(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

UFV offers mental-health screenings as part of Beyond the Blues

Activities at event from Jan. 27-31 include stress bingos and colouring

Second earthquake in two days strikes near Agassiz

A 2.6-magnitude recorded Saturday morning

City plots plan to get more affordable housing built as rental crunch continues

Abbotsford’s rental vacancy rate was 1.3 per cent in 2019; New affordable housing strategy considered

Province bringing 421 new affordable childcare spaces to Fraser Valley

Supporting early childhood educators and creating spaces go hand in hand, minister says

Aspiring pot-sellers can apply in two weeks to operate stores in Abbotsford

City will accept applications to operate one of four new stores; public consultation to follow

Officials reaching out to those in contact with Canada’s first coronavirus patient

The illness has sickened at least 1,975 people and killed 56 in China

Canada’s basketball community mourns Kobe Bryant after helicopter crash

Bryant was an 18-time NBA all-star who won five championships

‘Devastated’: Fans, celebrities remember Kobe Bryant after his death

Bryant played all of his 20-year career with the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant, daughter killed in California helicopter crash

Bryant entered the NBA draft straight out of high school in 1996

Investigation launched after six dead puppies dumped in Richmond hotel parking lot

RAPS reminds people they can always give up puppies they can’t take care of

Canadian Lunar New Year celebrations dampened by coronavirus worries

But Health Minister Patty Hajdu said today that the risk of infection is low

Man clings to roof of car driving along busy road in Maple Ridge

The man was also seen jumping on the vehicle

B.C. VIEWS: New coronavirus outbreak an important reminder

Walking the line between cautious and alarmist

Most Read