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Learn how Queen's is planning for our safe return to campus.

Confronting COVID-19

Emergency funding for students

Queen’s University has provided $2.18 million and counting in bursaries in response to COVID-19.

Looking south on University Avenue from Union Street
During the period of March 16-April 27 Queen’s University has provided $2.18 million in emergency bursary funding to undergraduate and graduate students as part of its response to COVID-19. (University Communications)

As part of its ongoing response to COVID-19, Queen’s University has provided $2.18 million in emergency bursary funding to undergraduate and graduate students from March 16, 2020 to April 27, 2020. The assistance is designed to help with some of the financial challenges posed by the pandemic.

“The strength of the Queen’s student experience is rooted in our sense of community and the support it can provide,” says Ann Tierney, Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs. “As the world continues to grapple with the effects of COVID-19, we recognize that many students have short-term, unexpected financial needs, and through this effort we hope to help ease some of their financial pressures.”

Though not intended to cover long-term expenses for students, this supplemental bursary assistance offers some relief for those encountering extenuating and unplanned financial burdens because of the outbreak, such as the loss of employment income or unexpected medical expenses not covered by students’ health plans. 

Alumni, friends of Queen’s, faculty, staff and students have been demonstrating their generosity and making contributions towards the COVID-19 Emergency Student Fund. These gifts have made a real difference in students’ lives.

Students who are eligible for the federal government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) have also qualified for Queen’s bursary assistance. On April 22, the federal government announced several new measures to support postsecondary students, such as the Canada Emergency Student Benefit that will provide support to students and new graduates who are not eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

As we prepare for the 2020-21 academic year and move into the summer and fall terms, the university will continue to explore tailored solutions to help those who continue to feel the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

Aid for international graduate students

International students a number of obstacles to overcome as a result of COVID-19, including travel barriers and barriers to employment. In response, all international graduate students who previously applied for a Queen’s General Bursary and demonstrated unmet need have received a $1,500 emergency bursary.

“Our international graduate students face particular challenges, and we are committed to helping them through this uncertain period,” says Tierney.

International graduate students are also encouraged to contact their embassies, as their home countries may have established assistance programs as well.

For information and to apply for COVID-19 emergency bursary assistance, visit the Queen’s Financial Aid website. In addition to financial assistance, students can access other supports, including the Queen’s University International Centre, Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre, Student Academic Success Services, the Office of the Vice-Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies, and their department and faculty offices. To learn more about these services and to reach out, visit the Student Affairs COVID-19 information website.

Will coronavirus help or hinder women’s candidacies?

The Conversation: COVID-19 has the potential to shock the system, upending or reinforcing existing gender imbalances in political power.

Parliament Hill with a blue sky
Only 29 per cent of Canada's Members of Parliament are women. (Unsplash / Erik McLean)

Women’s leadership has drawn a lot of praise during the COVID-19 crisis, including for politicians like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and chief medical officers Theresa Tam and Bonnie Henry.

The Conversation logoThere has also been quick acceptance that women’s perspectives must shape the crisis response. Attention to issues like domestic violence, which is increasing during the pandemic, is a good example. Longer term, however, what effect will the crisis have on women’s political power? Will the pool of women candidates and leaders swell or contract in coming years?

Women make up only 25 per cent of legislators worldwide, and only 29 per cent in Canada’s House of Commons. The chief obstacle for women attaining political office is recruitment and nomination, not general election. Women are less likely than men to seek candidacy, and parties are less likely to recruit and nominate women than men, including to winnable districts.

Political recruitment requires time, money and professional networks. Economic status and social hierarchy affect the decision to run for office.

Women have fewer resources

Women run less often because they have fewer of these resources, and early data on COVID-19’s effects suggest those inequities will widen. Statistics Canada’s March jobs report, for example, shows that Canadian women suffered greater job losses than men since the pandemic started, and not only in the service industry, but also in the hard-hit insurance, real estate and finance sectors.

Among core workers aged 25 to 54 years, women account for 70 per cent of job losses. Government income supports will help compensate, but concern about women’s economic well-being and future career trajectories is warranted.

For women who have retained employment, they too face pandemic pressures. With schools and day-care centres closed, many parents now find themselves engaged heavily in child care and home-schooling, and also care responsibilities for relatives, friends and neighbours. Women shoulder a disproportionate share of all these tasks.

In Canada, the 2015 General Social Survey (GSS) shows that women spent 47 per cent more time per day on housework than men did (2.8 hours versus men’s 1.9 hours), 64 per cent more time on routine child-care tasks (2.3 versus 1.4 hours), and 70 per cent more time per day on caring for other adults (1.7 versus 1 hour).

A women holds several cleaning products in her arms
Women still spend a lot more time on housework than men. (Unsplash / Kelly Sikkema)

Detailed time-use data was not collected in the 2018 General Social Survey, but it is unlikely that these patterns changed dramatically in three years, and certainly not enough to close care gaps.

As the care demands increase during COVID-19, therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that women are the essential front line in many households.

Career paths interrupted

Care for home and children can be a rewarding part of life for many men and women. But the danger now is that inequitable care patterns established long before the crisis are likely to have dramatic consequences. These include substantial interruptions in women’s career achievement and diminished time and energy for political engagement. This consequently will contribute to even greater gaps in the supply of qualified and eager women candidates post-pandemic.

On the other hand, maybe things will be better for women candidates after the pandemic. Perhaps flexible work arrangements will persist, allowing more women to combine care-taking and career ambitions, including political careers.

Legislatures could become more flexible workplaces, allowing remote sittings and voting, for example, as recommended by the Good Parliament Report, a blueprint for a more representative British parliament by gender and politics professor Sarah Childs.

While complex, such reforms might make politics more attractive to women, especially in large countries like Canada, where many MPs must travel thousands of kilometres between their constituencies and Parliament Hill. Greater workplace flexibility would also allow women MPs to breastfeed longer if they choose, and recover more fully post-birth, while still serving their constituents and fulfilling parliamentary duties.

In the home, the COVID-19 crisis may have put some men into primary caretaker roles if they’ve been laid off and their partners have not, which may accelerate the erosion of gendered norms about the household division of labour.

More involved fathers post-pandemic?

Studies of the effects of paternity/parental leave on fathers suggest that caretaking norms and behaviours can shift rapidly. Men who take parental leave are more likely to be involved with the care of their children further down the road.

The effect is found in countries around the world, and is not simply a product of pre-birth childcaring commitment, socioeconomic status and other drivers of involvement — it appears to be an independent effect of men taking parental leave.

Households where men have experienced primary or equitably shared care for a child end up being more equitable environments with greater continued sharing of care later too. The same outcome may prevail as a result of COVID-19 child care and home schooling.

Whatever the eventual impact on women’s candidacies post-pandemic, COVID-19 has the potential to shock the system, upending or reinforcing existing gender imbalances in political power.The Conversation


Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant, Associate Professor, Political Studies; Director, Canadian Opinion Research Archive, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Mobility in the time of COVID-19

Queen’s researcher Jennifer Ruth Hosek examines how paradigms of mobility and immobility are being upended as a result of the pandemic

A streetcar climbs a street in heavy traffic
The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting how we view mobility. 

For many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to drastic changes in how we move about in our daily lives. Adhering to social distancing rules, millions of people are now working and socializing from home — only venturing out for essential trips. This shift marks a stark contrast to a mere few months ago when many were able to freely move about, not only of necessity but for desire and fun.

Queen’s researcher Jennifer Ruth Hosek (Language, Literatures and Cultures; Gender Studies; Film and Media) is working on urban mobility studies and petrocultures (social and cultural study of energy sources). She has found that the COVID-19 situation is impacting how we view mobility.

“Typically, mobility expresses privilege,” says Dr. Hosek. “In these times of the virus, however, immobility expresses privilege, with self-isolation understood to demonstrate exemplary citizenship to boot. This is clear a reversal of the mobility paradigm.”

A complicating factor is the harsh reality that much of humanity cannot participate in such immobility. This includes medical personnel, such as doctors, nurses and other frontline hospital workers needed to attend to the sick and to monitor and test populations. They are hailed around the world for their heroism during this crisis. This recognition also extends to other professionals such firefighters and police who are working to keep our communities safe and protected.

According to Hosek, the definition of “frontline” is finally starting to broaden. It is extending to service workers such as warehouse laborers, paid drivers, and grocery store employees who may not have the choice to stay home. Their mobility ensures essential services like garbage pickup and much less essential services like home delivery of consumer goods. These workers are seldom mobile based upon particular expertise, but because they need employment, whether or not they may be more vulnerable to illness.

“Once those of us who have the privilege to be able to stay at home acknowledge this latter group as frontline, our immobility becomes less noble,” says Hosek. “In today's world in which so many of us are choosing immobility, there are millions of others for whom both immobility and mobility present impossible options and even deadly peril.”

However, in virus times, even the privileged feel the detriments of immobility. It can spell work disruptions, meaning-of -life crises, loneliness, and boredom. Such challenges belie the idea of immobility as fundamentally privileged.

And this reality: that our current immobility is both profoundly unjust and profoundly unsatisfying, is driving us towards what needs to be done recalibrate our mobility assets.

It may not seem immediately obvious, but Hosek points out that the long-time, hypermobility of the privileged few has promoted this hypermobile pandemic. Fuel emissions further climate change, which fosters disease spread, just to name a few issues. High speed hypermobility is untenable, while equitable distribution of mobility furthers environmental and human health.

Now, this pandemic has revealed that inequitable mobility – and its associate inequitable immobility – is unfair, unfun, and unsustainable. Hosek says it has also simultaneously shown that we must fundamentally revamp societal infrastructures. All of which points to a solution.

Working together, governments must deploy fiscal policies – such as debt buyback, quantitative easing, and job guarantees – and largescale projects – such as renewables and public transit – to resuscitate the economy while overcoming this disease and mitigating recurrences, in part through flattening the mobility differential globally.

According to Hosek, "The painful realities of the new mobile order in the time of COVID-19 demonstrate that more equitably distributed, moderate mobility is both more sustainable and more worth sustaining."

Reconnections: capturing a Queen’s community

Photo contest seeks to bring Queen's students around the globe together during time of physical distancing.

Theological Hall at Queen's University campus
The Office of the Associate Vice-Principal (International) has launched a photo contest, asking students to submit a photo about their pandemic experience. (University Communications)

Queen’s students across the globe are feeling the impacts COVID-19 in many different ways. To document this unprecedented period, the Office of the Associate Vice-Principal (International) has launched a photo contest to help strengthen our community’s connections in a time of increased physical distancing, asking students to submit a photo about their pandemic experience.

“Though the COVID-19 pandemic may be a single, common event affecting the world at large, there is a deep diversity in the ways individuals are experiencing its impacts,” says Sandra den Otter, Associate Vice-Principal (Research & International). “Given the global nature of the Queen’s student body and the physical distancing required of us all, we wanted to create a conduit through which we could bring the community together virtually to share in empathy and strengthen our bonds, and to document this unique moment in time.”

All undergraduates, graduate students, and those on exchange to or from Queen’s, including those based at the Bader International Study Centre, are invited to participate. Submissions can explore any theme relating to students’ pandemic experiences, such as physical distancing, maintaining mental wellness, how your surroundings have changed, and beyond.

Entries must be an original photograph taken by the submitter between Jan. 1, 2020 and June 3, 2020, when the contest is scheduled to close. Permission must be gained from people pictured in each photo.

One entry per student will be accepted into the contest, and photos should be high-resolution, in the proper format, and include a few descriptive sentences as a caption.

Once all submissions have been received, select photos will be collated into an online gallery. A panel will determine ten winners and a shortlist of photos for the ‘People’s Choice’ category. The People’s Choice winner will be voted for by members of the Queen’s community, Kingston community, and friends around the globe. All winning photos will receive a prize of $100 CAD each.

Learn more about contest details, deadlines, and rules and submit your photo.

Supporting student wellness at a distance

Student Wellness Services continues offering support online and in person.

Mitchell Hall at Queen's University
Student Wellness Services have reduced their clinic hours in Mitchell Hall to 10 am-3 pm Monday to Friday, offering appointments with physicians, counsellors, and accessibility advisors. Students are asked to book an appointment by calling 613-533-2506. (University Communications)

Students seeking health and wellness support are still able to access Student Wellness Service’s (SWS) many resources.

SWS – a division within Student Affairs – is working hard to ensure that they are meeting the medical, mental health and wellness needs of Queen’s students. 

“Keeping SWS functioning was extremely important to us,” says Cynthia Gibney, Executive Director of SWS. “We want to reassure students that they can rely on the clinic, and other services, during these uncertain times.”

Continuing to meet the needs of students

While SWS have reduced their clinic hours in Mitchell Hall to 10 am-3 pm Monday to Friday, they are still offering appointments with physicians, counsellors, and accessibility advisors. Students are asked to book an appointment by calling 613-533-2506.  Most appointments will be on the phone or via secured video conference, but on occasion, a student will be asked to come to the clinic in person. 

If students have general inquiries, they can also email health.services@queensu.ca or counselling.services@queensu.ca.

“We are here to care for our students remotely through these challenging times,” says Dr. Rina Gupta, Director of Counselling Services. “We will continue to be flexible and creative in meeting the needs of our population as circumstances require.”

Accessibility Services and academic accommodations

Queen’s Student Accessibility Services (QSAS) will be easing their documentation requirements for students seeking academic accommodations. They will accept any documentation students currently have – and work with those who cannot obtain documentation – depending on individual needs and circumstances. 

Students seeking academic accommodation and support for reasons of a disability or health condition can contact the QSAS Intake Coordinator at qsas.intake@queensu.ca. For general QSAS inquiries, email accessibility.services@queensu.ca.

Virtual healthy lifestyle appointments are also available for students who want help changing or starting healthy habits. To book an appointment, use the online booking form or email bewell@queensu.ca.

Staying up to date with wellness services

To stay up to date with all services, visit the SWS website.

The SWS website also includes links to other phone and online mental health services available to students – such as the text support offered by Good2Talk, Therapy Assistance Online (TAO), self-directed help, and 24/7 crisis support options.

Students can get daily wellness strategies and learn about other resources by following Queen’s University Be Well on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

A successful transition for RARC

The Regional Assessment and Resource Centre continues to help students with invisible disabilities or mental health challenges prepare for postsecondary education.

A teen girls uses a laptop
Due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus the Regional Assessment and Resource Centre (RARC) moved its introductory workshop for two of its programs online. (Unsplash / Annie Spratt)

For the past 15 years the Regional Assessment and Resource Centre (RARC) at Queen’s University has been helping high school students with invisible disabilities such as specific learning disabilities or mental health challenges prepare for the transition to postsecondary education. As with practically everything else, COVID-19 has forced a change of plans with how the program is delivered.

The two programs involved – On-Line to Success (OLTS) and Successful Transition Online and Mentoring Program (STOMP) – are both primarily provided online over a six-week period. However, one of the key ingredients for both has been a two-day introductory workshop that is conducted in-person and allows the participants to meet with RARC staff as well as their peers in the program.

Under the current circumstances this was no longer possible, so the staff and clinicians at RARC pivoted quickly and, with the support of IT Services at Queen’s, moved the introductory workshop online.

With this being a first there were some concerns on being able to replicate the vibrancy and engagement of the in-person experience.

Thanks to the team effort, the results have been very positive.

“Because we were not able to have our face-to-face workshops this year, we’ve added new video content to the website, including recording our presentations, adding video introductions for all moderators, conducting one-on-one phone and video calls to students and starting a weekly interactive riddle contest with prizes,” says Marie McCarron, Clinical Services Manager. “We are also starting some group conversations over Zoom to facilitate more student-student interaction.”

Safe transition

OLTS and STOMP are designed specifically to target and address areas that research has shown are problematic for students with learning disabilities, ADHD, ASD and/or mental health disorders as they make the transition to postsecondary education. There are several modules in OLTS and STOMP that cover different topics such:
• Understanding yourself
• Differences between high school and postsecondary education
• Researching your school/Finding your way around/resources
• Study Strategies
• Time Management/Scheduling/Work-Life Balance
• Accommodations at postsecondary
• Self-Advocacy

For this group of students, having a safe place to talk with peers and to feel less alone is important, McCarron adds. The programs have proven very successful, with participants enjoying a much higher overall success rate in post-secondary than their disabled peers who did not participate in such a transition program.

One of the strengths of the program is its online flexibility; it allows participants to manage their own schedules, become accustomed to online learning environments, and complete the course at their own pace over a six-week period.

“The online format works quite well, as it allows students to take this course on top of their schoolwork, without having to do it during the summer or on weekends. They are able to choose when it fits in their schedule, whether it’s during a spare or in the evenings, or on weekends if they want,” says Alison Parker, Transitions Coordinator at RARC. “It also allows students to go at their own pace, which is especially useful for students with disabilities that effect their reading, writing and attention. For some of our students, there is also some comfort in being able to type out answers – to review them before they share, and to offer a little less spotlight and attention then if they were speaking in front of a group. Many of our students also realize that completing online courses is an incredibly useful skill as they approach post-secondary school, and they’re happy to take this opportunity to test it out.”

Learning opportunities

The program also receives support from teacher candidates from the Queen’s Faculty of Education who moderate the course as part of an alternative practicum placement provided by RARC. The placement also provides the teacher candidates with valuable experience in the areas of online teaching and learning, and training in how to support students with learning disabilities, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and mental health disorders who are participating in an online learning environment.

“To me, this course offers a win-win to both teacher candidates and students with disabilities” says RARC clinical director, Allyson G. Harrison, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology. “The teacher candidates receive direct instruction and practice in learning how to deliver content online and to assist students with disabilities as they navigate this platform, and the high school students need to learn the skills of how to interact and participate in an online environment.”

University 101

Dr. Harrison says that the beauty of the online programs that RARC has developed is that the content could easily be used to assist all students making the transition to university.

“Almost all of the content of this transition course is like the University 101 courses offered in many institutions in the U.S., and would make transition to a university environment easier for most students. The fact that we’ve modified and improved this course with student input over the past 15 years means that it is extremely engaging, dynamic, and easy to do,” she adds. “We’d be happy to share this course with any department or program on campus, and given the current COVID-19 crisis this might be an ideal time to expand what the university offers to all incoming students”.

Over and above the two transition programs, the RARC team also developed an online transition resource guide to help all students in Ontario with disabilities make the transition from high school to college or university.

RARC operates as part of the Queen’s Division of Students Affairs.

To learn more about the programs and services, visit the Regional Assessment and Resource Centre (RARC) website.

Update on student support measures announced by federal government

On Wednesday, April 22, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $9 billion in support measures for post-secondary students during the COVID-19 crisis.

The measures, some of which are subject to legislative approval, continue to be finalized, but include the following:

Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB)

  • CESB to provide support to students and new graduates who are not eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. This benefit would provide $1,250 per month for eligible students or $1,750 per month for eligible students with dependents or disabilities.
  • The benefit would be available from May to August 2020
  • Recipients must be Canadian citizens or Permanent Residents
  • Students entering postsecondary education in September 2020 are also eligible
  • Up to $1,000 per month earnings permitted while receiving benefits

Canada Student Service Grant

  • Will help students gain valuable work experience and skills while they help their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • For students who choose to do national service and serve their communities, the new Canada Student Service Grant will provide up to $5,000 for their education in the fall

Expanding employment and skills development opportunities

In addition to the recent changes to expand the Canada Summer Jobs program, the government will:

  • Support the creation of 76,000 work placements to help students develop valuable skills.
  • Focus on sectors in need of assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Extend expiring federal graduate research scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships, and supplement existing federal research grants, to support students and post-doctoral fellows, by providing $291.6 million to the federal granting councils, and enhance work opportunities for grad students

Student Financial Assistance

To support students entering/returning to postsecondary institutions in the fall, the federal government will:

  • Double the Canada Student Grants for eligible full-time students to up to $6,000 and up to $3,600 for part-time students in 2020-21
  • Broaden the eligibility for financial assistance by removing the expected student’s and spouse’s contributions in 2020-21
  • Raise the maximum weekly student loan amount in 2020-21 from $210 to $350 – representing a per-student loan cap of $11,000
  • Increase existing distinctions-based support for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nation students pursuing post-secondary education by providing an additional $75.2 million in 2020-21
  • On March 30, 2020, the Government of Canada placed a six-month interest-free moratorium on the repayment of Canada Student Loans for all individuals currently in the process of repaying

For more information visit the Government of Canada website.


Advice for a safe move during COVID-19 pandemic

As we approach the end of April, Queen’s students who remained in Kingston are due to move out of their rental units. Other students who left earlier may also be returning to remove belongings left behind as their rental agreements come to an end.

In recognition of this, Queen’s University, in partnership with Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health and the City of Kingston, would like to remind students continue to take measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Moving can be stressful at the best of times, the more so during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. David Walker, Special Advisor to the Principal on COVID-19. “It is vitally important that we continue to take steps to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. All of us in the Queen’s community have a role to play in protecting others, healthcare workers and the most vulnerable, by limiting our own exposure.”

Recommendations for a safe move include:

  • Limit the number of people involved with the move.
  • Coordinate your move with your landlord or property supervisor to reduce crowding, including around entrances, stairwells, or elevators.
  • Arrange with roommates to move out at separate times, especially if you have a helper involved with the move.
  • Wear non-medical masks to protect anyone outside your household who is helping you.
  • If using a moving company, only one member of the household needs to be present.
  • Everyone should practice physical distancing, keeping 2 metres (6 feet) between themselves and others, whenever possible.
  • Limit the number of people in an elevator to one (unless elevator is large enough to accommodate the physical distancing recommendation).
  • Physical distancing must be practiced in stairwells, hallways, entryways, laundry rooms, garbage rooms and other common areas.
  • Avoid touching your face, eyes and nose, and wash your hands or use hand sanitizers frequently during and after the move.
  • If you, a roommate, or any family member who is helping with the move is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, postpone your moving plans.

If you are moving in to a new location be sure to clean up before you move in, including frequently touched areas such as toilets, bedside tables, light switches, and door handles to physically remove dirt and disinfect with water and regular household cleaning products.

Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health recommends that property owners and managers ensure proper infection prevention and control procedures are followed when cleaning rental properties for incoming and outgoing tenants. This includes increased cleaning of common areas that may be frequently touched by individuals while moving their belongings such as door handles, stairway railings, elevator buttons, reception desks, push plates, mail rooms, and laundry room equipment.

For more information on COVID-19 visit www.kflaph.ca/Coronavirus or www.Ontario.ca/coronavirus.

The City of Kingston adds:

  • Close your Utilities Kingston account. A minimum of five business days are necessary to ensure the account is closed on the date requested. You can do this online at http://utilitieskingston.com/Accounts/CloseAccount or by phone at 613-546-0000. (Hydro One electricity customers can call 1-800-434-1235. Union Gas customers can call 1-888-774-3111).
  • Dispose of any unwanted items properly. Use the City’s Waste Lookup tool. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Kingston is allowing you to put out up to four untagged garbage bags a week for curbside collection.
  • Drop them off at paid disposal sites. These locations charge a fee for waste disposal. Items brought to them end up in landfill.
    • Waste Connections of Canada, 1266 McAdoo’s Lane,  613-548-4428. Open Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. 
    • Waste Management, 62 St. Remy Pl., 613-549-7401 ext. 252. Open Monday to Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. (as of April 20, 2020).
  • Be a good neighbor. Be mindful of the property standards and solid waste bylaws and leave your property clean. The Yard and Streets and Property Standards bylaws require yards to be free of any garbage or debris. There will be bylaw officers enforcing these laws so do the smart thing and plan ahead.

Learn more about these bylaws and how to comply by visiting: www.CityofKingston.ca/Students

Coronavirus in Canadian prisons

Prison lawyers in Canada are scrambling to fill the gap left by federal inaction on inmate populations who are vulnerable to COVID-19.

Empty prison range, with a few doors open
Prisons around the worlds have started to reduce their population in response to the coronavirus pandemic. (Unsplash / Matthew Ansley)

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare several unsettling truths about Canada’s prison system. Our institutions of state punishment are filled with medically vulnerable people, affected by lifelong difficulties accessing care along with unhealthy prison conditions.

While life expectancy for most Canadians is 79 for males and 83 for females, two-thirds of the people who die of natural deaths while in federal custody are under the age of 65.

Another truth rarely acknowledged is that the collective interests of staff and inmates are often intertwined. Highly infectious disease makes no distinctions as it spreads through a congregate living facility.

The COVID-19 crisis has mobilized jurisdictions across the world to release entire categories of inmates to protect everyone living and working inside. As UCLA law professor Sharon Dolovich has put it, even jurisdictions in the United States with longstanding imprisonment addiction have seen “conscientious officials rediscovering decarceral powers they had forgotten they had.” Still, outbreaks at places like Rikers Island in New York and Chicago’s Cook County jail are devastating in scope.

Reduction in jail population

Ontario moved quickly to reduce its jail population: from March 16 to April 9, numbers fell from 8,344 to 6,025. About 70 per cent of Ontario inmates were awaiting trial, so large reductions could be achieved simply by processing bail applications. Prosecutors, defence lawyers and judges have largely co-operated in establishing procedures and making decisions in response to the pandemic.

On April 8, the Ontario Court of Appeal granted bail in an application brought by a defendant convicted of multiple charges in a sophisticated fraud scheme who was awaiting an appeal. The court cited public health authorities to make the point that social distancing “is not only a question of protecting a given individual but also the community at large.” An outbreak may turn into wider community spread as prison staff return home. The wider the spread, “the greater the pressure will be for scarce medical resources.” The court noted that the applicant was 64 years old with underlying health issues, and concluded that his detention was not necessary in the public interest.

It is always the case that the interests of incarcerated people are closely tied to those of us living free in the community. The pandemic has altered much about normal life, including the ability to deny those ties.

Still, the federal prison system in Canada has been slow to act. On March 31, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said he directed the Parole Board and the Correctional Service to consider measures to facilitate early releases. By mid-April, little had happened — even though 170 federal inmates had tested positive, along with several staff.

The Queen’s Prison Law Clinic quickly pivoted its work to press for a more robust federal response. One of only two dedicated prison clinics in Canada, the small staff at this legal aid office in Kingston, delivers hands-on education to Queen’s University law students while providing front-line legal services to federal prisoners in eastern Ontario.

Barbed wire tops a fence at Kingston Penitentiary.
A 53-year-old prisoner at Bath Institution was granted an unescorted temporary absence on medical grounds. (Unsplash / Larry Farr)

Families of inmates are worried

By late March, the clinic was receiving desperate calls from inmates and their families, all worried about the pre-existing conditions that suggested contracting this illness would be a death sentence. The case of Derrick Snow, a 53-year-old man with a long but non-violent criminal record, moved quickly to the top of the pile.

Snow’s record revolved around drug use, and he has cancer, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He also had a fast-approaching statutory release date of July 2020 for his most recent theft-related offence. Snow’s sister was willing to help him self-isolate in her basement apartment.

Through early April, Paul Quick, a lawyer at the Queen’s Prison Law Clinic, engaged in near-daily correspondence with Bath Institution, working to identify viable legal avenues to facilitate a potentially life-saving adjustment to Snow’s July release date.

The few official responses focused on technical issues that failed to take into account the radically altered pandemic landscape. The warden declined to make a decision by the requested date of April 10.

Lawyers who work in legal aid settings don’t rush to court on a whim. Resources are scarce and the risk of losing — and setting a bad precedent with lasting impact on others — must be carefully weighed. These lawyers also rarely work alone. Prison lawyers across the country offered ideas and resources, and the clinic partnered with outside counsel Paul Champ, a leading human rights lawyer with a longstanding commitment to civil liberties.

Prisoner released on eve of hearing

An emergency hearing was scheduled for April 17. Champ sought a mandatory injunction ordering the warden to grant Snow an unescorted temporary absence on medical grounds. Though he had only days to act — and was working from home like the rest of us — Champ filed a record that exceeded 400 pages. It included detailed expert medical evidence, pandemic policy responses in other jurisdictions and extensive correspondence showing Quick’s attempts to convince the institution to act without a lawsuit.

The strongest cases often don’t get to hearing. Filing persuasive written materials often convinces the other side of the struggles they will face in front of a judge. Sure enough, the night before the hearing was scheduled to be held, the warden of Bath Institution granted Snow a medical release.

[Paul Quick of Queen's Law Clinics works from home]
Paul Quick is a lawyer at the Queen’s Prison Law Clinic. (Supplied photo)

The warden’s decision acknowledges that, in normal circumstances, medical unescorted temporary absences are used to authorize moving a prisoner to a medical treatment facility. With prisoners who have serious medical conditions, unescorted temporary absences can now be granted when they have an “increased ability to self-isolate as per the public state of emergency related to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Maximizing impact

The Queen’s clinic is now working to capitalize on this precedent. Quick has shared materials with counsel across Canada. The clinic is reaching out to assist other vulnerable prisoners.

But this should not be a story of individual lawyers pushing individual cases. The federal government must establish an expert task force to identify prisoners for release. It should follow the World Health Organization and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which issued a joint document on March 27 calling on public authorities to prioritize the release of prisoners with underlying health conditions, low-risk profiles or those with imminent release dates.

Inmates should also have a safe place to go where they will be able to self-isolate. For many, these conditions will be sadly difficult to meet — all the more reason for systematic and quick action in the cases where release makes sense, to ease the burden on all who must remain inside a prison during a pandemic.

______________________________________________The Conversation

Lisa Kerr, Assistant Professor, Queen's University, Faculty of Law, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advising Ontario’s healthcare system through COVID-19

Queen’s expert Chris Simpson is helping to guide Ontario’s medical response to the pandemic.

Photo of Dr. Chris Simpson
Dr. Chris Simpson is the clinical science lead for Ontario Health's COVID-19 Health System Response Oversight Table.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario has been gathering medical experts to advise on how the province’s healthcare system can best meet the challenges created by this global pandemic. Chris Simpson, Vice-Dean (Clinical) in the Queen’s School of Medicine and Professor in the Department of Medicine and School of Policy Studies, has been selected as one of these experts. Currently, Dr. Simpson is serving as the clinical science lead on Ontario Health’s COVID-19 Health System Response Oversight Table. As part of his work at this table, he also serves as the chair of committees addressing personal protective equipment (PPE) and surgical and procedural work in the COVID-19 era.

The Gazette connected with Dr. Simpson to learn more about his work for the province and to hear his insights on the health care system’s response so far and what may be next for medicine and physical distancing as Ontario continues to deal with the pandemic.

What is the function of the Ontario Health COVID-19 Health System Response Oversight Table? And how would you describe your role as the clinical science lead?

Simpson: With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario Health set up this table to oversee the work being done across the agency to address the situation. Several tables report up to the Oversight Table, including human resources, supply chain, data and analytics, communications, primary care, and emergency care. And then there is a clinical science table that is designed to rapidly respond to new and emerging evidence to help inform Ontario Health’s recommendations to the system. I am the lead of that table. And in that role, I assemble experts to rapidly evaluate new evidence to advise on issues such as the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and how we can continue to do surgical and procedural work at a time when we need to create tremendous capacity to deal with COVID surges.

What is the current state of PPE in the Province? And what recommendations has the committee put forward?

Simpson: PPE is in limited supply almost everywhere in the world right now. And so, there has been a lot of very important work done by supply chain experts on securing the kind of PPE needed by the health care sector and other frontline workers in our society.

The picture for PPE seems to be gradually improving. The security of the supply chain seems to be on its way to stabilizing. But there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done. Our Ontario Health committee on PPE has taken an evidence-based approach to the use of PPE. We want to conserve PPE whenever possible and be good stewards of the resource. In times like this, fear can play a large factor in how people might consume PPE. And we find that when we look closely at the evidence, it’s quite clear what kinds of PPE are required for various sets of circumstances. And so, by laying that out very clearly, the committee has encouraged people to use PPE in a way that keeps them very safe without overusing it or using it inappropriately. Those conservation strategies can make a huge difference. Simple things like extending your mask use between patients can help turn an eight or ten-mask shift into a two-mask shift – all the while remaining safe.

We have looked at the possibility of reprocessing or sterilizing masks so that they can be used again, which is something many people around the world have been investigating. We agreed that this would be a step we would take only if all the conventional supplies were exhausted. It’s a matter of preparing for the worse, and hoping for the best. It’s always better to plan for worst-case scenarios. If people say, in hindsight, that we over-prepared, I’m ok with that.

You also chair a committee to help determine when elective surgical and procedural work can start being performed again. What have been the effects of these procedures being put on hold due to COVID-19? And how is the committee going about finding ways to resume these activities?

Simpson: At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a recognition that we needed to create capacity in the healthcare system. We knew we needed to free up patient beds and ventilators and other resources to ensure that there would be enough PPE and ICU and ward bed capacity in the hospitals in the event that we got a huge influx of COVID patients. Part of the strategy to create capacity was to delay so-called elective procedures and surgeries and other types of care that could be temporarily put on hold.

That plan works well if the time period is three or four weeks, but if we’re looking at months, that kind of delay creates a tremendous backlog of surgeries and procedures that may be less urgent, but are no less important. For all these procedures, there is a period of time beyond which it is no longer reasonable to wait, or even safe to wait. Today’s bowel polyp snaring is tomorrow’s bowel resection. Today’s stable angina is tomorrow’s emergency bypass surgery. Today’s breast lumpectomy is tomorrow’s mastectomy. We can’t be lulled into a sense that “elective” care can be delayed for very long.

As we’re starting to think we may be seeing the peak of the first wave in Ontario, this committee is exploring options for resuming normal healthcare activity as much as is reasonable. We are very aware, though, that we must make sure that we are prepared for a second wave of COVID-19 in Ontario. That means ensuring that we have enough PPE, ventilators, and other supplies to address another outbreak. We would also need to consider the other support that’s required for surgeries and procedures, including rehabilitation therapy, imaging, and home care. There would have to be capacity in these areas. Ramping up surgical and procedural work will require a system-wide approach. And that’s what the committee is preparing for.

Our goal is to make sure that the healthcare system is looking after all patients: those with COVID-19 and those who need all the usual medical care. But we need to do so in a thoughtful way that doesn’t create unintended consequences in other parts of the system.

What do you think the future of the pandemic will look like in the province? What should people in Ontario expect in the next few months?

Simpson: We’re learning more about how the virus behaves every day. And what has become abundantly clear is that the public health measures that have been put in place are working highly effectively, particularly physical distancing. At the same time, we have to recognize that low rates of infection keep us vulnerable. As we start to plan for a gradual re-opening of society, we can’t fall into a sense of complacency. This is far from over.

When we get past this first wave, there will need to be some reopening of society, but it’s going to have to be done in a very staged way. It can’t be a complete return to normal, with large crowds gathering at concerts and sporting events. We will have to continue physical distancing to the maximum extent that we can, while finding ways to get the economy going again and enabling people to return to work. How we go about opening society again will determine what the next waves of COVID-19 will look like in Ontario. We need to keep the waves manageable so that the health care system is not overwhelmed the way it was in Italy or New York.

In the next few weeks, I think people can expect there to be discussions around opening things back up in a very measured and gradual way. When society first opens back up, it won’t look like it did before the pandemic, but it will look less restrictive than it does right now. 


To learn more about how Queen's experts are helping guide Ontario's response to COVID-19, read the Gazette Q&A with Troy Day, who serves on the Provincial COVID-19 Modelling Table.


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