Access to Prison Needle Exchange Programs

In 2012, this important Constitutional challenge was filed by Applicants Steven Simons, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal NetworkPrisoners with HIV/AIDS Support Action NetworkCanadian Aboriginal Aids Network, and Catie. The case was adjourned in September 2018 after the Attorney General of Canada attempted to have it dismissed. In December 2019, our counsel Dan Sheppard (of Goldblatt Partners LLP), will explain to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice how a refusal to permit effective access to prison needle exchange programs will disproportionately and unconstitutionally harm individuals along lines of sex, race, and “disability”—in particular, women, Indigenous people, and people who use drugs.

There is abundant evidence demonstrating the efficacy of prison needle exchange programs, which minimize the need to re-use, share, or create makeshift syringes and in turn help prevent the spread of bloodborne infections. A refusal to ensure their effective implementation is entirely at odds with the public health approach to drug use that our federal government has publicly touted since 2016, not to mention Canada’s international human rights obligations, which put a duty on government to protect the health of all prisoners—in part through providing essential healthcare. The fact that the Liberal government has already implemented prison needle exchange programs in two federal institutions suggests that this case and the efforts of advocates involved in it are succeeding. But it is not enough. The roll out of services is too slow and we share the Applicants’ grave concerns about the effectiveness and adequacy of these particular programs. Learn more about the case here: www.prisonhealthnow.ca/

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