(Mitchell Haindfield photo)

(Mitchell Haindfield photo)

Ottawa jail inmates argue anti-COVID measures a breach of charter rights

The prisoners allege guards did not wear masks until April 25

Nine inmates of a provincial jail in Ottawa have gone to court to argue they are being subjected to egregious conditions due to COVID-19 that violate their constitutional rights and international law.

The application filed in Superior Court, accuses authorities at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre of putting dangerously lax health measures in place and imposing oppressive restrictions as part of the fight against the pandemic.

“This is an egregious diminution of liberties being imposed in an already restrictive environment,” their hand-written application states. “These impositions are tyrannical and dehumanizing.”

Upholding human rights should remain paramount even during a pandemic, the inmates say. They also point out the majority of the inmates are awaiting trial and are presumed innocent.

The applicants want the court to declare their rights have been breached and to order the government to take remedial action.

Among other things, the applicants say they have been deprived of outside visitors, a crucial way to maintain contact with loved ones and community supports, since March 10. International law, they say, requires regular visits.

The prisoners allege guards did not wear masks until April 25, and that since then, correctional officers have worn face coverings irregularly, risking the inmates’ health. Nor has the prison provided masks, sanitizer or soap to prisoners, the complaint alleges.

They also say they’ve been cut off from religious services, dental care and various treatment programs.

“Although the applicant understands how volatile the situation has been, COVID-19 is not a justifiable excuse for the restrictions imposed during the pandemic,” the document states.

The court action alleges that correctional staff only set up a quarantine on April 25. Until then, new inmates were simply placed with the others.

Michael Wiwczaruk, one of the nine inmates, said it’s impossible to understand the impact of the anti-COVID measures without experiencing them first-hand.

“The psychological stress caused by the increased risk to contract COVID-19 while in pre-trial detention cannot be overstated,” the application states.

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. However, the ministry has previously argued that it has taken steps to protect inmates in part by allowing some to leave jails.

Other inmates, along with civil rights groups, have previously filed suit against the federal government alleging “grossly inadequate” measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 in penitentiaries. Federally, about 360 inmates have tested positive and two have died.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission has previously urged correctional authorities to release low-risk inmates and to ensure both the health and human rights of prisoners are a priority.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2020.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

READ MORE: COVID-19 is not a ‘get-out-of-jail-free card,’ says BC judge

READ MORE: More than 50,000 Coronavirus cases reported per day in US

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Just Posted

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives at the 2021 budget in Edmonton on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta launches COVID vaccine lottery with million-dollar prizes to encourage uptake

The premier says the lottery will offer three prizes worth $1 million a piece, as well as other prizes

The City of Red Deer sits at 249 active cases of the virus, after hitting a peak of 565 active cases on Feb. 22. (Black Press file image)
Red Deer down to 119 active COVID-19 cases

Province identifies 179 new cases Saturday

Member Terry Parsons’ custom built track vehicle.
Forestburg’s Area 53 Racetrack gears up for action-packed season

Site will also host a portion of the ‘Miles of Mayhem’ event in July

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Calgary Stampeders’ Jerome Messam leaps over a tackle during second half CFL western semifinal football action in Calgary, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CFL football will be played this summer in Canada

Governors vote unanimously in favour to start the ‘21 campaign on Aug. 5

Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino holds a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. The federal government is announcing that Indigenous people can now apply to reclaim their names on passports and other government documents. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous people can now reclaim traditional names on their passports and other ID

Announcement applies to all individuals of First Nations, Inuit and Métis background

This undated photo provided by Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails shows a scout donating cookies to firefighters in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, as part of the Hometown Heroes program. As the coronavirus pandemic wore into the spring selling season, many Girl Scout troops nixed their traditional cookie booths for safety reasons. That resulted in millions of boxes of unsold cookies. (Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails via AP)
Thinner Mints: Girl Scouts have millions of unsold cookies

Since majority of cookies are sold in-person, pandemic made the shortfall expected

In this artist’s sketch, Nathaniel Veltman makes a video court appearance in London, Ont., on June 10, 2021 as Justice of the Peace Robert Seneshen (top left) and lawyer Alayna Jay look on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould
Terror charges laid against London attack suspect

Crown says Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

Most Read