HALIFAX - An ailing woman who is facing deportation to England has been freed from shackles that kept her restrained in her hospital bed following the intervention of two Nova Scotia cabinet ministers, one of whom said he was appalled by her treatment.
Health Minister Leo Glavine said Thursday he thought restraining Fliss Cramman was "very inappropriate," and had discussed the issue with provincial Justice Minister Diana Whalen.
"When I have a view of a person chained to a bed, it brings back the 19th century not the 21st," Glavine told reporters.
Cramman, who has been in the country since she was eight years old but is not a Canadian citizen, has undergone a series of surgeries after being rushed to hospital from a prison facility in Dartmouth, N.S., last month.
The Canada Border Services Agency wants to deport her by Nov. 4, but her doctor told a hearing last week that she has addiction and mental health issues and shouldn't be removed from the country while she recovers from surgery for a perforated colon.
"I'm very appalled that circumstance would exist today, especially in light of the fact that there is already security in that room," Glavine said.
Whalen said the case also concerned her, prompting her to order a review of the guidelines for dealing with prisoners who are kept in a hospital setting. As a result, she ordered the restraints be removed Thursday morning.
She said provincial corrections officials were acting on behalf of the Canada Border Services Agency, which wanted Cramman restrained in her room at the Dartmouth General as a potential flight risk.
"I thought it was too much and I thought it should be reviewed," said Whalen. "The protocol is two guards are there, so I felt that was probably sufficient."
A justice official said Friday the provincial corrections officials actually applied the shackles in keeping with their policy while carrying out a detention order for the Canada Border Services Agency.
Whalen said while a prisoner who is transferred to a hospital can be restrained, there needs to be a quick assessment of the risk they pose.
"It does concern me that somebody who is seriously ill would be restrained," Whalen said.
Darlene MacEachern, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society in Cape Breton, has been lobbying to have the restraints removed and have Cramman taken off a detention list and placed in her group's care. She is also pressing the federal government to grant Cramman some form of citizenship on compassionate and humanitarian grounds.
She said she was pleased that the 33-year-old mother of four young children was released from the shackles.
"We're commending a lot of them for seeing the light and removing them," she said.
John McCallum, federal minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, said he couldn't discuss the specific case but suggested his office is looking into the matter.
"I'm not allowed under the privacy laws to comment on any individual cases, but you can be assured we are looking at all such cases," he said in Ottawa. "There are many cases where we have halted deportations, my colleague Ralph Goodale and me, for various reasons of that kind, but I cannot talk about individual cases."
Emma Halpern, a lawyer with the society, said she saw Cramman in her hospital room earlier Thursday and the two discussed the possibility that the restraints would be removed. She said Cramman remained "very sick," but was focusing on recovering from at least two surgeries and an infection.
"I'm sure she's pleased," Halpern said. "She indicated it was a great discomfort....She told me she is doing her best to get healthy."
Following a 45-minute hearing last Friday, an adjudicator with the Immigration and Refugee Board agreed that Cramman would not be able to travel for at least a couple of months.
Her case ended up before the board after Cramman was convicted of offering to traffic heroin a couple of years ago. After serving two-thirds of her sentence she was detained by federal officials after they began looking into the issues around her citizenship.
A decision on whether to release her from the list is expected to be made when Cramman's case goes before the board again on Oct. 21.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version contained incorrect information provided by the Nova Scotia justice minister indicating that provincial corrections officials detained Fliss Cramman on behalf of the Canada Border Services Agency. In fact, the corrections officials were following their own policy.