ACLU and Color Of Change Reveal Ties Between BlackNorth Initiative Co-Chair, Bail Industry in New Letter

Letter to Toronto-Based Racial Justice Business Collaborative Urges Co-Chair Prem Watsa to Withdraw From For-Profit Bail Industry

March 24, 2022 11:15 am

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TORONTO, Ontario — The American Civil Liberties Union and Color Of Change today issued a letter to Wes Hall and the Board of Directors at BlackNorth Initiative (BNI), a group of Canadian business leaders focused on advancing racial justice for Black Canadians, urging co-chair Prem Watsa to exit the for-profit bail industry. As chairman and chief executive officer at Fairfax Financial Holdings, Watsa oversees the largest financial backer for the for-profit bail industry in America. The letter acknowledges that Watsa’s roles as CEO of Fairfax Financial, which knowingly profits from the mass incarceration of Black people, and co-chair of the BlackNorth Initiative, which is committed to combating anti-Black racism, present a clear conflict of interest.

“Profit models that rely on, reinforce, and deepen racial disparities in the criminal legal system are antithetical to the mission of the BlackNorth Initiative,” said Tara Stutsman, a campaign strategist with the Justice Division at the American Civil Liberties Union. “We call upon BlackNorth Initiative board member Prem Watsa to divest his Fairfax Financial holdings that profit from the use of cash bail, which create clear harms for communities of color.”

“While Prem Watsa claims to be an advocate for racial justice, his company continues to fund the for-profit bail industry, which disproportionately harms Black communities,” said Scott Roberts, senior director of criminal justice and democracy campaigns at Color Of Change. “For decades, the for-profit bail system has extorted billions from Black people and their families, trapping them in a cycle of debt and incarceration. Watsa must stop his hypocritical showmanship and commit to racial justice by immediately divesting from the for-profit bail industry.”

Toronto-based insurance conglomerate Fairfax Financial Holdings represents the largest financial backer of the for-profit bail industry in America. While for-profit bail has been outlawed in Canada, Fairfax Financial has provided significant financial backing for the for-profit bail system in the U.S. through its subsidiary Crum & Forster. Crum & Forster has also provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to defeat or roll back bail reform measures in California and other parts of the U.S.

Today’s letter highlights the direct but hidden ties between Watsa’s firm and racist for-profit bail practices, which have led to the mass incarceration of countless Black people: “...bail insurers like Fairfax Financial’s Crum & Forster disproportionately impact communities of color, who — due to racism, social exclusion, and aggressive police practices — are much more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested in the first place and once arrested, are more likely to be incarcerated while awaiting trial. Bail amounts assigned to Black men average 35 percent higher than those for white men, even when controlling for the seriousness of the offense.”

It also urges the BlackNorth Initiative board to hold true to its own objectives of combating racist harms and scrutinizing Fairfax Financial’s continued profiteering from money bail:

“It is in that spirit that we ask the BlackNorth Initiative to turn its attention to Fairfax Financial and its role in maintaining the for-profit bail system in the United States, a significant driver of anti-Black systemic racism that helps keep tens of thousands of Black Americans incarcerated on a daily basis.”

Today’s letter is part of a broader campaign by the ACLU and Color Of Change to encourage the business community to divest from the racist for-profit bail industry. The organizations previously exposed the deep ties between Fairfax Financial and the racist for-profit bail industry, pressing for Fairfax to divest from its subsidiary companies that drive the over-incarceration of Black people. In addition, Tokio Marine Holdings, R&Q, and Endeavour Capital have exited the bail industry in recent years as a result of advocacy from the ACLU and Color Of Change.

The full text of the letter is here.

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