Federal law discriminates against N.B. inmate suspected of hiding drugs in her vagina: Judge
The federal law in question permits ‘dry celling,’ in which prisoners are placed in a cell without toilets so their waste can be examined for drugs
TRURO, N.S. — A portion of a federal law that kept a New Brunswick woman in a form of solitary confinement for 16 days on suspicion she had concealed drugs inside her vagina has been ruled unconstitutional by a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge.
The decision today by Justice John Keith says a section of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act infringes on protections in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms against discrimination on the basis of gender.
The judge, who heard the case a year ago in Truro, N.S., gives Parliament six months to reform the law so that it no longer discriminates against women.
Keith was referring specifically to a section of the federal law that permits the practice of “dry celling,” in which prisoners are placed in a cell without running water or toilets so their human waste can be examined for concealed drugs.
Lawyers for the inmate, Lisa Adams, argued the law was discriminatory because it was designed to detect substances hidden in the rectum and failed to take into account that a substance suspected to be hidden in the vagina wouldn’t necessarily be expelled during the detention.
The federal attorney general had conceded that Adams’ dry celling in May 2020 at the Nova Institution for Women was unlawful in her specific case but had argued that expert testimony was required to prove a wider constitutional case.
Adams, who at the time of her trial was incarcerated for drug trafficking, was placed in segregation because correctional officers believed she had hidden the drug methamphetamine in her vagina while she was outside the institution on parole.
Court has heard she was given an ultimatum to provide the drug or face an initial period of 14 days segregated and under observation.
According to the applicant’s original affidavit, Adams said she had no means of producing the drugs because they weren’t concealed in her body.
Her lawyers also noted during the original proceedings that Adams wasn’t given the chance to have a formal, Correctional Service Canada process to physically examine her for drugs.
Rather, the decision says it was only after Adams had spent 14 days in segregation that she was able to have a vaginal exam performed when she sought medical attention for other health reasons. The exam exonerated her, but Adams spent two more days in segregation.
Jessica Rose, Adams’ lawyer, said her client suffered mental illness due to her prolonged segregation under almost constant observation by prison staff, including observation as she showered or attempted to go to the bathroom.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2021.