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Civil Liberties Group Celebrates Supreme Court Victory for Prisoners and Habeas Corpus

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is celebrating today’s decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in May v. Ferndale Institution. The BC Civil Liberties Association intervened in the case to support Mr. May and his co-appellants.

The appellants in May were inmates of a minimum security federal prison who were involuntarily transferred to a medium security prison. The transfer was not due to any fault or wrongdoing of the inmates but due to a change in policy at Corrections Canada.

The inmates sought to review the legality of the transfer by the use of an ancient legal remedy known as habeas corpus which allows individuals to challenge their detention by the state in a timely manner. The B.C. Court of Appeal had ruled that the prisoners had to exhaust their legal remedies in Federal Court before they could seek a remedy using habeas corpus in B.C Supreme Court.

BCCLA Jason Gratl: “Before this ruling, prisoners had to wait for months if not years for small increments of justice. By transplanting the review function to the superior courts of the provinces, the Supreme Court ensures that even those with the least rights among us will have access to justice in a timely way. Sometimes the most ancient remedies are best suited for modern times.”

In reviewing the legality of the transfers, the Supreme Court found that the inmates had not been given basic information Corrections Canada used to make determinations about individual transfers. The Court found that this amounted to procedural unfairness.

Michael Jackson, Q.C., a professor of law at UBC’s Faculty of Law represented the BCCLA.