Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Consider releasing some inmates to stem COVID-19 in prisons: public safety minister

The Correctional Service is conducting an analysis of the offender population

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has asked the federal prison service and the parole board to look at early release for some offenders to prevent the spread of COVID-19 behind bars.

The government is committed to protecting inmates, correctional staff and the public given the unique risks the virus poses for prisons, said Mary-Liz Power, a spokeswoman for the minister.

“This pandemic continues to evolve and we have been clear that our response will as well,” she said Tuesday in a statement.

“Minister Blair has asked both the commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada and the chair of the Parole Board of Canada to determine whether there are measures that could be taken to facilitate early release for certain offenders.”

The Correctional Service is working closely with the Parole Board “to examine all options with respect to the safe release of offenders into the community,” said Martine Rondeau, a spokeswoman for the prison service.

Under the law, decisions on the conditional release of inmates lie with the Parole Board, she noted.

The Correctional Service is conducting an analysis of the offender population to be in a position to make evidence-based recommendations, Rondeau added.

The Parole Board had no immediate comment on the minister’s request.

The prison service said Monday two inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 at Port-Cartier Institution, a maximum-security facility in Quebec — the first confirmed cases involving prisoners in a federal institution.

The service said nine employees at Port-Cartier had also tested positive for the virus.

READ MORE: Two inmates at prison housing Robert Pickton test positive for COVID-19

The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, which represents employees in 49 federal institutions, says the release of a few inmates would not stem the spread of COVID-19 in prison but would increase the risk for Canadians.

“The focus must be on changing routines in our institutions to respect social distancing and self-isolation directives to every extent possible,” the union said.

“Canada is in crisis, and its citizens are already dealing with a potentially deadly threat. It is irresponsible to introduce further threats into our communities.”

With the emerging health threat, it is important to look at releasing those who can be safely let out of prisons and immigration detention facilities, the respective chairs of the Canadian Bar Association’s criminal law and immigration law sections wrote in a letter to Blair this week.

One option is to consider those on remand or sentenced for non-violent crimes for early release, they wrote.

Other possibilities include expanding use of conditional pardons under the Criminal Code, accelerating the parole process, and relaxing requirements for temporary absences and intermittent sentences, the letter said.

“These approaches must be co-ordinated, with consistent policies between federal, provincial and territorial institutions.”

READ MORE: Inmate’s wife calls for release of non-violent offenders

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press


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

BC SPCA team helps discover new feline virus after outbreak at Quesnel shelter

Fechavirus is a kind of parvovirus, which makes cats and kittens very sick

COVID-19 highlights lack of connectivity in First Nations communities

Many don’t have access required to utilize online platforms, says First Nations Technology Council

Commercial salmon fisheries delayed for Bella Coola area

DFO notice says Area C gill net fisheries in Area 8 have been delayed until June 15

Pacific Coastal won’t open until community is ready

The company has suspended operations until further notice

Mission prison COVID-19 outbreak ends, 9 new cases in B.C.

New positive test at Port Coquitlam care home

Getting hitched at historic B.C. gold rush town still on table during COVID-19 pandemic

Micro-weddings, online visits, offered at Barkerville Historic Town and Park

Revelstoke woman finds welcoming letter on her Alberta-registered truck

There have been multiple reports online of vandalism to vehicles with Alberta licence plates

Spirit bear possibly spotted in West Kootenay

A local resident spotted the white-coloured bear while on an evening trail run near Castlegar on May 27

B.C. businesses ‘can’t shoulder burden’ of COVID-19 sick pay

Trudeau’s plan should be tied to federal emergency aid

B.C. teacher reprimanded for sharing homophobic and sexist memes, making racist comments

Klaus Hardy Breslauer was accused of making a laundry list of concerning decisions as a science teacher

COVID-19: B.C. too dependent on foreign food production workers

New B.C. job site links unemployed with farm, seafood work

Another Asian giant ‘murder hornet’ found in Lower Mainland

This is the farthest east the invasive species has been found so far

B.C. girl left temporarily paralyzed by tick bite sparks warning from family

Mom says parents need to check their kids when they go camping

Most Read