Latest News Regarding Inmates and the COVID-19 Crisis

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Last week, the Corrections Service of Canada (“CSC”) confirmed that an inmate at British Columbia’s Mission Institution, a medium security federal prison, died in hospital as a result of complications related to COVID-19.

According to reports, there are 54 inmates and 8 corrections officers at Mission Institution that have tested positive for COVID-19.  The inmate in question, whose name has been withheld from the media, died at Abbotsford Regional Hospital where a mobile medical unit has been installed to treat prisoners infected with the virus.

Throughout Canada, a total of 145 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at federal prisons.  The hardest hit has been Mission Institution and Joliette Institution in Quebec.  At Joliette, 48 inmates and 34 correctional officers have tested positive for the virus.

THE GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE TO COVID-19 IN PRISONS

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has announced that the government continues to consider measures to keep inmates, staff and communities safe and healthy during the pandemic.

The CSC has reported that masks have been issued to both inmates and corrections officers, and that correctional officers are not permitted to move between prisons.

The CSC has also taken steps to temporarily suspend inmate visits, temporary absences, work releases, institution transfers, prison programs and activities in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.

According to a statement by Minister Blair:

Our greatest responsibility is keeping Canadians safe – that includes those in our correctional institutions.  We know the unique vulnerabilities facing correctional institutions during this public-health crisis.  The situation around COVID-19 is both challenging and rapidly evolving, and our response will continue to adapt as required to prevent further tragic loss of life.

CANADA’S DEFENCE LAWYERS URGE THE GOVERNMENT TO DEPOPULATE PRISONS

The Criminal Lawyers’ Association advocates for a reduction in the number of inmates in Canada’s prisons in the interest of public safety. The Association has distributed to its 1,600 members an affidavit by physician and epidemiologist Dr. Aaron Orkin.  According to Dr. Orkin, an outbreak in prison or jail would be similar to the spread of the virus on cruise ships or in long-term care facilities.  These types of facilities all involve close quarters making it nearly impossible to contain the virus from spreading.   Dr. Orkin anticipates that the virus will make its way into every correctional facility in Canada.

The Criminal Lawyers’ Association does not believe that every inmate is an appropriate candidate for release.  According to John Hale, a criminal defence lawyer and the vice-president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association:

Obviously there are people in the jails who are dangerous and need to be kept in to protect the community, but there are a lot of people in jail who are not dangerous who could be either serving a sentence or awaiting trial outside of jail.

FIRST INMATE WITH SERIOUS HEALTH ISSUES RELEASED FROM FEDERAL PRISON

On April 2, 2020, an application for an unescorted temporary absence was submitted on behalf of 53-year-old Derrick Snow (“Snow”), who is serving a sentence at Ontario’s Bath Institution for breaking-and-entering and theft.  Snow suffers from diabetes, pulmonary disease and has recently been diagnosed with malignant sarcoma.  Snow argued that his underlying medical conditions put him at greater risk of becoming infecting with the virus and die.

The CSC granted Snow permission to live with his sister in London, Ontario.  He will receive treatment for cancer and other ailments until his July release date.  The CSC approved Snow’s request as he did not have a violent criminal history and held that the supervision plan was appropriate and included special conditions, including an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet and a curfew.  Furthermore, the CSC decision emphasized that it was approving Snow’s request despite taking “extraordinary measures” to prevent the spread of the virus in federal prisons. 

ONTARIO HAS DRASTICALLY REDUCED ITS PRISON POPULATION

Offenders who have been convicted of a crime and are sentenced to jail of two years less a day serve their sentences in provincial institutions.  In Ontario, provincial jails typically hold between 8,000 to 9,000 inmates. 

Both Ontario and the Northwest Territories have taken extreme measures to reduce their prison populations by 25%.  To date, nearly 2,500 inmates have been released from Ontario’s prisons, making the inmate population at its lowest level since 1990.

Ontario began implementing measures to limit the spread of the deadly virus in mid-March, including reducing the number of inmates in custody.  Inmates are being carefully assessed to ensure that they are at low risk to offend.  Those that have been convicted of serious violent crimes will not be considered for early release.

ONTARIO CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTE IN BRAMPTON TEMPORARILY CLOSES

Earlier this week, the Ministry of the Solicitor General confirmed that 60 inmates and eight staff have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Ontario Correctional Institute in Brampton. 

This facility will temporarily close and 140 inmates will be moved to the Toronto South Detention Centre in Etobicoke.  During the shutdown, the facility will be professional cleaned and sterilized.

We will continue to follow new information regarding how the COVID-19 pandemic is effecting the Canadian justice system and will provide updates in this blog

If you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, it is recommended that you contact an experienced criminal defence lawyer.  The lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP have many years of experience defending a wide variety of criminal offences.  Contact our office today online or at 905-404-1947.  We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.