Public Safety Minister Vic Toews
Credits: JASON HALSTEAD/QMI AGENCY
"We believe in drug-free prisons," Vic Toews told reporters in Toronto on Thursday.
"I don't see the need to have needles in prisons."
Ex-inmate Steve Simons, who says he contracted hepatitis C after another prisoner used his injection equipment, joined four AIDS prevention advocacy groups in a lawsuit filed this week against Toews, Attorney General Rob Nicholson and Don Head, commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada.
The lawsuit says the government's failure to provide clean syringe programs - similar to those in the U.K. and Iran - risks prisoners contracting hepatitis C and HIV, as well as endangering the public after their release.
Critics also accused officials of inmate discrimination, since drug users outside prison get access to free syringes.
Government and private studies have revealed the number of cases of hepatitis and HIV is 10 to 30 times higher in prisons than beyond the walls.
Simons, who was at Warkworth Institution from 1998 to 2010, says he regularly saw prisoners sharing dirty, patched-together syringes.
The lawsuit seeks a rare injunction to force the government to provide clean drug needles for federal inmates.
Repeating what he recently told the House of Commons, Toews said prisoner drug-use reduces their chances of successful rehabilitation.
The allegations in the lawsuit haven't been proven in court.