A second inmate in a Canadian federal prison has died of COVID-19

A second inmate in a Canadian federal prison has died of COVID-19, Correctional Services Canada announced Tuesday.

The deceased inmate was at the Federal Training Centre in Laval, just north of Montreal, and died this Sunday, May 3, according to a release from the agency.

The agency provided no personal information for privacy reasons, including releasing the prisoner’s gender, but the Federal Training Centre is a men’s facility. Most of it is minimum security and it has a capacity of 400 inmates, according to federal prison listings.

Correctional Services has notified the coroner, who will review the circumstances of the man’s death, said the release.

“The inmate's next of kin have been notified of their death,” the agency added. It “extends its condolences to the family.”

By the latest federal count, the Federal Training Centre had by far the worst COVID-19 outbreak among Quebec’s federal prisons, with 96 positive tests and 63 active cases out of a total of 172 tests that have been done there. Only 15 results have been negative, with the results of 61 tests still pending.

The Joliette women’s prison, by comparison, has the second-worst outbreak, with 52 positive cases but only two active cases.

The Mission prison in the Fraser Valley in B.C. is home to the country’s other most serious prison outbreak. An inmate at that facility was the first federal detainee in Canada to die of COVID, on April 15.

The Mission facility, though it has a higher total number of cases, has a lower proportion of positive tests than the Laval prison. A bigger group of nearly 300 people have been tested so far at the B.C. site, 119 of whom were positive. More than half were found to be negative.

The outbreak in Laval was first announced on April 17, in a Correctional Services release. As a precaution, solitary confinement was imposed—all meals were delivered straight to the inmates’ cells, new cleaning and disinfection protocols were introduced, medical examinations increased, and employee screen stepped up. Visits to prisons had already been suspended.

The Parole Board of Canada has been reshuffling which cases get priority in an effort to review the most vulnerable prisoners first, said a spokeswoman, and this calculation can include looking at which facilities have been hit hard by COVID.

“For offenders who are terminally ill or whose physical or mental health is likely to suffer damage [if they contract COVID-19], we will try to do those cases as expeditiously as possible,” said Geneviève Ricard of the parole board’s Quebec office.

If the board gets information about specific outbreaks, “it could be, for example, one thing that we will consider,” she said, “but we need to work closely with CSC [Correctional Services Canada]” to stay informed.

The board also isn’t skipping any legal steps, Ricard said. Even prisoners in a minimum-security facility may require a risk assessment by a psychologist and other reviews.

Even so, certain cases can be sped up to the point that they take only a couple of days from the referral time, she said.

“We do not necessarily have an increasing…number of cases that we render a decision [for] each day, but yes, we are really aware of the emergency of certain cases and then we will proceed sooner for them,” she said.

Catherine Latimer, the director of the John Howard Society, which advocates for prisoners’ rights, said she was “very sorry” to hear of the man’s death, and that she’d like to see the federal government move more dramatically to protect inmates from the virus.

In recent days, “the contagion in that prison looked bad and getting worse,” she said. “I understood that some older, medically vulnerable prisoners were confined there and was worried about a bad outcome.”

The John Howard Society has been asking Ottawa to “move the medically vulnerable prisoners out of harm's was and to safely place some prisoners on house arrest in the community to allow social distancing,” she said, “but the government has yet to act.”

The death at the Mission facility in B.C. sparked a lobbying effort by a coalition of 38 organizations to get an "immediate inquest" into the man's death.

"The public needs to know what happened at Mission Institution and how the incarcerated person who died was treated,” the groups wrote in a letter to B.C. authorities.

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