Home / BCCLA Reacts: Court dismisses constitutional challenge to Canada’s flawed prison needle exchange program

BCCLA Reacts: Court dismisses constitutional challenge to Canada’s flawed prison needle exchange program

For Immediate Release

VANCOUVER, Coast Salish Territories –The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) is disappointed that the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has dismissed the application in Simons et al v. Canada, a constitutional challenge brought by former prisoner Steven Simons, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and other community organizations against the Government of Canada over its failure to provide prisoners with meaningful access to sterile injection equipment in federal prisons.  This decision ignores the reality that the majority of vulnerable prisoners in need of sterile injection equipment are still being denied access.

Injection drug use in prisons is a reality, and the availability of sterilized injection equipment helps prevent the sharing of needles and the spread of infectious diseases amongst drug users. Prison needle exchange programs (PNEPs) are a vital harm reduction tool essential to the health of numerous vulnerable prisoners.  Despite this fact, the PNEP program introduced by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) in 2018 has to date only been implemented in 11 out of 43 federal prisons.

The BCCLA intervened in this case to argue that the government has a constitutional duty to implement an accessible prison needle exchange program in all federal prisons.  Preventing prisoners from taking appropriate safety measures to protect their health infringes their Charter rights. The Court dismissed the applicants’ argument that the current PNEP plan is unconstitutional, stating that it was premature in light of the fact that a “good faith PNEP is being rolled out”.

Megan Tweedie, BCCLA Staff counsel stated: “We are very disappointed with the Court’s decision.  The fact that sterile injection equipment remains unavailable to prisoners in 32 prisons constitutes an ongoing breach of Charter rights. Furthermore, there is no evidence to indicate that Canada’s pilot PNEP program is being rolled out in ‘good faith’, as assumed by the court.  To the contrary, the program’s slow implementation indicates that the CSC is not prioritizing this vital health care matter.  In the wake of COVID-19, it is more apparent than ever that prisoners are being subjected to unhealthy and unsafe environments and being denied essential healthcare.  The BCCLA will continue to fight for the rights of prisoners and to challenge inhumane prison policies.”

The Court’s decision can be found here.

The BCCLA was represented in this case by Michael Rosenberg, Christine Wadsworth and Simon Cameron of McCarthy Tétrault LLP, Toronto, Ontario.

Contact: Megan Tweedie, BCCLA Staff Counsel, [email protected]