Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Brad Vis. File Photo.

Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Brad Vis. File Photo.

Federal handling of COVID-19 outbreak at Mission Institution criticized by MPs, advocates

MPs joint statement takes aim at Correctional Service Canada, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair

Sharp words have been directed at the federal government over Mission Institution’s COVID-19 outbreak by local MPs, Indigenous leaders and civil rights groups.

An inmate died at Abbotsford Regional Hospital from complications from COVID-19 on Wednesday, April 15. Since the first case was announced less than two weeks ago, eight correctional officers have been infected along with other 54 inmates. It’s the worst outbreak at any prison in Canada.

The MPs of Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon and Abbotsford released a joint statement criticizing Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

“Proactive communication to our community from CSC has been and continues to be absent,” reads the statement from Mission’s Brad Vis and Abbotsford’s Ed Fast. “The public is understandably concerned about measures being taken to arrest the spread of the virus within the prison population, amongst frontline correctional officers, and in the wider community.”

The MPs took aim at Bill Blair, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and his “wholly insufficient” comments about the situation on Thursday, April 16.

“It is incumbent upon our federal institutions to keep the public informed,” the statement says. “The public is currently unaware of what measures have been taken to protect inmates, correctional officers and the general public. This is largely due to the failure of his Ministry to communicate those measures and to assure the community that every necessary step is being taken to uphold public safety.”

Their statement offers condolences to the victim and the family of the inmate.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, said the government’s reaction to the infection of their prison population has been far to slow, which is concerning considering almost one-third of federal inmates are Indigenous.

“The passivity of the Government of Canada as COVID-19 spreads through federal prison populations has been an alarming display of inhumanity, and one with lethal consequences,” Phillip said. “We demand an immediate and proactive response from Canada to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the federal prison system.”

Joint Effort, a community group which works with women prisoners in the Lower Mainland, has been lobbying government officials to release non-violent offenders and people awaiting trial. The group says the health protocols currently being used are inhumane.

“We warned them that their inaction would led to an exponential growth in COVID-19 infections endangering the most vulnerable, especially prisoners who are over fifty years old, pregnant, immunocompromised, sick or have pre-existing conditions that make them high risk for dying from COVID-19,” a statement from the group.

“With physical visitations being cancelled, family members and volunteer groups must be able to maintain contact through phones and online platforms.”

Mission’s Mayor, Pam Alexis, has also stated her worry over the situation at the medium security prison.

“The news of cases of COVID-19 at Mission Medium Institution is deeply concerning,” she said. “This is not only a serious public health issue for the inmates on lockdown and the staff working there, but is a great concern for the staff who are residents of Mission and have families at home and go about their lives within the community.”

A corrections officer working at the prison, who spoke with Black Press Media on April 4 before the outbreak’s confirmation, said that a total of 15 officers had to self-isolate due the outbreak, and that much of prison-life was carrying on as normal before then.

RELATED: Two inmates found positive for COVID-19 at Mission Institution; two other tests pending

In all, 70 Mission inmates have been tested. Ten tests came back negative and six tests are still pending. A lockdown is currently in place as a precautionary measure.

The 54 positive tests are more than a third of the 145 total cases in federal prisons across Canada. Quebec’s Joliette Institution has 48 positive cases.

– with files from Kevin Mills

abbotsfordCoronavirusMission

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Statue of Lady Justice at B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Surrey man found guilty in 2018 murder of his wife

Rizig Bona’s next court date is today

(file photo)
LETTER: Handgun ban would only hurt lawful gun owners

Reader says this will penalize lawful gun owners

Live Well Exercise Clinic CEO Sara Hodson and Trevor Linden’s Club 16 partner Carl Ulmer are pushing for gym memberships and services to become tax deductible. (Contributed photo)
Semiahmoo Peninsula fitness pros leading charge on tax-deductible gym memberships

Live Well Exercise Clinic CEO Sara Hodson pitched idea to deputy prime minister

(Photo: Now-Leader).
Surrey Schools seeking community input for 2021-22 budget

Majority of it is pre-allocated, but room to address priorities in the community

An example of a Surrey Police cruiser, showcased at Mayor Doug McCallum’s State of the City Address at Civic Hotel in May of 2019. (File photo: Amy Reid)
Surrey Police Service hires first three inspectors as ‘next layer of leadership’

Three men have more than 80 years of combined experience

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled Feb. 26 that the estate of deceased Sooke man and Hells Angels prospect Michael Widner is to be divided between his wife and his secret spouse. (Black Press Media file photo)
Estate of dead B.C. Hells Angels prospect to be divided between wife, secret spouse

Michael Widner’s 2017 death left a number of unanswered questions

This Dec. 2, 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of its Janssen subsidiary’s COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Johnson & Johnson via AP
Canada approves Johnson & Johnson’s 1-shot COVID-19 vaccine

It is the 4th vaccine approved in Canada and the 1st that requires just a single dose

The centre and left lanes just west of the Brunette Exit were blocked westbound on the Trans Canada Highway the morning of Friday, March, 5, 2021. (Drive BC)
UPDATE: Vehicle incident westbound Highway 1 in Coquitlam cleared

Earlier the centre and left lanes were blocked in the area

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Most Read