Rights groups say Montreal inmate's COVID-19 death highlights need for action

Rights groups and families of detainees are calling for concrete action from the Quebec government after an inmate died of COVID-19 in a Montreal detention centre this week.

The 72-year-old detainee died on Tuesday at the Bordeaux provincial jail in the north end of the city, the groups said.

Ted Rutland, a member of the Anti-Carceral Group, a Montreal-based prisoners' rights organization, said Quebec should release more prisoners to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading inside cramped facilities where social distancing is difficult.

Vulnerable detainees, such as the elderly and those with health conditions and detainees who are approaching the end of their sentences or who have not been convicted of a crime should be prioritized, Rutland said.

He said the inmate who died was awaiting trial for drug trafficking.

"Quebec should be doing the most on this front, because Quebec is the worst affected by COVID, and Quebec's prisons are the worst affected by COVID," he said.

Questioned Wednesday about the death, Quebec Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault said measures to stem the spread of COVID-19 inside provincial jails are in place.

"Of course, we cannot avoid all cases because those are 1/8close living quarters 3/8," Guilbault told reporters.

The Public Security Department said in an email that 60 inmates at Bordeaux are currently infected with COVID-19. Spokeswoman Marie-Josee Montminy said the identify of the inmate who died could not be disclosed due to privacy concerns.

Montminy said Guilbault issued an order on May 6 to allow vulnerable prisoners and those who had less than 30 days left on their sentence to be released.

But Jean-Louis Nguyen, whose partner is currently detained at Bordeaux, said few prisoners meet the current criteria for release.

He said Quebec needs to do more to ensure detainees who remain inside the prison have access to adequate health care.

His partner as well as other families also have complained that COVID-19 tests are not being administered to enough prisoners, Nguyen said.

While his partner tested negative for COVID-19 this month, Nguyen said he has a chronic health condition and problems with his bladder that could still put him at risk.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2020.

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