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The dark side of Canada’s coronavirus response

These are, as Ottawa keeps reminding us, extraordinary times. And extraordinary action must be taken to contain COVID-19 and avert this global pandemic getting worse. But the federal government is decidedly not taking extraordinary measures when it comes to some of those who are most vulnerable to the deadly virus.

On Friday morning, news broke that a prison guard at the Toronto South Detention Centre, which houses provincial inmates and those awaiting a court hearing, had tested positive for COVID-19. That should have provoked some extraordinary action.

Prisons are incredibly busy places—inmates are admitted and released, while a litany of support staff and guards come-and-go every day. They are also, generally, crowded, poorly-kept, and lack essential health services. They are incredibly at-risk for infectious diseases.


Those measures have, seemingly, involved depriving prisoners of their limited chance to leave their cells. Ottawa lawyer Michael Spratt told me that one of his clients was given an extra bottle of disinfectant spray as a vanguard against the virus.

“Most of the jail population has been locked down in their cells for prolonged periods of time—sometimes three to a cell,” he says. Staffing is an issue, and inmates in some cases have not been allowed to video conference with their lawyers.

Simon Cheung, with Prisoners’ Legal Services in B.C., reported that conditions haven’t substantially changed at the Kent Institution, near Vancouver. A floor flooded last week, since then prisons have been in virtual lockdown. The water was only half drained, Cheung says. Two days after the flooding, prisoners were given just 15 minutes out of their cell. “They had to choose between mopping up the water and taking a shower,” Cheung says. Prisoners report that the jail is absolutely filthy and strewn with garbage.

Spratt says, in the absence of leadership from the politicians, Crown attorneys have been finding “creative solutions,” like agreeing to postpone cases until the summer while releasing the accused to house arrest. He says the Crown has been more receptive to probation over jail time, as well.


Read Justin Ling’s full article: MacLeans

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