(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

Salmon Arm boy is only Para-Nordic athlete at BC Winter games

Thirteen-year-old Kaden Baum competed in three races on his sit-ski at the games.

Home loss ends season for Sicamous Eagles

A defeat at the hands of the 100 Mile House Wranglers on Feb. 22 was the Eagles’ last outing.

PHOTOS: PeeWee Silverbacks finish season with 22 game win streak

The team has gone undefeated since November last year

Word on the street: What is your favourite pie-related memory?

With the 24th-annual Best of the Shuswap Pie Baking Contest taking place… Continue reading

VIDEO: 2020 BC Winter Games wrap up in Fort St. John as torch passes to Maple Ridge

More than 1,000 athletes competed in the 2020 BC Winter Games

Harvey Weinstein found guilty of sex crimes in landmark #MeToo trial

The cases against the Hollywood mogul started the #MeToo movement

Hidden treasures of the Okanagan’s Curiosity Shop

A set of celluloid topped glove and collar boxes are some of the many interesting finds in Keremeos

Vernon protest draws close to 40 people

Earth Strike Vernon holds peaceful rally in support of Wet’suwet’en people and land

CRA puts focus on paper returns as tax-filing season opens

The federal tax collector expects to handle about two million paper returns this calendar year out of roughly 26 million filings

StatCan says 3.2 million living in poverty, including 566,000 children

The child poverty rate of 8.2 per cent however is little changed from 2017

Teck withdraws application for Frontier mine, citing discourse over climate change

The Vancouver-based company said it will take a $1.13-billion writedown on the Frontier project in Alberta

B.C. VIEWS: Pipeline dispute highlights need for clarity

As the B.C. treaty process grinds on, uncertainty remains

Still six cases of COVID-19 in B.C. despite reports of Air Canada passenger: ministry

Health ministry wouldn’t comment on specific flight routes

Most Read