Ex-inmates launch babies-behind-bars lawsuit

Cover story published in 24 Hours Vancouver & Sun News Network | May 28, 2013 | Circulation: 251,700 (24 Hours).

David-Clippings

Mothers in prison could soon keep their newborns behind bars if a B.C. lawsuit succeeds.

Five years after Victoria cancelled the Mother-Child Program — claiming infants were being exposed to dangerous prison conditions — two ex-inmates in Maple Ridge’s Alouette Correctional Centre for Women launched a constitutional case in B.C. Supreme Court Monday.

“There was no reasoned basis for cancelling the program,” lawyer Geoffrey Cowper said. “The cancellation of the ACCW program (is) symptomatic of our collective disregard of our interest in helping these women care for their children, rather than making it impossible.

“The effects of separation of these women and their infants are visited even more unjustly on the babies who have committed no wrong, but have simply been born needing nurture and care.”

The plaintiffs are Patricia Block, 35, whose baby was removed by the Ministry of Children and Family Development when she was jailed in 2008, and Amanda Inglis, a 27-year-old aboriginal inmate.

As of May 22, there were 162 women in Inmates and B.C. Corrections custody, more than a third of them aboriginal. Since 2004, 34 have given birth in jail, with 22 of the new arrivals coming after the end of the Mother-Child Program.

A ministry spokesperson couldn’t comment on the lawsuit as it is before the courts.

Interveners from legal advocacy group West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund said separating mothers from their infants unfairly punishes both and has a negative impact on society.

“Most of us can relate to that fundamental relationship between the ability to parent and your sense of dignity,” said the group’s executive director Kasari Govender. “It’s hard to imagine a deeper violation of human rights.

“It’s like an additional punishment added, and it has huge ripple effects not just in that moment of being denied … but it also has impacts for the rest of that child’s life.”

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