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May 12, 2020 

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and its coalition partners have filed a constitutional challenge to the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in federal correctional institutions. 

Public health advice is clear: without a treatment or a vaccine, the most effective thing we can do to mitigate the spread of the pandemic and protect the most vulnerable in our society is physical distancing.  

The Correctional Service of Canada has failed to take the steps that would make physical distancing possible within its institutions. Jurisdictions across Canada and the world have taken significant proactive steps to shift low-risk inmates to community supervision in order to save lives. CSC has not. It has also failed to implement adequate infection control measures such as comprehensive testing, hand-washing, and professional cleaning of common areas 

Already two federal prisons are in the midst of large outbreaks. Over 300 prisoners have tested positive. Two individuals have died. Without immediate action to increase infection control and decrease the incarcerated population, more outbreaks are inevitable. This endangers not only the lives of those behind bars, but also the health and lives of those who work there, their families, and the broader community. 

The incarcerated population is particularly vulnerable during this pandemic due to the large number of people with underlying health conditions.  

The continued incarceration of medically-vulnerable inmates who could be safelyand conditionallyreleased toeffectively self-isolate inthe community is a violation of CSC’s statutory andCharterobligations.

Last month CCLA wrote to Correctional Service of Canada Commissioner Anne Kelly outlining the organization’s concerns and urging CSC to take immediate action. CSC did not respond. 

The public interest applicants in the legal claim are the CCLA, Canadian Prison Law Association, HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario, HIV Legal Network and HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario. Sean Johnston, who is currently incarcerated at Warkworth Institution, is an individual applicant.  

About the Canadian Civil Liberties Association

The CCLA is an independent, non-profit organization with supporters from across the country. Founded in 1964, the CCLA is a national human rights organization committed to defending the rights, dignity, safety, and freedoms of all people in Canada.

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