Sask. judge releases 69-year-old from jail over fears of COVID-19

Health concerns around COVID-19 have prompted a Court of Appeal judge to release a 69-year-old awaiting a hearing.

John Shingoose appealing conviction of drunk driving causing bodily harm

Health concerns around COVID-19 have prompted a Court of Appeal judge to release a 69-year-old awaiting a hearing. (Law Courts of Saskatchewan)

A Saskatchewan judge says concerns over the spread of COVID-19 means jail is no place for 69-year-old John Shingoose.

The Yorkton-area man began serving a 15-month sentence in February for drunk driving and causing bodily harm.

Shingoose appealed and, as part of that action, requested interim release because of the pandemic virus.
In a written decision, the Court of Appeal judge agreed.

"In Mr. Shingoose's case, I find on the basis of the evidence placed before me that he is particularly vulnerable to the risks posed by COVID-19 in the prison facility. He is 69 years old. He is diabetic and his condition appears to have worsened in custody," wrote Justice Georgina Jackson in he April 14 decision.

"The evidence presented to me with respect to what is transpiring in the correctional facility does not specify any special care that is being taken in relation to Mr. Shingoose."

 Arguments in the judgment show how the courts and criminal justice systems are wrestling with the practical concerns around COVID-19 in jails.

The prosecutor said significant steps have been taken in all jails to encourage social distancing and keep the jails clean.
Further, the jails are not as overcrowded as in the past.

Jackson did not dispute that steps have been taken.

"I do not agree that the Ministry reports presented to me eliminate all concerns in relation to COVID-19 as it could conceivably affect the public interest as regards Mr. Shingoose," Jackson wrote.

"I say this because nothing in these reports is directed to the specific issues that Mr. Shingoose presents. They are directed, and rightly so, to the protection of the inmate population as a whole."

The case highlights the conundrum faced by the courts, she said.

It is crucial for Shingoose to minimize contact with others in order to avoid a serious illness and to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but it is impossible for him to self-isolate in custody, the decision said.


Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.