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

North Saanich artist brightens pandemic with whimsical signs

Artist Anna Trelford decorates her fence with signs that riff on COVID-19 pandemic

Man who bound, murdered Langford teen still a risk to public: parole board

Kimberly Proctor’s killer is still ‘mismanaging emotions,’ has had ‘temper tantrums’

Traffic redirected after crash on McKenzie Avenue

Saanich Police responded to Thursday evening collision

Tour de Victoria postpones 10th annual ride to 2021

Ride that draws more than 3,000 cyclists to Greater Victoria was set for August

Mission prison COVID-19 outbreak ends, 9 new cases in B.C.

New positive test at Port Coquitlam care home

POLL: Do you agree with the provincial government’s decision to increase the minimum wage?

B.C.’s lowest-paid workers will be getting a few more dollars to try… Continue reading

VIDEO: Humpback whales put on quite a show

The ‘playful’ pod lingered by a Campbell River tour operator’s boat for quite some time

Getting hitched at historic B.C. gold rush town still on table during COVID-19 pandemic

Micro-weddings, online visits, offered at Barkerville Historic Town and Park

Stolen gargoyle returns to its perch on central Vancouver Island yard

Petey, a concrete gargoyle statue, was returned by Nanaimo RCMP after being found by city crew

Revelstoke woman finds welcoming letter on her Alberta-registered truck

There have been multiple reports online of vandalism to vehicles with Alberta licence plates

Spirit bear possibly spotted in West Kootenay

A local resident spotted the white-coloured bear while on an evening trail run near Castlegar on May 27

B.C. businesses ‘can’t shoulder burden’ of COVID-19 sick pay

Trudeau’s plan should be tied to federal emergency aid

B.C. teacher reprimanded for sharing homophobic and sexist memes, making racist comments

Klaus Hardy Breslauer was accused of making a laundry list of concerning decisions as a science teacher

Most Read