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Protesters demand Bell change "restrictive" phone policies for inmates

A demonstration was held in Ottawa on the same day as the company's annual fundraiser for mental health.

Protesters lined up outside Place Bell in Ottawa to decry Bell Canada for a system they say is causing them and their loved ones stress and mental anguish.

About 45 people braved the cold temperatures Wednesday to demand Bell allow inmates to call cell phones.

Souheil Benslimane, a JAIL Hotline coordinator says, " Ideally, the system should be free for those incarcerated because they don't have a revenue."

Michael Spratt, a criminal defence lawyer with Abergel Goldstein and Partners explained that law firms end up taking some of the hit, paying out thousands of dollars a month, but added " Some of that money goes back to the province so that really is the case of the province and Bell Canada making money off the poorest, most marginalized people."

Benslimane told 1310NEWS, if a point of contact for a prisoner doesn't have a landline, he or she has to revert to calling someone with one, so that person can then connect them with their contact via a three-way call. But another problem is that Bell does not allow three-way calls.

"Bell also has a system that detects those calls and cuts your phone call," said Benslimane.  

Joel Harden, Member of Provincial Parliament for Ottawa-Centre spoke at the rally and expects better from Bell, and plans to bring it up with the legislature.

"I plan on following up with the hill to put some pressure on the Ministry of Corrections because this is obscene" he said.

Research has shown that imprisonment, through severing ties between prisoners and their loved ones, undermines the ability of incarcerated people to reintegrate into society following their release from custody.

The telecommunications giant is currently charging $20 for a 15 minute phone call, and does not allow calls to be placed from the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre to anything other than a landline.

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