Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Brad Vis. File Photo.

Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Brad Vis. File Photo.

Federal handling of COVID-19 outbreak at Mission Institution criticized by local MPs, advocates

MPs joint statement takes aim at Correctional Service Canada, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair

Sharp words have been directed at the federal government over Mission Institution’s COVID-19 outbreak by local MPs, Indigenous leaders and civil rights groups.

An inmate died at Abbotsford Regional Hospital from complications from COVID-19 on Wednesday, April 15. Since the first case was announced less than two weeks ago, eight correctional officers have been infected along with other 54 inmates. It’s the worst outbreak at any prison in Canada.

The MPs of Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon and Abbotsford released a joint statement criticizing Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

“Proactive communication to our community from CSC has been and continues to be absent,” reads the statement from Mission’s Brad Vis and Abbotsford’s Ed Fast. “The public is understandably concerned about measures being taken to arrest the spread of the virus within the prison population, amongst frontline correctional officers, and in the wider community.”

The MPs took aim at Bill Blair, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and his “wholly insufficient” comments about the situation on Thursday, April 16.

“It is incumbent upon our federal institutions to keep the public informed,” the statement says. “The public is currently unaware of what measures have been taken to protect inmates, correctional officers and the general public. This is largely due to the failure of his Ministry to communicate those measures and to assure the community that every necessary step is being taken to uphold public safety.”

Their statement offers condolences to the victim and the family of the inmate.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, said the government’s reaction to the infection of their prison population has been far to slow, which is concerning considering almost one-third of federal inmates are Indigenous.

“The passivity of the Government of Canada as COVID-19 spreads through federal prison populations has been an alarming display of inhumanity, and one with lethal consequences,” Phillip said. “We demand an immediate and proactive response from Canada to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the federal prison system.”

Joint Effort, a community group which works with women prisoners in the Lower Mainland, has been lobbying government officials to release non-violent offenders and people awaiting trial. The group says the health protocols currently being used are inhumane.

“We warned them that their inaction would led to an exponential growth in COVID-19 infections endangering the most vulnerable, especially prisoners who are over fifty years old, pregnant, immunocompromised, sick or have pre-existing conditions that make them high risk for dying from COVID-19,” a statement from the group.

“With physical visitations being cancelled, family members and volunteer groups must be able to maintain contact through phones and online platforms.”

Mission’s Mayor, Pam Alexis, has also stated her worry over the situation at the medium security prison.

“The news of cases of COVID-19 at Mission Medium Institution is deeply concerning,” she said. “This is not only a serious public health issue for the inmates on lockdown and the staff working there, but is a great concern for the staff who are residents of Mission and have families at home and go about their lives within the community.”

A corrections officer working at the prison, who spoke with Black Press Media on April 4 before the outbreak’s confirmation, said that a total of 15 officers had to self-isolate due the outbreak, and that much of prison-life was carrying on as normal before then.

RELATED: Two inmates found positive for COVID-19 at Mission Institution; two other tests pending

In all, 70 Mission inmates have been tested. Ten tests came back negative and six tests are still pending. A lockdown is currently in place as a precautionary measure.

The 54 positive tests are more than a third of the 145 total cases in federal prisons across Canada. Quebec’s Joliette Institution has 48 positive cases.

– with files from Kevin Mills

abbotsfordCoronavirusMission

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

Just Posted

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Retired Mission teacher and star CFL kicker charged for assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Alan Sweet taught in school district for 10 years, investigators seeking further witnesses

Members of the Abbotsford Community Action Team include (from left) Bev Olfert, Rebecca Tice, Tally Clement, Const. Mary Boonstra, Mandy Aujla, Wanda Phillips and Devinder Dherari-Sidhu. (Submitted photo)
Abbotsford group raises awareness about sexual exploitation of youth

Community Action Team uses posters, stickers and online information

The driver of a pickup truck failed to stop after knocking down a wooden fence on March 3, 2021. (screen grab)
VIDEO: Footage catches pick-up driver smashing fence on Abbotsford/Langley border

Driver came forward after video circulated on social media

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend service, in Chilliwack, B.C., on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Lawyers for the British Columbia government and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are back in B.C. Supreme Court today, squaring off over the legality of COVID-19 rules that prohibit in-person religious services. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. top doctor has power to restrict access to a place during health hazard: lawyer

Under B.C.’s Public Health Act, Jacqueline Hughes says, Henry can restrict or prevent entry to a place

Photo by Dale Klippenstein
Two men taken to hospital after fight on Keeping Road in Abbotsford

One of the men suffers serious injuries in incident on Thursday night

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

The family of injured Willoughby resident Ronald Gerald Jesso is hoping someone saw something that will help solve the mystery of how he came to be so badly hurt on the morning of Feb. 22. Jesso is still in hospital. (Jesso family/Special to Langley Advance Times)
An appeal to help solve the mystery of an injured Langley man

Family of Ronald Gerald Jesso asks witnesses to come forward

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead on Vancouver Island in ‘targeted incident’

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. RCMP Lower Mainland District officer, Asst. Commissioner Stephen Thatcher presents RCMP blankets to (from left) Chief James Hobart, Chief Maureen Chapman, Chief Derek Epp and Chief Mark Point. (RCMP)
Historic agreement significantly expands Indigenous role in Lower Mainland policing

Community Safety Agreement builds relationship of ‘trust, communication and prevention,’ says Chief

Most Read