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.

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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.