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Challenge to the federal government’s prison-needle ban postponed to Dec. 17

Used needles are shown at a needle exchange in Miami, May 6, 2019. A constitutional challenge to the federal government's refusal to provide clean needles in prisons is set to be heard by an Ontario court this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Lynne Sladky

A court hearing to challenge the federal government’s ban on needles for drug-using prisoners has been postponed to next week.

The hearing was pushed back to Dec. 17 due to a medical emergency in the applicants’ legal team.

Lawyers for both sides have also been asked to discuss whether the case should be put on hold until a new federal program that’s being rolled out in prisons can be evaluated.

READ MORE: Ontario court to hear challenge to a prison needle ban this week

The case, launched in 2012 by former prisoner Steven Simons, argues the current rules violate inmates’ rights and expose them to serious blood-borne diseases.

Several HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations are also involved in the challenge, saying the federal government must meet its legal obligation to protect the health of people in prison.

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The government has argued in court filings that giving clean drug-injection needles to prisoners would make federal facilities more dangerous, since syringes could be used as weapons.

Click to play video 'Guards at Warkworth prison hold information picket' Guards at Warkworth prison hold information picket
Guards at Warkworth prison hold information picket – Nov 2, 2018

The Correctional Service last year launched a program that offers inmates in some facilities access to sterile equipment.

But court filings say the program is currently only available in a handful of Canada’s 43 federal prisons.

Applicants in the court challenge are also expected to argue that the program infringes on prisoners’ rights due to its lack of confidentiality.