In Canada, prisoners face far greater risk of HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection because those who inject drugs are denied access to sterile needles and syringes — tools that are widely available outside prison so people are not forced to share equipment. Most federal prisoners in Canada will return home to their communities, bringing with them the illnesses they contract in prison. This, in turn, can affect us all.

Simply put, prison health is community health.

Prison needle and syringe programs (PNSPs) don’t just protect prisoners from infection. They protect the health and lives of all Canadians.  Despite overwhelming evidence of the benefits of PNSPs, no Canadian prison currently permits the distribution of sterile injection equipment. Calls for the Government of Canada to introduce these important harm reduction measures have been ignored. 

But no more. On September 25, 2012, a former prisoner, community partners and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network launched a lawsuit against the Government of Canada over its failure to protect prisoners’ right to health and prevent the spread of HIV and HCV in Canadian federal prisons.

Follow the links above to learn more about prisoners’ right to health, PNSPs, the lawsuit and how to get involved in the campaign.


On Point: Making Prison Needle and Syringe Programs Work in Canada

RSVP on Facebook:

7:00–9:00 p.m., Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

On Point: Making Prison Needle and Syringe Programs Work in CanadaPanelists:

  • Daniela De Santis - Hindelbank Prison, Switzerland
  • Ruth Elwood Martin - University of British Columbia, Vancouver
  • Sandra Ka Hon Chu - Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Toronto
  • Julie Thomas - Healing Our Nations, Nova Scotia

Ryerson University
Jorgenson Hall
Corner of Gerrard St. E and Victoria St.
2nd floor – accessible

JOIN US for a free lively panel discussion in support of prisoners' rights and justice. Panelists will discuss why prison needle and syringe programs are essential, how they are working in other countries, and how they might be implemented in Canada.


  • Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network
  • Canadian Drug Policy Coalition
  • Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research
  • Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto
  • Department of Criminology, Ryerson University
  • Native Youth Sexual Health Network
  • Office of the Dean, Faculty of Arts, Ryerson University
  • Office of the Vice President, Research and Innovation, Ryerson University
  • Ontario HIV Treatment Network
  • Ontario Public Interest Research Group (Toronto)
  • Prisoners with HIV/AIDS Support Action Network
  • Ryerson Students' Union
  • Toronto Drug Strategy

On Point: The Need for Prison Needle and Syringe Programs

RSVP on Facebook:

On Point: The Need for Prison Needle and Syringe ProgramsWHEN: 3:00–6:00 p.m., Friday, October 18, 2013
WHAT: Free panel discussion followed by Q&A session and complimentary refreshments
WHO: 6 speakers, including German expert Dr. Heino Stöver, moderated by CBC national correspondent Maureen Brosnahan
WHERE: Dalla Lana School of Public Health, Auditorium, 6th floor, 155 College Street, Toronto (one block west of University Avenue)


Join us for a free forum on prison needle and syringe programs, with presentations by leading prison health advocates, including Indigenous activists, a former federal prisoner, and academics from the United States and Germany. Learn about programs in over 60 prisons in 11 countries and the lawsuit against the Government of Canada over its ongoing refusal to implement needle and syringe programs in federal institutions (

This is a rare opportunity to learn about this important health initiative and engage in a lively discussion.

Sponsored by:

Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
Prisoners with HIV/AIDS Support Action Network
Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network
Native Youth Sexual Health Network
Canadian Harm Reduction Network
The CIHR Social Research Centre in HIV Prevention

Needle and syringe programs in prison: it can be done

Produced by L'Association des Intervenants en Toxicomanie du Québec, this video considers a needle and syringe program in a Swiss prison, and features interviews with prison staff who describe the program's benefits.

In the news...

October 9, 2012

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and our partners have been very active, influencing media coverage and bringing real understanding to the complex issue of prison health and the need for needle and syringe programs. The following is a selection of notable media coverage on the issue, both print and video (please note that links below are currently active, but may be deleted or archived at any time by their hosts):

Lawsuit filed against government of canada for failing to protect the health of federal prisoners

Former prisoner needlessly infected with hepatitis C while behind bars

September 25, 2012 – The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Prisoners with HIV/AIDS Support Action Network (PASAN), CATIE, the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN) and Steven Simons, a former federal prisoner, launched a lawsuit against the Government of Canada over its failure to protect the health of people in prison through its ongoing refusal to implement clean needle and syringe programs to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) in federal institutions.

Steven Simons was incarcerated in Warkworth Institution from 1998 to 2010, where he was infected with hepatitis C when a fellow prisoner used his drug injection equipment.

“When I was in prison, I would see people passing one homemade needle around and sharpening it with matchbooks. The needle would be dirty and held together with hot glue. I watched people shove a dull needle to try to penetrate their skin, creating craters, abscesses and disfigurements,” says Simons. Simons is intent on ensuring others don’t continue to suffer for no reason. He adds, “I wanted to be involved in this case to save lives and prevent the spread of hepatitis and HIV.”

In Canada, people in prison — a disproportionate number of whom are Aboriginal and suffer from drug dependence — face rates of HIV and HCV infection that are at least 10 and 30 times higher, respectively, than in the overall population. These figures are even higher for women in prison. People who inject drugs behind bars are more likely to share and reuse injection equipment than people in the community because they are denied access to sterile injecting equipment while in prison, significantly increasing their risk of contracting HIV and HCV. This risk will only be exacerbated by the recent passage of Bill C-10, the so-called Safe Streets and Communities Act, an “omnibus” crime bill that will further increase Canada’s prison population as more and more people are incarcerated for non-violent drug offences.

Currently, no Canadian prison permits the distribution of sterile injection equipment to prisoners, despite overwhelming evidence of the health protection benefits of such programs from other countries where they have been operating for years.

“People do not surrender their human rights when they enter prison, including their right to access health services equivalent to those outside prisons. Society should not sentence people to a higher risk of infection with HIV or hepatitis,” said Sandra Ka Hon Chu, Senior Policy Analyst with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. “The federal government has the evidence showing that such programs providing access to sterile injection equipment are urgently needed in Canadian prisons and that they are successful elsewhere. The failure to act on this evidence has resulted in avoidable HIV and HCV infections that are personally devastating and also very costly to the public purse. Prison health is public health.”

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It's easy to become addicted to drugs in prison because of the negative atmosphere. People feel depressed and it's an escape from reality.”