Lawyer Ian McTavish (Contributed)

B.C. lawyer describes inmate’s positive COVID-19 test as ‘a huge problem’

Virus in the confined space of Okanagan Correctional Centre may be difficult to contain

A Salmon Arm lawyer views an inmate testing positive for COVID-19 at Okanagan Correctional Centre in Oliver as “a huge problem.”

Prior to pandemic warnings, defence lawyer Ian McTavish would go to OCC once a month to see clients. He emphasizes he is not an expert in the virus nor is he an expert in prison management. However, he sees controlling the spread of the virus in the corrections centre as a tough task.

“That’s the worry, they’re human beings and they’re kept in close proximity to each other so it’s a huge problem.”

He can see the virus potentially “spreading like wildfire.”

He estimates there are 30 people, maybe more, on a unit, and they all hang out together. He thinks each cell is double-bunked.

According to the company that built the facility, the prison is approximately 29,000 square metres in total area, with 11 living units and 378 cells.

Read more: Two inmates at prison housing Robert Pickton test positive for COVID-19.

Read more: Should non-violent offenders be released from prison to avoid COVID-19 spread?

McTavish said he’s sure the prison will be locked down. Many of the people detained there have not had a trial so have not been proven guilty, but they’ll be locked down, unable to be with other inmates.

“That’s going to be tough. Very tough on the staff too, I can’t even imagine it… I don’t envy anybody having to deal with all of this…”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said April 2 that measures have been in place at correctional facilities for weeks, including restricting visitors, doing health checks and ensuring rapid access to testing should people become ill because of the communal setting. New people entering such facilities are also being isolated for 14 days.

The person who became ill at OCC was isolated and the people who were in his pod are being monitored. She said closed environments such as the corrections centre are challenging but Interior Health and the Provincial Health Services Authority are working on it.

McTavish noted the pandemic has already been a big strain on the justice system, with the courts shut down. He said Supreme and Provincial Court cases that were supposed to be seen in March are being adjourned to June.

“Everything’s backlogged. It’s going to be backlogged for months afterwards. It’s not really in the public interest, but there’s no alternative to it.”

– with files from Kelowna Capital News



marthawickett@saobserver.net

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