Kudos for university-based prison law clinic | John L. Hill

By John L. Hill

Law360 Canada (February 23, 2023, 9:04 AM EST) --
John Hill
John L. Hill
One of the most overlooked aspects of Legal Aid Ontario’s funding program is the magnificent work being done in specialized clinics throughout the province. These clinics assist various minority groups who frequently find themselves bumping into sharp legal impediments in society. Frequently disadvantaged group members are unable to hire legal assistance due to poverty or language and cultural barriers.

One of the most successful of these clinics is the Queen’s University Prison Law Clinic (QPLC). This specialty clinic represents inmates in Kingston-area prisons who cannot afford to retain their own lawyer in disputes with the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) or in representation before tribunals such as the Parole Board of Canada. In addition, the clinic provides hands-on training to law students who advance their legal knowledge learning the ins and outs of prison law.

Back on April 3, 2020, the Globe and Mail ran a touching story of how Bath Institution inmate Ross Evans is pushed in his wheelchair and waited outside the health services building to receive his medications for diabetes, heart problems and other maladies. The wait became stressful especially when inmates were forced to endure long lineups outside in cold or inclement weather. The article quotes Evans as saying, “I don’t think you would ever see a hospital or pharmacy treating patients like this in the community. But us, they treat us as they please. It’s like we are not even human beings in the correctional service.”

Evans is right. The Corrections and Conditional Release Act stipulates that inmates enjoy the same rights as any citizen save and except as those rights are necessarily removed due to their incarceration.

Standing outside in the snow, rain, heat and cold for inordinate periods is something everyone would find objectionable. No one can afford a lawyer to challenge the situation. What’s a prisoner to do?

Enter the Queen’s Prison Law Clinic and its staff solicitor Paul Quick. He understood the difficulties the prisoners faced. The outdoor medication lineup discriminates against disabled and older inmates. Bath has a disproportionate number of older prisoners. After all, other prisons including maximum-security Millhaven Institution deliver medications directly to their living units.

Quick, on behalf of the clinic, lodged a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Although media interest waned — there was no more coverage of the situation after the 2020 news report — Quick fought on eventually going to mediation. Just before Christmas, 2022, Minutes of Settlement were signed. The main features of the settlement included the following:

(1) CSC promised not to return to an outdoor medication distribution lineup, and confirmed that its medication distribution will take place indoors going forward.

(2) CSC publicly apologized in writing to the Bath population for the old outdoor lineup.

(3) CSC committed to a process by which people can apply for and receive individual accommodation if picking up their medication had caused them particular hardship.

(4) No damages were awarded in aggregate under the representative complaint, but the resolution of the representative complaint did not bar individuals from seeking individual financial compensation through the human rights process based on their experience of the medication line, and did not bar the Queen’s Prison Law Clinic from assisting such individuals in doing so.

Now that the representative complaint has been resolved, the QPLC is now offering assistance to individuals who wish to bring individual complaints seeking damages in relation to their experience in the line, and it hopes to bring a significant number of such complaints and pursue a mediated global resolution in a consolidated proceeding.

The ability to resolve little injustices as well as deal with systemic issues is emblematic of a functioning legal aid system. All members of the Ontario bar should indicate their appreciation to Paul Quick and his colleagues and students at the Queen’s clinic.

John L. Hill practised and taught prison law until his retirement. He holds a J.D. from Queen’s and LL.M. in constitutional law from Osgoode Hall. He is also the author of Pine Box Parole: Terry Fitzsimmons and the Quest to End Solitary Confinement (Durvile & UpRoute Books), which was published Sept. 1. Contact him at johnlornehill@hotmail.com.

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