other innocent people are not imprisoned.
The November 28 panel discussion will feature leaders of the prison justice and reparations movement in Chicago and those working for justice for Indigenous and racialized peoples wrongly imprisoned in Canada. Co‐organized with the Centre for Human Rights Research (University of Manitoba) and the Faculty of Law (University of Manitoba), the public event will explore the role systemic racism plays in wrongful convictions – and how communities are working to challenge and change it.
“Systemic racism should not be normalized in justice systems – it should not be treated as ‘this is just how it is’. It should be abhorrent,” says Dr. Shayna Plaut, Director of Research and Development for the Museum.
Plaut, a researcher and advocate for human rights, wanted to bring American and Canadian experts and activists together to see what could be learned from each other’s approaches and demands. She notes that what was achieved in Chicago took years of dedicated work by activists, many of them survivors of torture. The 2015 reparations fund in Chicago led to the establishment of the Chicago Torture Justice Centre. Information about police torture has been included in the middle school curriculum. And in 2023, a public monument bearing the names of torture victims was erected.
Organizers hope this event will sow seeds for future projects in the areas of education, awareness and prevention of future injustices.
- Greg Banks (joining virtually), an activist behind the movement to end systemic racism in justice, is a Safety Coordinator at the Chicago Torture Justice Center and spends time educating the community and Chicago Public School students on the topic of police violence and reparations.
- James Lockyer, a partner in the Toronto office of Lockyer Zaduk Zeeh, is Founding Director of Innocence Canada, a national organization that advocates for the wrongly convicted. In that capacity, he has been involved in several high‐profile cases which he demonstrated were wrongful convictions, including the cases of Mr. Anderson and Mr. Woodhouse.
- Amanda Carling, Red River Metis, CEO of the BC First Nations Justice Council, is a lawyer and activist leading the Justice Council’s two‐track mandate: to ameliorate the colonial system as it currently stands and to restore self‐determination and advance sovereignty over justice for BC’s First Nations.
- Alice Kim, Director, Beyond Prisons, Center for the Study of Race, Politics & Culture at University of Chicago, writes, teaches, and organizes around access to education for people who are incarcerated, police torture, and the prison system. She is a co‐founder of the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, which initiated the historic reparations legislation passed by the Chicago City Council in 2015.
- Dr. Niigaan Sinclair will facilitate the discussion. He is Anishinaabe (originally from St. Peter’s/Little Peguis) and an Associate Professor of Indigenous Studies at the University of Manitoba. He is a regular media commentator on Indigenous issues and his critical and creative work has appeared widely in Canada and internationally.
This event is free and open to the public, but registration is recommended at humanrights.ca. Those who cannot attend in person can register to attend via Zoom.
Panelists are available for interviews.
Leslie Vryenhoek (she/her)
- Acting Media Relations Specialist
Canadian Museum for Human Rights
- (204) 979-5629