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BCCLA lawyers to argue that cancelling mother-baby prison program was unconstitutional

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Vancouver –  Few parents can imagine a more traumatizing experience than having a newborn child taken away.  The BC Civil Liberties Association will argue at the BC Supreme Court on Friday, June 21, that a prison warden’s decision to cancel a program that allowed women prisoners to remain with their newborn babies was unconstitutional.

Patricia Block, 35, was sentenced to prison when she was three moments pregnant. After giving birth, she barely slept for two days as she tried to soak up every moment with her daughter before handing her over to a social worker and foster mother. Ms. Block dressed the tiny infant, placed her in a car seat, provided the breast milk that she had carefully pumped and stored, and kissed her baby goodbye.

Ms. Block, together with Amanda Inglis, a former prisoner who gave birth shortly before the program was cancelled, launched the constitutional case. The case challenges a prison warden’s decision to cancel the mother-baby program at Maple Ridge’s Alouette Correctional Centre for Women.

The Alouette mother-baby program, which operated until 2008, allowed newborns to remain with their mothers while they were in prison. In order to participate in the program, mothers were required to get final approval from the Ministry of Child and Family Development, which considered the best interests of the child. Only women who were serving sentences for non-violent offences were eligible for the program.

The court has heard four weeks of evidence in the case. Final arguments began today, Thursday, July 20. The court has heard evidence that during the history of the program, safety guidelines were strictly followed, and the program was supported by health care practitioners, including doctors and psychologists, as well as prison officials.

Since the 1970s, programs existed in British Columbia that allowed women prisoners to keep their babies with them while imprisoned. Currently, there is no mother-baby program operating in this province for provincially sentenced women.

The BCCLA will argue that Charter protects of the right of a mother to care for her baby, including the right to nurture and breastfeed her baby, and the right of a baby to receive the care of its mother. The decision to cancel the mother-baby program was arbitrary and did not respect human dignity and the special role women occupy as caregivers for children.

Janet Winteringham, Q.C. and Jessica Lithwick of Winteringham Mackay George and Megan Vis-Dunbar are the lawyers for the BCCLA.

What: BC Supreme Court will hear BCCLA arguments in Inglis et al. v. Minister of Public Safety et al.

When: BCCLA arguments are scheduled to begin on Friday, June 21 at 2 pm

Where: BC Supreme Court (Vancouver, BC)

Who:  BCCLA representatives available for comment

Media Contact

Janet Winteringham, Q.C., lawyer for the BCCLA: 604-551-9753 (cell) or [email protected]

Grace Pastine, BCCLA Litigation Director: 778-241-7183 (cell) or [email protected]