MEDIA ADVISORY: BCCLA at Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Prison Needle Exchange Program case

Ontario Superior Court of Justice to hear constitutional challenge involving access to sterile injection equipment in federal prisons

TORONTO – On March 6, 2020, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice will hear 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 access to sterile injection equipment in federal prisons.

Rates of HIV and Hepatitis C in federal prisons are significantly higher than in the rest of the population, and sharing needles to inject drugs is a primary cause of the transmission of these diseases within prisons.  The availability of drugs in prisons, and widespread injection drug use by prisoners, are acknowledged facts of life in Canadian federal prisons. However, access to sterile injection equipment is prohibited or severely restricted for prisoners.  The pilot prison needle exchange program recently introduced by the Correctional Service of Canada has only been implemented in six of 43 federal prisons, leaving the vast majority of prisoners without the vital protection provided by sterile injection equipment.  In this case, the applicants will argue that the government’s restrictions on providing sterile injection equipment violates the rights of prisoners under section 7 and section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and are not justified in a free and democratic society.

The BC Civil Liberties Association is intervening in this case to argue that the existing legislative regime, including the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and its regulations, prevents prisoners from taking appropriate safety measures to protect their health, infringing their section 7 Charter rights.  As the vast majority of prisoners have no access to safe injection equipment, those who use drugs have no choice but to inject them in unsafe ways.  The BCCLA will emphasize that prisoners are particularly vulnerable to infringement of their section 7 Charter rights because the government has total control over every aspect of their daily lives, including their access to health care.  Prisoners excluded or rejected from a prison needle exchange program may never be able to access safe injection equipment and must assume the risk of contracting dangerous infections, which can cause serious suffering and death. The BCCLA will argue that the government has a constitutional duty to implement an accessible needle exchange program in federal prisons as a vital harm reduction tool.

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

The BCCLA’s factum in this case is available here.

What: Ontario Superior Court of Justice to hear application in Simons et al v. Canada
When: March 6, 2020, 10:00 a.m. EST
Where: Ontario Superior Court of Justice (Toronto, Ontario)
Contact: Megan Tweedie, BCCLA Counsel, available for comment at 604-359-2416, [email protected]