Clean needle access suit highlights troubling issues

A recently-launched lawsuit involving access to clean needles in prisons sheds light on the troubling issue of illegal security breaches, Toronto criminal lawyer Roots Gadhia says.

Court documents filed this week allege a lack of sterile needles violates inmates’ Charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person. The suit is being filed against Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, Corrections Canada Commissioner Don Head, Correctional Services of Canada and Attorney General Rob Nicolson, the Globe and Mail reports. Read Globe and Mail

Canadian cities have long had needle exchanges with the idea that it’s better for addicts to use clean equipment versus sharing syringes and passing along such blood-borne diseases as Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS, the Globe reports. Ottawa has argued that providing clean needles in federal prisons makes no sense given that injection drugs are forbidden.

“I’m troubled to hear that dirty needles are being passed around,” Gadhia says. “It tells me there is a security breach and that their use is not for regulated methadone patients but actual drug use.”

Gadhia says it’s not uncommon to hear stories of drugs being smuggled into prisons, a problem that speaks to a “corrections system that is far more broken than not.”

The impact on the healthcare system is also a concern, Gadhia says.

“The medical fallout is worrisome,” she says. “Eventually these people get out and the complications of being out in public with the possibility of HIV/AIDS and other diseases would make one think that at the very least they should ensure that if drugs are being passed around, then for the safety of the public at large, they should be giving out clean needles.”

The case has also highlighted the weight given to convicts’ rights. The right to health care includes a right to reduce the risk of injecting drugs, the suit argues.

“I think all individuals should be accorded the basic rights enshrined in the Charter,” Gadhia says.

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