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Conservatives anger over inmates receiving COVID vaccinations sparks backlash

Last Updated Jan 6, 2021 at 10:45 pm PDT

FILE - In this July 17, 2020, file photo the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Ind., is shown. Indiana State Police agreed Friday, Aug. 14, 2020 to stop blocking roads to the prison where federal executions resumed last month and are set to continue, backing down after anti-death penalty activists said in a lawsuit the roadblocks impeded their speech rights. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) – The Trudeau government is not budging as conservative politicians criticize a plan to start giving federal inmates who are vulnerable, sick and elderly the COVID-19 vaccine starting this week. 

Beginning Friday, up to 600 inmates will start receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, but the news has angered Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole who says not one criminal should be vaccinated ahead of any vulnerable Canadian. Ontario Premier Doug Ford is echoing those criticisms.

But the Trudeau government is standing by this decision with Public Safety Minister Bill Blair saying the feds have a legal duty to provide health care to prisoners in custody.

“The language of resentment and fear really has no place in this discussion, it really needs to be based on the advice of our public health authorities,” Blair says.

He adds the inmates receiving the shot fall into the priority categories of elderly and sick and make up less than 5 per cent of the prison population. Blair also notes a prisoner in an ICU due to COVID takes away an ICU bed from a hospital.

The Conservative’s anger is also sparking backlash from prisoner rights advocates.

Criminal defence lawyer, Alison Craig, who has fought many prisoner rights cases, claims this argument is ignorant and shallow, noting prisons have been hotspots for outbreaks and inmates are at high risk.

“When you’re in jail, you can’t socially distance, there’s simply no way to protect people,” Craig says.

She also notes this is about safety for communities surrounding prisons, since COVID outbreaks in prisons have contributed to overwhelming hospitals and puts prison guards at risk.