(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

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

Just Posted

Two-year-old Kashius Weme rides at the Steve Smith Memorial Bike Park in Nanaimo on Tuesday, May 11. The youngster’s precocious bike-riding ability is already attracting cycle sponsors. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
2-year-old Nanaimo bike rider already attracting cycle sponsors

Kashius Weme has a knack for extreme cycle sports

A Nanaimo RCMP officer is recovering after his patrol car was hit by another vehicle at an intersection on Monday, May 10. (Photo courtesy Julia Rose)
Nanaimo RCMP vehicle broad-sided in crash at Harewood intersection

Police officer recovering at home following collision Monday

A scene from the Schoolhouse Squat from October 2018, where Alliance Against Displacement members and supporters occupied the Rutherford Elementary School site, advocating for people experiencing homelessness. (News Bulletin file)
Two more involved in ‘Schoolhouse Squat’ sentenced in Nanaimo court

Ivan Donald Drury, Tingchun (Listen) Chen get conditional discharges in provincial court in Nanaimo

Gabriola Island’s Kerplunks – Aaron Cadwaladr, Dinah D, Phil Wipper and Jojo Hallett (from left) – perform live from the Port Theatre on May 15. (Photo courtesy Lance Sullivan/Concept Photography)
Nanaimo children’s group the Kerplunks hold first concert in over a year

TheatreOne and the Port Theatre present ‘Upstream with the Kerplunks’

Business owner Jeff Ross outside his shop Gold Silver Guy in Qualicum Beach on May 10. (Mandy Moraes photo)
Gold Silver Guy owner finds Qualicum shop in shambles after break-in and theft

RCMP investigating after door smashed, showcases shattered and inventory stolen

Business owner Jeff Ross outside his shop Gold Silver Guy in Qualicum Beach on May 10. (Mandy Moraes photo)
Gold Silver Guy owner finds Qualicum shop in shambles after break-in and theft

RCMP investigating after door smashed, showcases shattered and inventory stolen

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

People are asked to support the Walk for Alzheimer’s by setting a personal walking or fitness challenge throughout May, while fundraising to support Alzheimer Society of B.C. programs and services. (Stock photo)
Nanaimo residents asked to ‘walk their own way’ for Alzheimer’s

Month-long self-paced fitness challenge supports Alzheimer Society of B.C.

The Village on Third in Nanaimo won the Judges’ Choice award as top overall entry at the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board Commercial Building Awards. (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo mixed-use building wins top prize at commercial building awards

Village on Third was Judges’ Choice winner at VIREB Commercial Building Awards

Nanaimo painter Eileen Williamson presents ‘A Little of This….A Little of That’ at Art 10 Gallery until the end of May. (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo artist unveils new body of work after rediscovering motivation

Eileen Williamson presents ‘A Little of This … A Little of That’ at Art 10 Gallery

Next week Nanaimo singer Laura Kelsey is releasing her new single A Foolish Thing and its accompanying music video. (Video still courtesy Greg Nuspel)
Nanaimo singer joined by wolf, dancers in new music video

‘A Foolish Thing’ is Laura Kelsey’s first professionally made single in seven years

Keith MacIntyre - BC Libertarian
Penticton’s Keith MacIntyre new leader of the B.C. Libertarian Party

The Penticton businessman was voted in by members of the party on May 8

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a 'person of interest' in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
Man sought in suspicious Kootenay death found in Lake Country

Philip Toner is a person of interest in the death of Brenda Ware

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Most Read