Superior Court rejects injunction to force Leclerc women's jail to improve conditions

Superior Court Justice Paul Mayer says the courts aren't the best place to address the issue of what two inmates say are decrepit living conditions at the women-only provincial jail in Laval — but orders Quebec's correctional services to heat the building properly.

Judge says courts aren't best venue to address living conditions, but issues order to heat building properly

Quebec's correctional services agency has admitted there are problems at Leclerc but said improvements are being made. (Radio-Canada)

Quebec Superior Court Justice Paul Mayer has refused to grant a temporary injunction to force the Leclerc Institution, a women-only provincial jail in Laval, to improve the conditions of detention for two inmates. 

Detainees have complained for years about what they describe as decrepit and deteriorating conditions at Leclerc, and today, lawyer Mélanie Martel  filed an injunction request at the Saint-Jérôme courthouse on behalf of two inmates to force the institution to make improvements.

Mayer said the courts are not the best place to address such issues. But despite refusing to issue the temporary injunction, he got Quebec's correctional services agency to commit to heating the building properly.

Martel said simply getting that commitment is a step forward.

She said in his ruling, the judge has given her clients a chance to obtain a permanent injunction more quickly, by waiving the requirement that they seek an interlocutory injunction.

"What is happening is worrisome," Martel said. "The judge acknowledged the gravity of the situation." 

The two inmates, one of whom is a 71-year-old with mobility problems, reported a multitude of problems, including poor water quality, difficult access to showers, heating problems and general uncleanliness.

"The plaintiffs have a veritable interest in halting the unusual treatments and inhumane detention conditions," the injunction request reads. 

The inmates also denounced strip searches, which reportedly are conducted in front of other detainees. They say staff have behaved inappropriately during the searches.

One inmate, Louise Henry, who was incarcerated from December 2017 until last May, said the conditions were horrible. 

The number of times inmates were strip-searched was especially significant, Henry said. 

"I found that very abusive and degrading," she said. "You can tell they're used to a clientele that is much more criminalized." 

Leclerc used to be a high-security federal penitentiary, until it was rented to the Quebec government in 2014. 

Improvements on the way: correctional services

Quebec's correctional services agency has admitted there are problems at Leclerc but said improvements are being made.

The agency, too, said complaints should be made to correctional services, within Quebec's Public Security Ministry, rather than brought before the courts.

The ministry said it would examine the file closely, but declined to comment for now. 

A coalition of activist groups, including the Ligue des droits et libertés and the Fédération des femmes du Québec, has spoken out about the institution's unsafe architecture, which it says is unsuitable to women's needs.

The coalition also criticized the small size of the cells, lack of access to rehabilitation programs and the lack of quality health care.

Lawyer Mélanie Martel said despite the refusal, the judge's decision to order correctional services to commit to heating the building according to norms and respect the law is a step forward. (Radio-Canada)

Under the previous Liberal government, the former public security minister, Martin Coiteux, set up a committee to examine the situation at Leclerc and issues relating to the incarceration of women.

The committee's lack of transparency was criticized by the coalition's spokesperson and UQAM legal sciences professor Lucie Lemonde in September.

Lemonde told Radio-Canada one of the main issues at the prison, when it comes to fundamental rights, are the strip-searches. 

"We aren't just hearing this from one source. There are many," Lemonde said. 

With files from Radio-Canada's Jacques Bissonnet