(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

Genetic detectives begin work to trace spread of COVID-19 in Canada

The kinds of genetic technology being used for this project did not exist when SARS hit Canada in 2003

Quebec police continue search for father, one day after missing girls found dead

Bodies were found in a wooded area of Quebec City suburb

Lacombe’s Cilantro and Chive informs community of possible COVID-19 case through it’s doors

Individual tests positive after being in restaurant July 4 or July 5

Red Deer up to 4 active COVID-19 cases

Province announced 77 new confirmed cases across Alberta Friday

Cilantro and Chive ‘Dad Bod’ Burger supports childrens mental health in Lacombe

$3,068 was donated to Lacombe Community Addiction and Mental Health Office– Children’s Services

QUIZ: Are you ready for a summer road trip?

How much do you really know about roads, motor vehicles and car culture? Take this quiz to find out.

PODCAST: The Expert tackles the return of sports

Cam Moon, Joe Whitbread, Byron Hackett and Todd Vaughan discuss how sports can come back

How Conservative leadership hopefuls would address the WE scandal if they win

The ethics commissioner has been called in to see if Trudeau broke conflict-of-interest law

With debt, deficit numbers out, experts say Liberals need plan for growth

Borrowing will push the federal debt past $1 trillion by the end of the fiscal year

Pedestrian-only downtown a hit with residents as St. John’s adapts to pandemic

‘The city really got this right this time. We’re very happy’

Bosnian-Canadians mark 25th anniversary of Srebrenica massacre

‘It’s sad for a child to think that it’s normal, actually, to … have family members killed’

PODCAST: COVID-19 and the US Election

The Expert welcomes Burman University Political Scientist Marc Froese

Sylvan Lake RCMP continue search for missing man

43-year-old Steven Hull’s last known whereabouts were in the Sylvan Lake area on May 28

Most Read