(Black Press Media files)

Ontario court to hear challenge to prison needle ban this week

The Correctional Service has launched a program that offers some inmates access to sterile equipment

A constitutional challenge to the federal government’s refusal to provide clean needles in prisons is set to be heard by an Ontario court this week.

The challenge, filed by former inmate Steven Simons, is backed by a several HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations, who say current rules are arbitrary and disproportionate.

The organizations are expected to argue in court Monday that the lack of access to sterile syringes violate inmates’ rights to life, liberty and security of the person under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Due to the scarcity of sterile injection equipment in prison, people who inject drugs behind bars are forced to share and reuse injection equipment, significantly increasing their risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis C,” the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network said in a statement.

“We will be arguing… that the federal government must meet its legal obligation to protect the health of people in prison. They can do this by introducing an effective prison needle and syringe program in every federal prison.”

The government has argued in court filings that giving clean drug-injection needles to prisoners would make federal facilities more dangerous, since syringes could be used as weapons.

The Correctional Service has, however, recently launched a program that offers inmates in some facilities access to sterile equipment. But court filings say the program is only available in a handful of Canada’s 43 federal prisons at this time.

Applicants in the court challenge are also expected to argue that the program nonetheless infringes on prisoners’ rights by depriving them of confidentiality, among other issues.

In a policy brief that reflects its arguments on the issue, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network says the details of the program reveal “serious deficiencies.”

The group says the program is based on a model used for inmates who require EpiPens or insulin injections, treatments for health conditions that are not stigmatized and do not imply that a prisoner is engaging in a forbidden activity.

It says inmates must obtain the approval of a warden to participate in the program, and are assessed based on security concerns rather than clinical need. Those who are denied have no alternative access to sterile equipment, meaning they are forced to reuse what they have, the group says.

Those who participate are also subject to twice daily “visual inspections” of their equipment, which clearly differentiates them from their peers, it says.

This contravenes accepted practices for prison needle-exchange programs, the organization says.

The challenge was launched in 2012 by Simons, who court documents say became infected with the hepatitis C virus and potentially exposed to HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS, in his 12 years behind bars. He says another prisoner used his injection materials, and that they had no access to sterile equipment.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which is intervening in the case, says HIV and hepatitis C are more prevalent in prisons than in the rest of the population, and that sharing needles is a primary culprit.

The association says it will argue in court that inmates are particularly vulnerable to violations of their constitutional rights “because the government has total control over every aspect of their daily lives, including their access to health care.”

A hearing was initially scheduled last month, but the case was delayed.

READ MORE: OD prevention sites possible at Canada’s prisons: Correctional Service

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

As SD84 schools look to reopen, Kyuquot and Zeballos opt out

Schools in Tahsis and Gold River will open on June 1, with 30 per cent students expected to come in

RCMP calls decrease in Campbell River

Total for year up compared to 2019

Campbell River RCMP ask drivers to slow down in construction zones

Highlight lower speed through the Hwy. 19A project

Recycling depots in Campbell River, Courtenay to close

The unstaffed recyling depot at Strathcona Gardens Recreation Complex is set to close July 1

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

Mirror business directory and map

If you’d like to be added to the list, shoot us an email

B.C.’s essential grocery, hardware store employees should get pandemic pay: retail group

Only B.C.’s social, health and corrections workers are eligible for top-ups

COLUMN: Canada needs to remember rural communities as thoughts turn to pandemic recovery

Small towns often rely on tourism, which has been decimated by COVID-19

Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto vying to be NHL hubs, but there’s a catch

The NHL unveiled a return-to-play plan that would feature 24 teams

B.C. sees 9 new COVID-19 cases, one death as officials watch for new cases amid Phase Two

Number of confirmed active cases is at 244, with 37 people in hospital

Illicit-drug deaths up in B.C. and remain highest in Canada: chief coroner

More than 4,700 people have died of overdoses since B.C. declared a public health emergency in early 2016

CMHC sees declines in home prices, sales, starts that will linger to end of 2022

CMHC said average housing prices could fall anywhere from nine to 18 per cent in its forecast

Most Read