One month after major COVID-19 outbreak, workers call for prison inmates to get vaccine

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A union representing intervention workers protested outside Bordeaux prison Saturday, calling on the government to prioritize inmates in its COVID-19 vaccine rollout plans.  (Josh Grant/CBC - image credit)
A union representing intervention workers protested outside Bordeaux prison Saturday, calling on the government to prioritize inmates in its COVID-19 vaccine rollout plans. (Josh Grant/CBC - image credit)

As Quebec's COVID-19 vaccination campaign continues to ramp up, a union representing intervention workers says the government has neglected to include one segment of the population in its plans.

In a protest outside Montreal's Bordeaux jail Saturday, intervention workers with the Syndicat des travailleuses et travailleurs en intervention communautaire (STTIC-CSN) called for prison inmates to be placed on the province's COVID-19 priority list.

"People sleep there. There are common areas. They should be prioritized," said STTIC-CSN spokesperson Kevin Doiron.

"They could be shouting in there and no one would hear them so we're here to shout on their behalf."

The calls come after more than 100 Bordeaux prison inmates and staff members tested positive for COVID-19 last month.

"There's too much people and not enough space so distancing isn't possible," said union president Alexandra Pontbriand. "The guards are going in and out of the prisons and it's really risky to the inmates."

According to Quebec Health Ministry data, there are currently only 20 active COVID-19 cases in the province's detention centres, but the community workers say that doesn't mean inmates should not be prioritized.

"We're not saying they're the only ones that need to be prioritized for the vaccination. There are other people that need priority, too," said Doiron. "But what we're here to say is they should be part of the people that need priority because their condition is different. They're locked in a cage."

Doiron says he understands all too well how the prisoners must be feeling, as he was an inmate in a detention centre for eight years — nine months of which were spent in solitary confinement.

With tensions already high between a lot of prisoners, Doiron says many inmates are afraid to come forward and admit when they have symptoms of COVID-19 because their entire prison section would then be forced to lock down for two weeks.

Inmates categorized with general population in current vaccination plan

As it stands, Quebec's Health Ministry says inmates would be included in the last category of the COVID-19 priority list, along with the rest of the general population.

"Work is underway to identify people who will be able to benefit from the vaccination, as workers providing essential services, particularly in prisons and detention centres," the health ministry said in a statement.

"Vaccines in detention centres are included in the logistics of the campaign and more details will be provided in due time, for both detainees and guards."

The ministry added that all plans depend on how many doses of the vaccine the province receives in the coming months.