On May 12, 2020, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), HIV Legal Network, Canadian Prison Law Association (CPLA), HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario (HALCO), and current federal prisoner Sean Johnston filed a constitutional and human rights challenge against the Government of Canada, to compel it to take proactive steps to ensure prisoners’ safety in the context of COVID-19. This includes the timely release of federal prisoners, with precedence for those who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to age or underlying health conditions.
Correctional Service Canada (CSC) has a legal duty to take all reasonable steps to provide a safe environment for prisoners. While public health authorities in Canada direct physical distancing to reduce the spread of the virus, physical distancing cannot be achieved in prisons without reducing the prison population.
For almost three decades, the HIV Legal Network has been advocating for prisoners’ rights, and particularly their right to health. Because of the crowded nature of the penitentiary environment and inadequate access to hand hygiene and cleaning supplies as well as personal protective equipment, federal prisoners are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, and also at greater risk of suffering severe adverse outcomes if they are infected. We know that the prevalence of health conditions, including HIV and HCV infection, is higher amongst our prison population. Acquiring COVID-19 is effectively a death sentence for some prisoners, and CSC’s complacency cannot stand.
Please watch this space for further updates on our legal challenge.