Ailing federal prisoner to be released after heading to court over COVID-19 fear

Derrick Snow, 53, is serving a sentence at Ontario’s Bath Institution, near Kingston

An inmate with serious health problems will be let out of federal custody after he went to court over fear of contracting COVID-19 behind bars — a move his lawyer hopes will open the door for other vulnerable prisoners.

The Correctional Service of Canada has granted Derrick Snow a temporary absence, to begin next Tuesday, as pressure mounts for officials to release aging and frail prisoners who are more likely to suffer badly from the virus.

“I just got off the phone with Mr. Snow and he is profoundly relieved by this decision,” his lawyer, Paul Champ, said Thursday.

Snow, 53, is serving a sentence at Ontario’s Bath Institution, near Kingston, for breaking-and-entering and theft. He has diabetes and pulmonary disease and was recently diagnosed with malignant sarcoma.

Snow had submitted an application April 2 to the prison warden for an unescorted temporary absence and, due to the urgency of the situation, demanded a decision by April 10, but he did not get an answer.

He then asked the Federal Court to allow him an absence from the prison until his statutory release date in late July or until the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, whichever is sooner.

“Prisons are environments that are especially prone to the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19, and where social distancing and other appropriate preventive measures are not reasonably possible,” said Snow’s submission to the court.

It said Snow feared his underlying medical conditions put him at heightened risk to become infected with COVID-19 and die if he were to remain in custody while his full arguments played out in court.

A federal inmate at Mission Institution in Abbotsford died from an apparent complication related to the novel coronavirus, the prison service said Thursday.

The Correctional Service gave Snow permission to live with his sister in London, Ont., where he will receive treatment for cancer and his other ailments until his July release date.

It noted the absence of violence in his criminal history and the “appropriate supervision plan” in place, including special conditions and a curfew.

The prison service stressed it was approving Snow’s absence despite taking “extraordinary measures” to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in federal institutions.

“This decision took into consideration the health conditions of Mr. Snow combined with the potential for having a negative health outcome should he contract this virus.”

As a result of the decision, a Federal Court hearing slated for Friday will not take place, Champ said.

Federal lawyers said earlier this week the circumstances were not sufficiently urgent to require an imminent court hearing.

The prison service’s decision is clear that low-risk federal inmates who are medically vulnerable can be released under the temporary absence provisions in existing legislation, Champ said.

“We are hopeful that (the Correctional Service of Canada) will now consider using this measure more broadly to facilitate the expedited release of other medically vulnerable prisoners,” he said.

“Hopefully, the next vulnerable inmate with a low-risk profile who applies won’t have to fight for three weeks and take CSC to court.”

Releasing larger numbers of low risk inmates will not only protect those individuals, but it will make the institutions safer for staff and the communities in which they live, Champ added.

Late last month, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair asked the prison service and the national parole board to look at early release for some offenders to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

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

Just Posted

Provincial COVID-19 data can now be used for B.C. to prepare for a second wave

In the past week, B.C. has seen a slight spike in daily test-positive case counts

North Island College announces 2020 graduation award winners

North Island College has announced the award recipients for the 2020 Graduation… Continue reading

‘Someone knows something’: a look into Vancouver Island missing persons with interactive map

There are more than three dozen people listed as missing throughout Vancouver Island

Creekside Apartments gets utility charge relief from Port Hardy council

The apartment building is undergoing restoration from a fire that happened back in 2017.

LETTER: It’s a labour of love keeping the Port Alice golf course running

‘We North Islanders are indeed fortunate to have two gorgeous golf club’

Islanders want BC Ferries to follow order that lets residents board before tourists

For ferry-dependent communities, ferries are often the sole practical lifeline to work, school or medical appointments.

Beverly Hills 90210 star’s family selling Vancouver Island Beach Resort

You can own Jason Priestley’s Terrace Beach Resort in Ucluelet for less than $5 million

Genetic detectives begin work to trace spread of COVID-19 in Canada

The kinds of genetic technology being used for this project did not exist when SARS hit Canada in 2003

Sports fishers protest Fraser River Chinook closures

Public Fishery Alliance wants hatchery fish open for harvest

B.C. Ferries increasing passenger capacity after COVID-19 restrictions

Transport Canada 50-per-cent limit being phased out, no current plans to provide masks

Shellfish industry get funds to clean up at Island sites and beyond

Businesses can apply to cover half of costs to clean up so-called ‘ghost gear’

Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

Romy Carpentier, 6, Norah Carpentier, 11, and their father, Martin Carpentier, missing since Wednesday

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

Most Read