Skip to main content
//empty //empty
Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you manage your health, your finances and your family life as Canada reopens.
Visit the hub

The Federal Court in Ottawa has agreed to hold an emergency hearing by video on Friday that could lead to the release of scores of federal prisoners who are deemed vulnerable to death from COVID-19 because of underlying health conditions.

The Canadian government had argued against the emergency hearing being held this week, saying the case, brought by a prisoner with several health issues, lacked urgency. However, it now says corrections authorities will decide on the request by the end of Thursday.

If the authorities free Derrick Snow, an inmate of Bath Institution, near Kingston, his lawyers believe it would be Canada’s first release of a medically vulnerable federal prisoner during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Story continues below advertisement

April 16: Join André Picard for a live Q&A

Tell Canada’s health-care workers how great they really are

Mr. Snow, 53, has cancer, diabetes, a lung condition and a blood clot on his leg. He has less than four months until his statutory release, at the two-thirds mark of his sentence, for break and enter and theft over $5,000. His lawyers say his decades-long record of more than 50 offences does not include any for violence. His sister, Crystal Pirie of London, Ont., has offered to let him live in an apartment beneath hers in a duplex she owns.

The court hearing could still go on even if he is released, one of his lawyers said, if the court believes the case is in the public interest, and the only way to put the issue before a judge.

“We may want to go ahead,” Paul Champ of Ottawa told The Globe and Mail, “because we want the court to confirm that this is a proper legal avenue to release prisoners on an urgent basis due to COVID. It shouldn’t take three weeks and a court battle to secure the release of the next medically vulnerable inmate who applies.”

He said the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) is not taking the pandemic seriously. “There is a real problem here when this is what it takes to compel the release of an inmate who is confined to a wheelchair, is a non-violent offender, is especially medically vulnerable to COVID-19, and is close to the end of his sentence anyway.”

About 700 of Canada’s roughly 14,000 federal prisoners are elderly or infirm, prisons Ombudsman Ivan Zinger has reported.

The government, in asking the Federal Court earlier this week to delay the hearing, argued that Mr. Snow’s case isn’t as urgent as he claimed, because Bath Institution, which is near Kingston, has no known cases, and because CSC has protocols to limit the spread of the pandemic within its walls.

“CSC’s full attention is focused on responding to the threat posed by COVID-19 to inmates, its staff and the public,” lawyers for the Attorney-General said in a filing with the Federal Court.

Story continues below advertisement

Charette Amick, a spokesperson for the CSC, said on Wednesday it would be inappropriate to comment on Mr. Snow’s case because it is before the courts. Mr. Champ said he believes the CSC hopes to avoid a court hearing that could set a legal precedent.

The federal government has been under fire from lawyers’ groups and human rights advocates for not expediting the release of inmates during the pandemic. Prisoners have been released in at least 38 countries, including the United States and Britain, according to an affidavit filed in Mr. Snow’s case. Several provinces, including Ontario and Nova Scotia, have released prisoners because of COVID-19.

A slight loosening of federal release policies came on Wednesday. The Parole Board of Canada (PBC) posted on its website that it will speed up some releases. For instance, “for offenders already in the community on day parole and who become eligible for full parole, the PBC is looking at efficiencies to expedite those decisions.” And those already on 15-day medical absences can have 30 days.

There are 91 inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19, according to statistics from corrections authorities, as of Wednesday. Of those, 41 are at the medium-security Mission Institution in British Columbia. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told the Senate last month that he has asked parole and corrections authorities for information on release options.

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

In the interests of public health and safety, our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access. However, The Globe depends on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe to globeandmail.com. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.

Your subscription helps The Globe and Mail provide readers with critical news at a critical time. Thank you for your continued support. We also hope you will share important coronavirus news articles with your friends and family. In the interest of public health and safety, all our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access.

Follow related topics

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
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

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

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