Pubdate: Tue, 25 Sep 2012
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2012 The Toronto Star
Author: Laura Kane


A former inmate and a group of HIV advocacy organizations are suing
the federal government for its ban on distributing sterile needles in

Steven Simons, incarcerated from 1998 to 2010 in Ontario's Warkworth
prison, says he contracted hepatitis C when he shared his drug
injection equipment with another inmate.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday names the Correctional Service of Canada and
its commissioner, the public safety minister and the attorney general
of Canada.

Simons and four organizations including the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal
Network argue the government is violating prisoners' charter rights by
failing to provide sterile needles and syringes.

"Already the rates of HIV and hepatitis are so high in prison and
people are sharing needles," said Sandra Ka Hon Chu, policy analyst at
the legal network.

"It's not hard to see how it would become a huge public health crisis
in the prison system."

The rate of HIV infection in prison is at least 10 times higher than
the general population, and the rate of hepatitis is at least 30 times
higher, she said.

The lawsuit seeks the creation of a needle exchange program in
Canada's prisons.

A CSC spokesperson said it requested research on needle exchange
programs from the Public Health Agency of Canada in 2006.

The agency found there is no data to prove the programs reduce the
risk of blood-borne diseases, said Veronique Rioux.

"In light of the PHAC report, CSC has not implemented a safe injection
pilot project and is not considering the introduction of prison-based
needle exchange programs," she said.

Rioux did not provide a copy of the report and the agency could not
locate it Tuesday.

However, a 2006 report released by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
reviewed needle exchange programs in six countries including Germany
and Switzerland and found they reduced needle-sharing and drug overdoses.

"The negative consequences people fear have not ensued," said Chu.
"They have not led to needles being used as weapons against staff or
increased drug use by prisoners."

The Canadian Medical Association and the Medical Association of
Ontario have both recommended the government implement a pilot needle
exchange program.

A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the
government has a "zero tolerance" policy for drugs in prisons.

"Drug use among prisoners dramatically reduces their chances of
successful rehabilitation," said Julie Carmichael in an email.

"Our government will never consider putting weapons, such as needles,
in the hands of potentially violent prisoners."

Chu said the government's omnibus crime bill passed in March will only
exacerbate the problem of prisoners injecting drugs behind bars. The
C-10 bill will incarcerate more people for non-violent drug offences.

The Prisoners with HIV/Aids Support Action Network, the Canadian AIDS
Information Exchange and the Canadian Aboriginal Aids Network are also
backing the lawsuit.
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