Dalhousie University Lecture on Dying Inmates in the Canadian Prison System

Ron Levine Photography – Prisoners of Age

Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law, held a presentation in Spring Hill, Nova Scotia last night, called Preserving the Rights of Aging Prisoners, with Professor Dr. Adelina Iftene.

Wow, what an eye opener! The prison system in Canada sounds pretty archaic in how it treats the sick, terminally ill and dying prisoners.

Many may say “so what, they are in prison for a reason.”

Well, that is true perhaps, but to paint everyone with the same brush is a mistake, in my opinion, for everyone is unique, as is each situation. To adopt an attitude of indifference or even revenge encourages us to turn a blind eye to indignities being committed to human life in other situations as well. This seems to lead towards putting ourselves at risk of losing touch with our own humanity.

What kind of example do we want to provide for others to aspire to?

According to Professor Iftene, the prison system has no mechanism in place to adequately medically care for sick or dying prisoners. For example, those who develop dementia while in prison have no chance of ever being released. Their “behaviours” will most certainly land them in more restrictive custody, thereby extending their sentence, even if their initial crime was quite minimal.

Prison is not a nursing home, yet in a strange way, it has become this for a certain number of the prison population, and at a huge expense to the taxpayer.

Access to proper medical care or prescription medications that would be more precise in treating a disease condition is not available. For pain, the only meds on the allowable list are Tylenol 3 or Morphine, and even then, a prisoner may have to stand outside in inclement weather for an hour or more to line up to receive it.

Think of your elderly grandfather having to line up outside in the middle of a blizzard to get treatment for excruciating and debilitating pain. Would you want that for him?

Thoughts about a friend of mine in Calgary with advanced stages of Alzheimer’s came to mind listening to this lecture. He murdered his wife, in the middle of the night, in 2016, not knowing what he had done.

He was eventually found to be unfit to stand trial, however, because he was charged with murder, he was locked up, as a criminal. Thankfully six months ago he was acquitted of the charges. Arrangements are now being made to place him in another type of locked up facility for dementia patients. Hopefully, this will be a good situation for him.

I think for me the most shocking part of the lecture was to learn that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that is meant to be applied to all humans in Canada, does not necessarily apply to prisoners.

Dr. Iftene pointed out that if the system can get away with this in their treatment of prisoners, there is a risk that the freedoms and rights of ordinary citizens in Canada can also be refused. This, in my opinion, is the reason why we should care about how prisoners are treated.

Dr. Iftene’s research is ongoing, and I look forward to seeing how the results of her work may impact changes within the prison system in Canada. Hopefully, this will ensure a much more progressive and humane treatment of humans behind bars.

The video of Dr. Iftene’s lecture should be posted on the Dalhousie Schulich Law School‘s website very soon. I highly recommend watching it.

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