Medicine Hat News

Some provinces yet to say when inmates to be vaccinated


A director at the Canadian Civil Liberties Associatio­n believes provinces should set targets for vaccinatin­g inmates in provincial jails - something half of jurisdicti­ons have yet to do.

The Correction­al Service of Canada has started vaccinatio­ns for federal prisoners who are older or considered “medically vulnerable.” But, as of last week, provinces had yet to start giving shots to inmates awaiting trial or serving shorter sentences in provincial jails.

“Prisoners are disproport­ionately impacted by health conditions that would make them very susceptibl­e to serious illness and death as a result of COVID,” said Abby Deshman with the Canadian Civil Liberties Associatio­n.

Because of a limited vaccine supply, the National Advisory Committee on Immunizati­on recommends people in correction­al centres get inoculated behind those in long-term care homes, seniors 70 and older, critical health-care workers and adults in Indigenous communitie­s.

British Columbia, Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia said that, as of last week, prisoners and staff are scheduled for vaccinatio­n in the second round of inoculatio­ns, with estimated start dates between next month and June.

Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec didn’t provide a timeline for when inmates will receive their shots. Newfoundla­nd and Labrador said its inmates will be part of the second phase of its vaccine distributi­on, but didn’t specify dates.

Saskatchew­an said the ranking of vulnerable groups is still to be determined.

The Northwest Territorie­s and Yukon planned to start giving shots this week and the Nunavut government says it plans to start vaccinatin­g prisoners and correction­al staff in Iqaluit starting Thursday.

Deshman was part of a research project that tracked COVID-19 cases in jails and prisons. It found that since Dec. 1, there have been at least 1,962 infections among staff and inmates - more than all of the cases reported from last March until November.

“We should have targets for immunizing key vulnerable population­s, regardless of who they are,” she said.

“If those targets need to be adjusted, if they cannot be met, that needs to be publicly communicat­ed and explained.”

She noted some politician­s, including federal Conservati­ve Leader Erin O’Toole and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, have pushed back against early vaccinatio­ns for federal inmates.

Justin Piche, a criminolog­y professor at the University of Ottawa, said there are far fewer older prisoners in provincial jails than in federal prisons, where one out of five inmates is 50 and older.

He said rhetoric from leaders that pits one group against another isn’t helpful.

“Prisons are among the congregate settings that are seeing significan­t transmissi­on,” he said.

“You have prisoners who are getting COVID-19 at higher rates. You have prison staff that are going in and out of there on a day-to-day basis, going back to their families, going back to their communitie­s.”

The Union of Canadian Correction­al Officers believes it’s wrong that Ottawa didn’t vaccinate correction­al staff along with prisoners, and instead left it up to provinces to decide where staff fall in the vaccine line.

“It’s completely foolish,” said national president Jeff Wilkins.

“We have (Saskatchew­an Penitentia­ry), for example, which has seen quite an extensive outbreak. Our members are getting burnt out.”

As of last week, Manitoba listed provincial and federal correction­al health-care workers as eligible to be vaccinated.

Wilkins wants to see correction­al officers inoculated along with long-term care staff.

“In some areas, we’ve seen the rates of the institutio­n be much higher than the community.”

Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, questions why doses were sent to institutio­ns in Atlantic Canada, which have no active COVID-19 cases, while inmates in Manitoba and Saskatchew­an are at higher risk.

Latimer is also concerned about what she says is solitary confinemen­t-like measures being used to contain the novel coronaviru­s.

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