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COVID-19 Should Not Be a Death Sentence for Prisoners

Today, the BCCLA released a letter with 37 other co-signatories to BC’s Chief Coroner and BC’s Solicitor General calling for an immediate inquest into the tragic death of a person, on April 15, from COVID-related complications while in Correctional Service of Canada’s (“CSC”) custody in Mission Institution.

Mission Institution is the site of the worst COVID-19 outbreak at a federal prison in the country and one of the largest outbreaks in the province. A staggering total of 106 incarcerated men in Mission Institution have now tested positive for the virus.

This man’s horrific death likely resulted from the very real dangers of prisons having inadequate health and safety measures to deal with the threat of COVID-19. These dangers disproportionately impact Indigenous people, who make up almost one-third of the federal prison population but only 5% of Canada’s population.

Section 18(3) of the Coroners Act specifies that:

“The chief coroner may direct a coroner to hold an inquest if the chief coroner has reason to believe that

(a) the public has an interest in being informed of the circumstances surrounding the death, or

(b) the death resulted from a dangerous practice or circumstance, and similar deaths could be prevented if recommendations were made to the public or an authority.”

The Coroners Act also stipulates that the Solicitor General may order an inquest if it is necessary or desirable to the public interest (s. 19(1)(a)).

It is very reasonable to believe that this death in CSC custody resulted from the dangerous practices and institutional mismanagement by CSC administrators. Accounts provided by prisoners, officers, and union staff representatives indicate that CSC administrators are mismanaging the virus outbreak at Mission Institution, including by:

A class action lawsuit on behalf of incarcerated men at Mission Institution has even been filed against the federal government, claiming CSC failed to take “adequate measures to protect the plaintiff and class from COVID-19,” then failed to “provide appropriate medical care in a timely manner or at all.”

There is strong reason to believe that a clear and meaningful connection exists between Mission Institution’s failure to provide necessary care such as harm reduction supplies, hygiene necessities, adequate space to implement physical distancing measures, and extended healthcare to limit the spread of the virus, and the resulting death due to COVID-19.

An immediate public inquest is necessary to review the circumstances surrounding the first death at a federal prison and to ensure that the practices and conditions that contributed to this death are modified, and new measures are implemented to fully protect the health of people incarcerated in and/or working at Mission Institution and prisons around the country.

It is imperative that no similar deaths occur and immediate steps are taken to prevent future deaths; incarcerated people should not be getting death sentences. The government and CSC have taken an entirely passive approach, failing to adequately protect the health of people incarcerated in and/or working in prisons and allowing the virus to spread through Mission Institution and other provincial and federal prisons.

Amidst a global pandemic, we cannot continue to sit back and watch people die in prison from the ticking time bomb of COVID-19 spreading through these institutions. An inquest is absolutely in the public interest and is a minimum first step to ensure that similar deaths are prevented.

[button href=”https://bccla.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Call-for-inquest-in-Mission-death-FINAL.pdf” style=”flat” size=”medium” color=”#481c5f” hovercolor=”#d6d6d6″ textcolor=”#f9f9f9″ texthovercolor=”#481c5f”]Read our full letter here ⯈[/button]