(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

Young boy finds mask stolen during recent break-in

Gage Pootlass immediately took the mouse mask back to its rightful owner, Kathleen Booth

Bear gets into garbage at Thorsen Creek Landfill after waste disposed into wrong bin

A grizzly bear accessed garbage that was put in the wrong bin and ended up outside the electric fence

QUIZ: How much do you know about British Columbia?

On this B.C. Day long weekend, put your knowledge of our province to the test

IH issues second drug alert for increased overdoses in Williams Lake area

Paramedics responded to 11 overdose calls so far in July, 10 in June, five in May

COVID-19 confirmed in Nimpo Lake area

Vancouver Coastal Health says they don’t believe there is a risk to neighbouring communities

VIDEO: Otter pups learn to swim at B.C. wildlife rescue facility

Watch Critter Care’s Nathan Wagstaffe help seven young otters go for their first dip

Michael Buble among 13 British Columbians to receive Order of B.C.

Ceremony will be delayed to 2021 due to COVID-19

U.S. border communities feel loss of Canadian tourists, shoppers and friends

Restrictions on non-essential travel across the Canada-U.S. border have been in place since March 2`

Rollout of COVID-19 Alert app faces criticism over accessibility

App requires users to have Apple or Android phones made in the last five years, and a relatively new operating system

Alleged impaired driver sparks small wildfire near Lytton after crash: B.C. RCMP

Good Samaritans prevented the blaze from getting out of control

B.C. First Nation adopts ‘digital twinning’ software to better manage territory

Software allows users to visualize what a mountain might look like if the trees on its slopes were logged

All inquiry recommendations implemented after fatal Port Hardy RCMP shooting: Ministry

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. cleared the RCMP officers involved of wrongdoing

Leave your deets when dining: Restaurants taking personal info to trace COVID-19

Health officials say indoor dining presents a higher risk

Most Read