Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Correctional investigator Ivan Zinger takes part in a news conference in Ottawa, on Feb. 18, 2020.

The Canadian Press

Canada’s prison ombudsman is calling for alternatives to incarceration in a new report that shows the number of COVID-19 cases at federal facilities more than doubled in the pandemic’s second wave.

Correctional investigator Ivan Zinger says new cases climbed to 880 at more than a dozen prisons between early November and Feb. 1, compared to 361 cases at six institutions in the first wave.

About 70 per cent of second-wave cases occurred at two Prairie facilities – the Saskatchewan Penitentiary and Manitoba’s Stony Mountain Institution – leaving Indigenous inmates disproportionately affected, the report said.

Story continues below advertisement

The prisons are the two largest in the country and contain some of the system’s oldest infrastructure, with an evident connection between viral spread and large shared living areas, as well as poor ventilation.

Meanwhile, health restrictions behind bars have hampered correctional programs, which range from problem-solving to role-playing exercises. That in turn has delayed parole hearings and community release, since both can hinge on fulfilling program requirements, Zinger said.

Three-metre distancing rules, for example, have reduced class sizes from as many as 15 inmates to between three and five, resulting in slower program delivery and growing backlogs.

Lack of access to computers exacerbates the challenge.

“‘If offenders had access to technology, it would be much easier for them to be provided with assignments and assistance when teachers are unable to attend the site, or when there are restrictions on distributing materials for class,”' the report said, quoting a correctional officer.

Zinger called on the Correctional Service of Canada to prioritize early release of older inmates and those with underlying medical conditions, and to move program delivery out of prisons and into the community.

He also demanded the agency develop and make public a national vaccination strategy in the wake of more than 500 pandemic-related complaints from inmates.

Story continues below advertisement

More broadly, the ombudsman asked Public Safety Minister Bill Blair to consider closing aging, costly penitentiaries in favour of rehabilitation outside prison walls.

“Beyond the impacts of COVID-19, a more rigorous, humane and cost-effective community-based approach to corrections is long overdue,” the report said.

More than 3,800 cells sit empty across the country, equivalent to seven average-sized penitentiaries, Zinger noted.

The Correctional Service says it has vaccinated about 600 older and medically compromised offenders, and plans to begin inoculating the rest of its 12,500 inmates in the spring.

“Our COVID-19 approach is based on science and evidence, and has followed public health guidelines and advice every step of the way,” the agency said in a statement responding to Zinger’s report Tuesday.

“While there is always more work to do, CSC has adapted and learned a great deal about the challenges of preventing and containing the COVID-19 virus over the past 11 months. We will continue to make everyone’s safety our top priority as we work to fulfill our mandate during this challenging time.”

Story continues below advertisement

Advocates warned about the risks of a rising case count in November. The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies highlighted a lack of access to adequate health care, with executive director Emilie Coyle calling conditions at some institutions “atrocious.”

Four federal inmates have died from COVID-19 – two in the first wave and two in the second – according to the correctional investigator.

Last March, Blair asked the federal prison service and the parole board to consider releasing some inmates early to lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The federal prison population fell by only two per cent to about 13,700 between March and April, while the number of Canadians incarcerated at provincial and territorial institutions dropped by 25 per cent to roughly 18,200 between February and April, according to Statistics Canada.

Nearly one-quarter of inmates in federal custody are serving life sentences and ineligible for parole, Blair said in the spring.

But many federal prisoners have been ensnared in a catch-22 that has hindered their release, advocates say.

Story continues below advertisement

“What ended up happening was they shut everything down and nobody had access to programs, and the conditions of parole or release are usually that they’ve completed their programs within the institution,” Coyle said last year.

Zinger credited the Correctional Service with continuing to develop its pandemic response, deploying PCR tests starting in November and allowing virtual visits.

Active cases are now down to about a dozen, suggesting the worst of the second wave has ebbed, he said.

Nonetheless, correctional programs continue to run at half capacity, and access to libraries and legal resources is sharply curtailed, he said.

“With fewer and shorter sessions and more time in between programs, an inmate’s ability to make meaningful and measurable progress on their correctional plan is severely compromised.”

He also highlighted “extreme” controls such as “near-total cellular isolation, fresh-air exercise once every two or three days, 20 minutes of out-of-cell time every other day to shower or use the telephone.”

Story continues below advertisement

“Through no fault of their own, inmate access to programs is shaping up to become an emergent human rights concern in Canadian corrections.”

The large number of COVID-19 infections in some places makes it more likely for new variants of the virus to emerge. Science Reporter Ivan Semeniuk explains how vaccines may not be as effective against these new strains, making it a race to control and track the spread of variants before they become a dangerous new outbreak. The Globe and Mail

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies