THE BC Supreme Court on Monday ruled in Inglis et al v. The Minister of Public Safety that the cancellation of a program that allowed women prisoners to remain with their newborn babies was unconstitutional. The BC Civil Liberties Association was an intervener in the case.
In the court’s view, the decision to cancel the program was unconstitutional because it separates infants from their mothers during a critically formative period and interferes with their attachment to their mother. The court decided that the Charter protects of the right of a mother to care for her baby and the decision of the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women to cancel the mother-baby program did not respect the special role women occupy as caregivers for children.
Grace Pastine, Litigation Director for the BCCLA, said, “This decision is a tremendous victory for Canadian women and their infants. The Mother Baby Program respected the family unit and the bond between mother and infant. It led to better health outcomes for the babies. Safety guidelines were strictly followed during the program, which was supported by health care practitioners, including doctors and psychologists, as well as prison officials. The government will no longer have the option of refusing to administer a successful program that had fundamental benefits for both mothers and babies.”
The case was launched by Patricia Block, who was sentenced when she was three months pregnant and was forced to hand over her baby shortly after she gave birth, and Amanda Inglis, who gave birth shortly before the program was cancelled.
The Alouette mother-baby program, which operated until 2008, allowed newborns to remain with their mothers while they were in prison. In order to participate in the program, mothers were required to get final approval from the Ministry of Child and Family Development, which considered the best interests of the child. Only women who were serving sentences for non-violent offences were eligible for the program.
Since the 1970s, programs existed in British Columbia that allowed women prisoners to keep their babies with them while imprisoned. Currently, there is no mother-baby program operating in BC for provincially sentenced women.
Janet Winteringham and Jessica Lithwick of Winteringham Mackay George and Megan Vis-Dunbar were the lawyers representing the BCCLA.