Beginning in the next few weeks, all in-coming mail sent to inmates at all Nova Scotia jails, including photographs, will be photocopied by staff, logged and scanned on a computer.
Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey confirmed the directive went out this past summer and is now being rolled out in all provincial correctional facilities.
Inmates receive the photocopy version of their mail, while the original is stored in their personal file and handed over to them upon release, according to a justice department spokesperson.
The move was prompted by drug-laced mail coming into correctional facilities across Canada. In one case in Alberta, for instance, Christmas cards were soaked in liquid methamphetamine and sent to inmates.
Furey said the aim of the directive is to provide more safety to both staff and inmates. The department would not provide CBC with a copy of the directive.
"The correctional community is continuously communicating with one another to provide those levels of security and safety in the facilities right across the country," Furey said. "These were initiatives taken based on those discussions."
Last August, inmates at the Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Pictou County did not receive mail for four days because guards suspected a piece of mail delivered to it contained a drug.
Inmates at the jail were told about the photocopying directive last week.
Amherst defence lawyer Jim O'Neil was not aware of the new jail policy until contacted by CBC, and said he does not think notification has gone out to people involved in the system. Drugs in mail cannot be the only reason why photocopying is now required, he said.
"Almost all of the institutions have very sensitive equipment, they can test for the presence of drugs, so that can't be the reason," he said.
"And secondly, even if it was, photocopying material doesn't make sense because if there's drug-laced mail, that mail would be seized. So to photocopy all mail, that doesn't make sense either."
O'Neil said he was concerned about whether the photocopying extends to privileged communications between accused people awaiting trial and their lawyers.
Justice spokesperson Sarah Gillis said in an email that correspondence between inmates and their lawyers will not be photocopied.
Impact on families
Given there are already procedures in place to monitor inmate mail that's suspected of containing drugs, O'Neil predicts the broad photocopying directive will lead to a charter challenge at some point.
"It's important to understand that inmates, even those that are convicted of a particular crime, their punishment is to be separated from society, but they're not stripped of all of their rights," O'Neil said. "Their rights are diminished, but they still have some rights."
The new directive, O'Neil said, will also have an impact on the families of inmates.
"It means that suddenly people aren't going to want to be open in their communications, so that letters from family are going to have to be carefully worded," he said.
"There may be private family matters that they don't want to share with the people that read the mail at the facility. So definitely, it's going to have a dampening effect if it's allowed to occur this way."