A group of inmates at Collins Bay Institution in Kingston, Ont., officially launched legal action against the federal government Tuesday over a temporary transfer of mentally ill inmates they say could jeopardize security.

The prisoners claim their constitutional rights are being violated and are seeking up to $1.5 million in damages.

As first reported by CBC News Network's Power & Politics last week, they are fighting the temporary transfer of about 70 inmates from the Regional Treatment Centre in the Kingston Penitentiary, which is closing down before a new unit is ready. Many of the inmates have severe mentally illnesses.

The temporary transfer also displaces prisoners at Collins Bay, and many of them will be moved to other regions, double-bunked or held in segregation cells.

The injunction and statement of claim for damages is based on overly restrictive confinement, unnecessary anxiety for mentally ill inmates and setbacks to treatment and programs.

"The respondent, his servants and agents, took the measures in question in full knowledge of their potential harm and for reasons that are unclear and that appear to have been politically motivated, demonstrating a wilful and callous disregard for the plaintiffs' rights and welfare," reads the statement of claim filed against the Attorney General of Canada.

"Accordingly, the plaintiffs seek exemplary and punitive damages for any harm caused to them or to the members of the proposed class by the acts or omissions of the respondent."

Seeking up to $1.5M in damages

The inmates say the move will threaten the security of inmates and correctional officers, and are seeking between $500,000 and $1.5 million in damages.

Up to 540 inmates could potentially be part of the class action, according to their lawyer Todd Sloan.

One of the inmates behind the action, Jarrod Shook of the Collins Bay Inmate Committee, called it a "recklessly ambitious plan."

But Jean-Christophe de Le Rue, spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, said the inmates will get the same standard of care.

"While the primary focus of government are the victims of crime, we can assure you that the offenders will continue to be incarcerated in the same level of security that they are now and that those who require medical or mental health treatment will continue to receive it," he told Power & Politics.