BC First Nations Justice Council – First Nations leadership across BC is united in calling for immediate action to protect incarcerated peoples amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 outbreak at the Mission Institution is now the third largest outbreak in the Province of BC, with the first inmate tragically passing away on April 15, 2020. Senior health and corrections officials have verified that almost 40% of the confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Mission Institution are among Indigenous inmates despite Indigenous people making up just 5% of the population in BC.
Doug White, Chairperson of the BC First Nations Justice Council calls the situation an urgent crisis and a ‘ticking time bomb.’ “Indigenous people are vastly over-represented in prisons and carry more than our share of the burden of health issues and chronic disease. These men were sentenced to a term of years, not to death. The duty of care that is upon the Institution in the midst of this crisis requires immediate and comprehensive action to avoid further tragedy. This situation requires extra-ordinary efforts and collaboration.”
The BC First Nations Justice Council, BC Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN), the Union of BC Indian Chief (UBCIC), and the First Nations Summit (FNS) call on the Government of Canada and the Province of BC to urgently implement the following safety measures:
- Immediately test all inmates and staff at the Mission Institution;
- Increase safety and screening measures for workers entering and exiting the facility;
- Enhance medical surge capacity onsite via mobile medical units to effectively treat emerging cases;
- Enact isolation protocols which ensure that inmates who test positive are isolated in health facilities with regular monitoring and as much comfort as any other individual, along with meaningful human contact compliant with social distancing;
- Increase access to counselling and mental health resources in every federal facility in order to mitigate the psychological and emotional consequences of isolation measures and reduced social contact;
- Develop release plans for as many people as possible, prioritizing those with pre-existing health conditions who are at increased risk due to COVID-19, and immediately release anyone classified low risk with a home in community where they will be able to self- isolation;
- Include among release criteria a plan for secure housing, financial aid, and community safety, and provide support in meeting these criteria; and
- Test and isolate all individuals for 14 days before re-entering community.