Protesters call for release of Saskatoon jail inmates amid sweeping COVID-19 outbreak

A few protesters gathered Tuesday in the fresh air outside of the Saskatoon Correctional Centre as their loved ones sat inside, in a hotbed of COVID-19.

They’re calling for the release of remanded inmates, who have no way to escape the coronavirus after an outbreak infected nearly a quarter of the jail’s population. Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety said it won’t release anyone early.

Read more: COVID-19 outbreak at Saskatoon jail flagged as potentially fatal systemic failure

Chantelle Reimer’s husband-to-be, Tyler Magnus, lives in an overflow unit, where 16 of 20 men have tested positive for the virus. Magnus received a negative test result on Monday, but has several symptoms of the disease.

“There are so many people that are sitting on remand, (and) they’re innocent until proven guilty, but (corrections) doesn’t see it that way,” Reimer told reporters Tuesday morning.

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Magnus’s 10-year-old stepson, Drake, said he worries inmates aren’t getting proper medical care.

“Most of the time when he doesn’t call… I get worried,” he said.

“I love him very much. I miss him a lot.”

Magnus, 27, said he’s anxious to get home to his pregnant fiancée and their three boys.

“They don’t know what’s going to happen,” he told Global News over the phone on Monday.

“They want me home. They’re worried about me.”

‘Significant risk of grave illness’

As of Monday evening, 26 jail employees and 116 of 476 inmates are sick, according to the Saskatchewan Government Employees’ Union.

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Saskatchewan’s corrections ministry has faced steep criticism for its perceived planning — or lack thereof — for an outbreak.

A group of lawyers sent a letter Tuesday to Corrections Minister Christine Tell, calling for the release of people who are elderly, immunocompromised, non-violent and at low risk of re-offending.

“No court intends to hold a defendant in a setting where they are at significant risk of grave illness or death,” the letter says. “No sentence is crafted to permit such a danger.”

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Click to play video 'Concerns grow as COVID-19 spreads inside Saskatoon jail' Concerns grow as COVID-19 spreads inside Saskatoon jail

Concerns grow as COVID-19 spreads inside Saskatoon jail

Health officials have advised the ministry not to move people between units, which could intermingle sick and healthy people.

“Even if an individual is not currently symptomatic, they could still potentially be a carrier of the virus due to their close contact with a positive case,” Ministry of Corrections spokesperson Noel Busse said in a statement Monday.

All inmates could soon be sick

A Saskatoon epidemiologist said he wouldn’t be surprised if the virus infected 100 per cent of the inmate population within a few days.

“It could be very quick, unless you take steps (to reduce the spread),” Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine told Global News.

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The province has failed to prepare for and handle an outbreak in a congregated setting, Muhajarine said.

Read more: Nearly 100 Saskatoon jail inmates and staff diagnosed with COVID-19

He disagrees with the rationale that healthy inmates can’t be moved because their test results could be false negatives.

“It’s inexplicable to me, the rationale for that kind of a statement,” he said.

“People who test negative should be separated as quickly as possible from those who are testing positive.”

Minister does not take responsibility

Muhajarine said the premier and corrections minister are missing in action.

Tell spoke with reporters Tuesday, and would not take responsibility for the outbreak.

Once numbers start rising in the community, it’s likely to be reflected in correctional facilities, she said.

“We can’t guarantee social distancing in a correctional facility, but we do try and keep the numbers as low as we possibly can,” she said.

“Why it came into the facility with all the precautions? I can’t answer that.”

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The Saskatchewan NDP’s corrections critic, Nicole Sarauer, said Tell should not be a minister anymore.

“If she’s not worried about figuring out where this started, it makes me wonder if she worries about the safety of the inmates and the staff,” Sarauer said.

‘They don’t give a sh-t’

Jennifer Lounsbury said it’s apparent government officials don’t care about incarcerated people.

Her 31-year-old son, Alex, has been remanded for a couple of months, awaiting sentencing for auto theft.

“They knew this was going to happen and they still just let it go because they don’t care,” Lounsbury said outside of the jail on Tuesday.

“You’re pretty much sentencing them to death because you’re not doing a thing about it.”

Lounsbury and her son are scared.

“My worst fear is happening,” she said. “Honestly, they don’t give a sh-t.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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