COVID-19 cases continue to rise at B.C. prisons as advocates call for inquest
The Mission Institution in Mission, B.C., is seen from the air in 2019. (Pete Cline / CTV News Vancouver)
VANCOUVER -- COVID-19 cases at prisons in B.C. continue to rise following the announcement on Thursday that one inmate had died after becoming ill with the virus.
Cases at Mission Institution, a medium-security federal prison near Mission, B.C., have risen to 70, up from the 65 reported yesterday by Dr. Bonnie Henry and the Union of Safety and Justice Employees. The inmate who died after contracting the illness had been incarcerated at that institution.
Sixty of the Mission Institution cases are inmates -- up from the 55 reported yesterday -- while nine are correctional officers and one is another staff member at the prison. Mission Institute continues to have the most cases in any federal prison in Canada.
One case has also been confirmed at Fraser Valley Institution for Women in Abbotsford, Henry said during her Saturday briefing on COVID-19 cases in the province.
On April 2, Henry said one inmate at Okanagan Correctional Centre had tested positive for the virus. On Saturday, she said there had been no new cases at that prison, but that "active support and investigation continues."
A coalition of rights groups, aboriginal organizations and prisoner advocates have called for a coroner's inquest into what they say was a preventable death at Mission Institution.
They are also calling for some prisoners to be released to reduce the number of people inside jails.
Joint Effort, a group that works with female prisoners in the Lower Mainland, said it was "gravely concerned that solitary confinement and lockdown are being relied on as purported health measures. With physical visitations being cancelled, family members and volunteer groups must be able to maintain contact through phones and online platforms."
Unions that represent prison guards and other staff at Mission Institute say prevention measures like enforcing physical distancing and supplying masks to employees and inmates happened much too late.
For instance, while it was known that an inmate possibly had COVID-19 as early as April 1, the prison didn't get an adequate supply of masks until April 8, according to the Union of Safety and Justice Employees.
There have also been outbreaks in prisons in Quebec and Ontario, with the second biggest outbreak in Quebec’s Joliette Institution, where 50 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Correctional Service of Canada.
In a statement sent to CTV News on Friday, the Correctional Service of Canada said it is continuing to operate its institutions in "a safe and secure way."
"We are attentive to the health of employees and are prepared to respond promptly to ensure the continued smooth operation of the facility. These are unprecedented circumstances during which we need to ensure public safety and maintain operational readiness while protecting the health and safety of staff and offenders," the service said.