Pubdate: Wed, 26 Sep 2012
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2012 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Bruce Cheadle
Page: A17


OTTAWA - A former prisoner infected with hepatitis C is suing the
federal government over its refusal to allow clean-needle exchanges
inside prisons.

Steven Simons, who served 12 years behind bars, has the backing of
several HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations in a suit that names Public
Safety Minister Vic Toews, the Correctional Service of Canada and its

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice,
argues the government has arbitrarily disregarded the health evidence
on needle exchanges in prisons.

"The absolute prohibition on sterile injection equipment is arbitrary,
over broad and grossly disproportionate to the legitimate objective of
curtailing the use of illicit drugs within the correctional system,"
says the 13-page application.

It says the policy disproportionately jeopardizes the liberty and
health of the disabled - in this case people suffering from drug addiction.

And it wants a court injunction forcing the creation of a needle
exchange program in Canada's prisons.

Toews and his officials dismissed the lawsuit, while stating they
could not comment on a specific case before the courts.

"Our government has a zero-tolerance policy for drugs in our
institutions," Toews told the House of Commons. "That is why we made a
commitment during the last election to develop drug free prisons. Drug
use among prisoners dramatically reduces their chances of successful

His spokeswoman, Julie Carmichael, had earlier said by email that "our
government will never consider putting weapons, such as needles, in
the hands of potentially violent prisoners."

The lawsuit makes the case that drugs remain prevalent in Canadian
prisons and that authorities have acknowledged they cannot completely
eliminate prisoner drug abuse.

Moreover, prisons in other jurisdictions have been providing clean
needles since 1992 and "the available evidence indicates that such
programs can operate consistently with interdiction against drug use
in prisons," it says.

The application says government policy ignores years of study and
experience and that the correctional service and Public Safety Canada
"have not provided any evidence on which they claim to base this
decision, simply asserting that it is their policy to approach the
problems posed by drugs in prisons with 'zero tolerance' for drugs."

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said the government policy follows the same
pattern as Insite, the safe injection site in Vancouver that the
Harper government tried to shut down. The Supreme Court of Canada -
citing Insite's health benefits - ruled last year that using drug laws
to close the facility would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"As the Supreme Court reminded us in the Insite case, we've got to
make these decisions based on evidence and not based on superstition,"
Mulcair said.
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