B.C. rights groups demand action following inmate's death related to COVID-19

The Mission Correctional Institution in Mission, B.C. is pictured Tuesday, April 14, 2020. COVID-19 has infected several of the inmates and correctional officers at the facility.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

VANCOUVER - A coalition of rights groups in British Columbia is calling for the immediate release of as many inmates as possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19 after the death of an inmate this week at the Mission Institution.

An outbreak at the medium-security facility is the largest among federal prisoners in Canada, with 55 inmates testing positive so far.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs are also calling for an immediate coroner's inquest into what the groups say was the inmate's preventable death.

The Correctional Service of Canada said in a statement Thursday that it was the first death of a federal inmate from apparent complications related to the novel coronavirus.

Joint Effort, a prison abolitionist group that works with incarcerated women at federal and provincial prisons in Abbotsford and Maple Ridge, B.C., says flattening the curve of the disease must include correctional facilities.

In a statement, the groups say inmates need full access to health care, harm reduction supplies and hygiene necessities, and governments must ensure every prisoner who is released can access income assistance and other supports.

"The passivity of the government of Canada as COVID-19 spreads through federal prison populations has been an alarming display of inhumanity, and one with lethal consequences," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, noting that a third of inmates in federal custody are Indigenous.

In Quebec, 87 federal inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 in outbreaks in three prisons, while nine inmates have been diagnosed at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Ontario.

The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers said Friday that 65 of its members have tested positive for the virus at Canadian prisons.

Fifty-five of the cases were reported at four Quebec Institutions, while 10 officers tested positive at two B.C. prisons.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2020.

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