June 30, 2020
by Lise Brun, coordinator of the Canadian office of the Institut des Amériques and doctoral student in Law at Bordeaux University and University of Montreal.
In Montreal, all announcements on the next phase of reopening are greeted with joy.
Ice cream season is finally here and discussions among alley neighbors, 6 feet apart, center around picnics in the park, appointments at the hairdresser and returning to outside patios at restaurants and bars. As sung by Simon Lachance during the lockdown, the rainbows taped to the windows have been faded by the sun . Even if the situation has been and continues to be difficult to live with, this discoloring is only a sign of passing time: the people of Quebec seem to have, apparently, gone through the worst of the crisis together with kindly repeats of "it's going to be OK".
But, it is very possible that during this large distribution of rainbows, some populations were forgotten, especially those we don't meet in the concert halls, the grocery stores or in the street. During Covid-19, just as during non-pandemic times, few people worry about those who are locked up in confined places. Dramatically, the pandemic has certainly brought to light the way the elderly have sometimes been treated in long-term care homes (CHLSD) and private residences for the elderly (RPA). There aren't as many cases and deaths in confined establishments, such as correctional facilities , immigration detention camps, mental institutions and also youth centers . Even so, it seems that there also, it hasn't been going so good.
It is logical that the majority of the population hasn't automatically thought about these fellow citizens since they have rarely been mentioned in the Government press conferences, though daily. When it was, it was almost systematically a response to a journalist's question, who'd been made aware of it by groups for the defense of rights and freedoms or by families. This lack of consideration is however surprising since we know that the risk of spreading Covid-19 is increased in closed living quarters where there is little space. Furthermore, schizophrenic patients on clozapine, just like the prisoners, are particularly vulnerable populations since their immune system is usually weaker than the rest of the population's, either because of the treatments received, or because of a greater prevalence of certain conditions (diabetes, AIDS, hypertension, etc).
The answers to these questions from the authorities of Quebec have been rather surprising. On the topic of prisons particularly, the Prime minister François Legault at first said that nothing had been brought to the attention of the public authorities, even though the Ligue des droits et liberté had sent two letters early on asking that measures be taken quickly to avoid possible outbreaks, potentially tragic for the prisoners and the penitentiary personnel. It also took several weeks for the number of cases as well as the list of health measures put in place to be made public, this in variable conditions. For the provincial prisons, the numbers started being announced on April 29, which is already late. For other confined places, information is not available to the public, but given by the media when articles are focused on the issue. This lack of information is in stark contrast to the transparency that was displayed at the very beginning of the health crisis. Later, the Government declared that "it was going fairly well"  in the prisons in Quebec and that, because of this, no additional measures were needed for now .
This positive and reassuring speech strongly contrasted with the one groups for the defense of rights and freedoms of confined people and the personnel of confined places in Quebec tried to bring forward. Occasionally, the management of the health crisis in these different establishments was questioned in the media. First, the consistent lack of up-to-date emergency plans was pointed out, as well as the lack of equipment given to these establishments. In prison, for example, the personnel was given gloves and masks rather late and, in these particulary risky places, testing was never done systematically, neither for the personnel, nor for the detainees. Above all, the breadth in response to the crisis has been questionned since less detrimental measures to the rights and freedoms of confined people could have been used.
In the prisons and mental health institutions, many had to rely on isolation, for lack of sufficient options. So, as far as we know, several prisoners at the Prison de Bordeaux in units affected by Covid could not take a shower for several weeks. Yet, use of isolation which consists in keeping prisoners or residents in their cells or rooms for more than 22h per day is considered as torture by the United Nations if alternative measures can be taken, or if it is delayed beyond 15 days. On that subject, the UN as many other countries, the federal government and other Canadian provinces took strong measures early to free prisoners who were not a danger to public safety. In Quebec, would the quicker and larger release of prisoners allow for better lockdown conditions and limit the number of outbreaks in prison? Finally, you can certainly understand that visits were suspended mid-March in these places to avoid letting the virus enter. However, the fact that family members, if not lawyers, of the detainees were blocked from receiving any news for several days and up to several weeks because of the lack of means of communication given to them was also reviled. One can also question how fast young people, who have adjustment issues and who had already had all their cultural and physical activities suspended, were refused the visit of their family for close to eight weeks, especially since the government finally relaxed this decision .
No matter the number of cases or deaths, this information should have already affected François Legault's administration. During the lockdown, just as in non-pandemic periods, incarcerated people when under significant duress tend to pursue justice , but often also, set fires and start mutinies , hunger strikes  or attempts to commit suicide . Family members of the prisoners also protested in front of the Prison de Bordeaux on June 13. But it should be the whole population of Quebec who should be, for one, requesting to be informed of what is currently going on in the confined institutions when Quebec is reopening, and, secondly, demand an inquiry to find out how the health crisis was really managed since March , as was done for the CHLSD and RPA . It must also be determined whether sufficient means are provided in Quebec to really protect the rights and freedoms that confined people still have, in particular the right to health, security, dignity and life. Most of the measures, such as prisoners being forbidden to take walks, if not go on the balcony for psychiatry patients, were put in place because of a dire lack of personnel and resources. In the Fall of 2019, the Protectrice du Citoyen had warned of the continued use of isolation in non-pandemic times of over fifteen days in the prisons in Quebec . Also, youths in detention often have little equipment to entertain themselves or to maintain contact with their family.
In Quebec as elsewhere, Covid-19 therefore brings up the additional issue of knowing whether we wish to also draw rainbows, and at any time, for people who are locked up in confined institutions: anybody may one day have to deal with this, for themself or for someone close.
 Very quickly, the residents of Montreal dotted the city with rainbows in support of one another during this difficult time.
 In this article, we will only talk about those provincial jails who incarcerate people purging a sentence of less than two years, as well as those waiting for a trial called "prévenus". Indeed, people who have longer sentences find themselves in prisons run by the federal government.
 Over 80% of the 5485 Covid deaths in Quebec come from the CHSLD and the RPA. In provincial prisons, only one prisoner died while for now no deaths have been made public in other confined institutions.
 May 13, 2020 statement from the Minister of Public Health, Geneviève Guilbault.
 He decided to adjourn the obligation to come to the prison at the end of the week for the prisoners purging fragmented sentences, as well as the option for certain categories of prisoners to get out for medical reasons. The organizations however were sorry that this still did not involve a big enough number of prisoners. As a comparison, La Presse told the public that the provincial prisons in Quebec had 600 less prisoners on April 16 when Ontario had released 2000 the week before.
 On May 5th, it was decided by mandate that visits and outings could start up again in youth centers, including when a Covid diagnosis had been established. The administration for the protection of youth can however still refuse these visits and outings if it is impossible to do it safely.
 In May, an Ontario prisoner started legal proceedings against the federal government because of the lack of measures taken to protect the prisoners' health and safety.
 These types of incidents have been reported, especially at the Prison de Bordeaux during the confinement.
 In the immigration detention center of Laval for example, migrants started a hunger strike on Monday March 23rd that lasted at least several days.
 For now, there is no exact number known, but at least one suicide of an isolated prisoner has been reported in a prison in Quebec.
 Of note that, following the death in May of a 72 year old prisoner in the Prison de Bordeaux, an inquiry from the coroner's office is in process to bring to light the exact circumstances of this death.
 The Protectrice du Citoyen of Quebec launched on May 26, 2020 an independent and impartial investigation on the CHLSD and RPA. The results will be known in the Fall 2021, but an initial report will be accessible to the public in the Fall of 2020.
 Québec doit revoir les conditions d’isolement dans les prisons, dit la protectrice du citoyen, Le Devoir, September 26, 2019.