Howard Breen of Extinction Rebellion Vancouver Island at a federal funding announcement in Oak Bay in Aug. 2019. Following his arrest last month, Breen has written to Dr. Bonnie Henry and other provincial authorities to revise COVID-19 protocols in B.C. jails. Photo by Travis Paterson/Black Press file.

Vancouver Island climate activist asks B.C.’s top doc to look into jail COVID-19 protocols

Following arrest, Extinction Rebellion co-founder writes Bonnie Henry about his Nanaimo experience

Getting arrested isn’t safe in a world of COVID-19, according to an Vancouver Island climate activist.

In a letter to Dr. Bonnie Henry, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion Vancouver Island Howard Breen has expressed his “worrisome personal experience” in a B.C. jail after he was arrested on Sept. 29 in Nanaimo.

The 66-year-old Breen said RCMP officers at the Nanaimo detachment who interacted with him did not wear masks, nor did they maintain two metres social distance.

Breen also sent the letter out to Health Minister Adrian Dix, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, and Labour Minister Harry Bains among others.

A resident of Victoria, Breen was held in custody for 25 hours following an arrest for blockading logging trucks carrying old growth logs from the Fairy Creek watershed near Port Renfrew.

RELATED: Protesters blockading log-sort operation at Nanaimo’s Duke Point

He was arrested at Duke Point and taken to the RCMP basement intake hall in Nanaimo where he claimed his protective mask was removed and there were no inquires made about his medical conditions.

Breen said he has asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and had viral pneumonia just prior to the COVID lockdown.

“Having raised COVID safety precautions with my arresting officer, he asked if I would feel more comfortable if he wore a mask, which I affirmed. When he requested one from jail staff he was told there were none available,” said Breen.

He was placed in a private cell and during his 25-hour-long detainment he had three further encounters with RCMP officers for photographing fingerprinting and a bail hearing. Breen said each “breached the two-metre social distancing proximity for approximately an hour.”

“Only upon my escort in exiting the jail facility did I encounter an RCMP staff person wearing a protective mask, in spite of another person in a nearby cell coughing relentlessly for the better part of an hour beforehand,” said Breen.

He was released after Crown Counsel stayed his charges.

“Given the often very close contact RCMP staff working 12-hour shifts have to jailed individuals, and one another, both in cells, offices, narrow hallways and external vehicles, it is not a reach to strongly anticipate that the current COVID 19 resurgence will place both B.C. law enforcement personnel, lawyers, prisoners, their families, and the general public at much greater risk if B.C. does not enact a much more restrictive COVID protocol regime, especially in respect to the nonsensical exemption on protective mask-wearing,” said Breen in the letter.

Const. Gary O’Brien, RCMP media relations officer with the Nanaimo detachment told Black Press that all officers try to follow health protocols as often as possible with some exceptions when it is not possible or it compromises the physical safety of the officer.

O’Brien also said that as of Oct.1, it is mandatory for all employees at the RCMP Nanaimo detachment to wear masks.

Const. O’Brien also said while there is no mask requirement, most officers exercise caution when in public places. If an officer displays COVID-19 symptoms, they have been asked not to report to work.

People in custody and those who have been detained at the Nanaimo detachment are not required to wear masks, but they are screened for symptoms and asked if they have any underlying medical conditions, said O’Brien.

He said that if anybody has concerns with the way things were handled they can file a complaint with The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.

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