Prison syringe ban: HIV advocates file suit against federal government
September 25, 2012 - A former inmate and a group of HIV advocacy organizations are suing the federal
government for its ban on distributing sterile needles in prisons.
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 is understood the AIDS Committee of Toronto will concentrate on smaller and more frequent fundraising events in the
future, instead of one big glitzy affair.
"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 Véronique 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.
Source: Toronto Star
"Reproduced with permission - Torstar Syndication Services"
For more HIV and AIDS News visit...
Positively Positive - Living with HIV/AIDS: