Prisoner granted $2,500 because cellmate smoked
OTTAWA - The right to live smoke-free has crept into Canada's prison cells.
The federal government quietly paid William Canning $2,500 last year after he took it to court for breaching the Charter of Rights by subjecting him to the "cruel and unusual punishment" of second-hand smoke.
"I certainly expect to be able to not be locked up in a cell and forced to breath another inmate's smoke," the 44-year-old said in documents filed in the Federal Court of Canada.
Canning, who was serving a 22-year sentence in a Quebec prison, argued it was "ironic" he was living in a smoky cell two years ago, around the same time Ottawa sought $1-billion in compensation from tobacco companies for threatening public health by allegedly conspiring to smuggle cheap cigarettes into the country.
Furthermore, Canning maintained, it was "ridiculous and outrageous" that he should be forced to breathe smoke when all other federal buildings are smoke-free, including public areas in prisons.
The federal government said Canning himself chose on two separate occasions to share a cell for the night with smokers rather than non-smokers.
But it agreed to pay up and Canning's court case was abandoned more than a year ago.
Canning filed his suit in late 1999, soon after he was transferred from Springhill Institution in Nova Scotia to La Macaza in Quebec's northern Laurentians.
"It is a fact that the practices of La Macaza Institution appear to differ little from those of a farmer placing his cattle in shared stalls in a barn," Canning said in a statement of claim. "If they are brown and moo then they fit together."
The government, in a statement of defence, said allowing smoking in cells does not violate the Correctional Service of Canada smoking policy.
"Furthermore, it is submitted that the plaintiff suffered no damages from having been bunked with a smoker without his consent for a total period of 17 days," said the statement, which described Canning's claim as "ill-founded."
The federal government asserts that it tries to bunk smokers together when possible.
Court records do not reveal Canning's crime and lawyers on the case could not be reached for comment.
His award is one of dozens given to federal prisoners in fiscal year 2000-2001 for such things as guards using unreasonable force and injuries sustained during prison violence.