Civil Rights Advocates Release Scathing Report Tracing Ties Between Fairfax Financial and For-profit Bail Industry

Canadian Financial Firm Pledges Anti-Black Racism Commitment Even as it Maintains Role as Largest Bail Underwriter in the U.S.

January 28, 2021 9:30 am

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WASHINGTON — Today, the American Civil Liberties Union and Color Of Change released “Commitments to Anti-Racism Ring Hollow: Fairfax Financial is the Last Insurance Holdout in the Dying Bail Industry,” a new report detailing the deep and troubling ties between Canadian insurance conglomerate Fairfax Financial and the for-profit bail industry. The report, which sheds new light on Fairfax’s role as the largest financial holding company underwriting for-profit bail in the U.S., explores the role of Fairfax and its subsidiaries in perpetuating money bail and blocking critical reform measures — even as the company speaks out against anti-Black racism. The report also calls for complete divestment from the for-profit bail industry and the end of cash bail.

“This report represents an important measure of accountability for Fairfax Financial,” said U.S. Senator Cory Booker. “Three years ago, I co-wrote a letter to Fairfax and more than 20 other financial institutions with Senator Sherrod Brown, demanding that they pull their support from the unfair, abusive, and often illegal practices in the bail industry. Now, of the 22 firms we addressed in that letter, Fairfax is still by far the largest company still entangled with bail businesses. Exploitive and unjust money bail practices overwhelmingly trap Black, Brown, and low-income families in a cycle of debt and fees, and any business responsible for keeping that system afloat runs against our American values. I applaud the ACLU and Color Of Change for their continued advocacy for fairness in our justice system.”

In 2020, Fairfax CEO and Chairman Prem Watsa accepted a position as co-chair of the recently formed Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism. As he accepted this position, Mr. Watsa stated: “[t]he time for passing the buck is over. As business leaders in Canada, we have a responsibility to not only recognize that anti-Black systemic racism exists in this country but also take meaningful steps to end it.”

“There is no doubt that the for-profit bail industry in the U.S. drives mass incarceration and cycles of poverty, disproportionately for Black and Brown people,” said Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU’s Justice Division. “Three years after the ACLU and Color Of Change put out a report identifying the largest insurance companies propping up the predatory bail industry, three of the four biggest companies in the space have divested — presumably because of the risk it poses to their reputation and integrity. If Fairfax is serious about its commitment to anti-Black racism, and to protecting its shareholders, it can and must divest.”

“Fairfax Financial’s ties to the bail industry are not just hypocritical; they’re wildly unethical and dangerous,” said Scott Roberts, senior director of criminal justice campaigns at Color Of Change. “While the firm touts its commitment to racial equity and openly condemns anti-Black racism, Fairfax and its subsidiaries are secretly supporting racism and the exploitation of Black people and families through the for-profit bail industry. With this report, we are shining a light on Fairfax’s shadowy business dealings and demanding that they divest from bail businesses.”

The for-profit bail industry is only legal in the U.S. and the Philippines, and has trapped hundreds of thousands of legally innocent people in a cycle of incarceration and debt. Bail bond companies charge nonrefundable, often exorbitant premiums and fees for the commercial bail bonds that individuals need to secure their release. A portion of those fees go to insurance companies — and Fairfax is by far the largest insurer behind bail. Even in cases where a person is acquitted or the case against them is dropped, they and their families can continue to owe tens of thousands of dollars to bail bond companies.

This crisis overwhelmingly impacts Black people and communities of color, who are far more likely to be arrested due to systemic racism and bias in policing and prosecution. Black people are far more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts, and bail amounts for Black men average 35 percent higher than those for white men.

The “Commitments to Anti-Racism Ring Hollow,” report analyzes the duplicity of finance industry giants like Fairfax Financial, whose CEO and Chairman Prem Watsa openly condemns anti-Black racism, while the company supports this exploitative industry. Fairfax and its subsidiaries have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations — including more than $500,000 in California alone — to block or slow meaningful bail reform legislation and lobbied for harsher laws to expand the bail industry since 1992. Even now, as Fairfax takes steps to address racism in the Canadian business ecosystem, it continues to risk its business reputation by supporting bail bond business.

Fairfax Financial is the among the last remaining financial firms still contributing to the bail industry. Tokio Marine Group, Randall & Quilter (R&Q), and Endeavour Capital have pulled their support from for-profit bail businesses, following campaigning and advocacy from Color Of Change and the ACLU. Both organizations have repeatedly urged Fairfax to exit its investments in the bail bond and bail surety industries in the United States, including in a 2019 request from the ACLU and in a joint letter issued in 2020 by Color Of Change and the ACLU.

Senator Booker’s 2018 letter to Fairfax is online here.
The ACLU’s 2019 letter to Fairfax is online here.
The ACLU and Color of Change’s 2020 letter to Fairfax is online here.

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