COVID-19 cases more than doubled in federal prisons during pandemic’s second wave, report finds

Correctional investigator Ivan Zinger takes part in a news conference in Ottawa, on Feb. 18, 2020.

The Canadian Press

Canada’s prison ombudsman is calling for alternatives to incarceration in a new report that shows the number of COVID-19 cases at federal facilities more than doubled in the second wave.

Correctional investigator Ivan Zinger says new cases climbed to 880 at more than a dozen prisons between early November and Feb. 1, compared to 361 cases at six institutions in the first wave.

He says about 70 per cent of second-wave cases occurred at two Prairie facilities — the Saskatchewan Penitentiary and Manitoba’s Stony Mountain Institution — leaving Indigenous inmates disproportionately affected.

Story continues below advertisement

The prisons are the two largest in the country and contain some of the system’s oldest infrastructure, with an evident connection between viral spread and large shared living areas as well as poor ventilation.

Zinger is calling on the federal government to prioritize early release of older inmates and to consider closure of aging, costly penitentiaries in favour of a more community-based approach to corrections.

The Correctional Service of Canada says it has vaccinated about 600 older and medically compromised offenders, and plans to begin inoculating the rest of its 12,500 inmates in the spring.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2021.

The large number of COVID-19 infections in some places makes it more likely for new variants of the virus to emerge. Science Reporter Ivan Semeniuk explains how vaccines may not be as effective against these new strains, making it a race to control and track the spread of variants before they become a dangerous new outbreak. The Globe and Mail

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.[1]


  1. ^ Coronavirus Update newsletter (