Prisoners' rights advocates rally at OCDC, call for inmates' release
Hundreds of COVID-19 cases linked to prisons and jails, says group
Prisoners' rights advocates taped cardboard signs with messages like "COVID-19 kills" and "Release Saves Lives" to their vehicles and honked their horns Sunday during a drive-by protest outside the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre.
Similar protests calling for the release of inmates during the pandemic were held in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
- Canada's prison watchdog calls out federal corrections for 'extreme' confinement as COVID-19 cases surge
There are now 454 confirmed COVID-19 cases linked to federal prisons and provincial jails, according to the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project.
The group is calling for the release of prisoners to keep them from contracting COVID-19, which has killed more than 2,500 people across Canada, including one inmate in British Columbia.
"We're pressing governments to release as many people as possible," said Justin Piché, a University of Ottawa criminology professor and member of the project.
He said a task force should be created to determine who is suitable for release.
"We can't assume just because someone has committed a violent action in their life that they are permanently violent or irredeemable and therefore disposable," he said.
Piché said there are 244 prisoners under the care of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) and 105 CSC employees who have tested positive, as well as one employee with the Canada Border Services Agency and two prison contractors.
Piché said Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair should prioritize releasing 700 "elderly and infirm" inmates.
Only one federal inmate, however, has been granted early release due to COVID-19 so far.
Derrick Snow, 53, was supposed to be released in late July, but was granted a temporary absence by a warden at Ontario's Bath Institution. Snow, who was convicted of breaking and entering and theft, has diabetes, pulmonary disease, and was recently diagnosed with cancer.
Snow's case could open the door for other vulnerable prisoners to be released, said his lawyer, Paul Champ.
Champ said he's representing nine inmates — seven women and two men — who are "medically vulnerable to death from COVID-19."
More from noise action at Alouette Correctional Centre for Women. Wrapped with calls to <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/FreeThemAll?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#FreeThemAll</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/freethemall4publichealth?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#freethemall4publichealth</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/freethemallcaravan?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#freethemallcaravan</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID%E3%83%BC19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#COVIDー19</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#COVID19</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/coronavirus?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#coronavirus</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/bcpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#bcpoli</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/cdnpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#cdnpoli</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Copaganda?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Copaganda</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/pjdvancouver?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@pjdvancouver</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/SolidariteMTL?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@SolidariteMTL</a> <a href="https://t.co/Hh3YGQnYLd">pic.twitter.com/Hh3YGQnYLd</a>—@critcrim
Fewer cases in provincial jails
Piché said there are currently 280 inmates at the Ottawa jail, less than half its pre-pandemic capacity, and there are no COVID-19 cases there he's aware of.
He credited the province for securing bail quickly for people awaiting trial and allowing low-risk offenders to serve their time in the community.
Provincial and territorial jails house more than three times the number of inmates as federal institutions, Piché said, but have less than a quarter of the confirmed coronavirus cases.
Seventy-four inmates have tested positive in jails, along with 28 employees, according to his group's numbers.