Federal government in denial over prison drug use
A lawsuit filed by inmates alleging a lack of clean needles in prisons violates their rights has put the government in a tough spot, Toronto criminal lawyer Christopher Hicks says.
“It is difficult to imagine the federal government as presently constituted acquiescing in this matter,” Hicks says. “A need for safe needles presumes that there is drug use in jails, which the federal minister and the penitentiary authorities want to deny.”
The suit alleges a lack of sterile needles violates inmates’ Charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person. The suit is being filed against Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, Corrections Canada Commissioner Don Head, Correctional Services of Canada and Attorney General Rob Nicolson, the Globe and Mail reports. Read Globe and Mail
Needle exchanges have been common in Canadian cities for years, operating under the notion that it’s better for addicts to use clean equipment instead of sharing syringes and passing along such blood-borne diseases as Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS, the Globe reports.
Ottawa has argued that providing clean needles in federal prisons makes no sense given that injection drugs are forbidden. The federal government has instead chosen to focus its efforts on enforcing that rule.
“The reason for the denial is that it raises the more explosive question of how drugs are getting into the jails, which in turn raises, potentially, issues of competence, benign neglect, security and even corruption,” says Hicks, a partner with Hicks Adams LLP.
“Those bringing this action have the best of intentions but they will also need the highest degrees of determination, perseverance and imperviousness to criticism,” Hicks says of the inmates. “Only the Supreme Court of Canada will settle this issue, if the applicants can endure on the difficult path to Ottawa.”