In a decision handed down last week, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice dismissed the application of inmates’ rights groups that were asking that inmates receive unlimited and anonymous access to needles to inject themselves with illicit substances.
This decision reaffirmed our argument that officer safety and institutional security should remain on the forefront of any policy or practice within a correctional environment. While emphasizing the importance of contraband detection and seizure, the judge highlights the obligations of the CSC to provide a hazard-free workplace. He further acknowledged that though he had no evidence that needles had been used as weapons against staff members, the potential for inmates to fashion weapons out of any sharp object, including needles, is a danger that exists. Essentially the applicants wanted the judge to rule on two issues. First, that inmates have a constitutional right to be provided with “safe” equipment to inject drugs. Second, that the current PNEP violates the privacy rights of the inmate population and therefore violates constitutional rights.
Simply put, the judge dismissed the first issue, as there was evidence that steps had been taken to address harm reduction with PNEP and also dismissed the second issue, stating that he had no evidence that the security measures put in place had a discriminatory effect on an inmate choosing to participate in the program. Of importance, however, the judge did signal that had the CSC not initiated any program, the applicants would have been in a better position to argue violations to the Charter, but he ultimately ruled their arguments were premature.
This being said, the judge clearly indicates in his decision that there was no preferred method of harm reduction. In this context, UCCO-SACC-CSN will continue to pressure the CSC to implement Overdose Prevention Sites, instead of the current PNEP. OPS sites will meet the requirements under the law without putting UCCO-SACC-CSN members at risk. As long as CSC puts money before the safety of its front-line staff, it will find UCCO-SACC-CSN standing in its way.