OTTAWA — Federal prisoners have lost a court bid to overturn pay cuts ushered in by the former Conservative government.
Several inmates complained that their wages — a maximum of $6.90 a day — were slashed by 30 per cent in 2013 to help offset costs of room and board and telephone use.
The prisoners say their income is unfair and insufficient to cover the cost of essential health and personal care items.
In the Federal Court of Canada, the inmates argued the 2013 cuts were unconstitutional, violated international conventions on prisoner treatment and breached the Canada Labour Code.
They pointed to a 2005-06 report by Canada's correctional ombudsman that noted daily payments for work and participation in programs had not risen in close to two decades. A basket of canteen items that cost $8.49 in 1981 cost $61.59 in 2006.
Federal lawyers defended the pay practices, saying they were supported by legislation. The government also denied the wage scheme violated constitutional guarantees of fundamental justice and the right to be free from cruel and unusual treatment.
Moreover, it said the labour code does not apply since there is no employer-employee relationship in this case. Rather, the pay simply encourages participation in correctional programs.
In 2013-14, it cost $115,000 to house an inmate for a year, the government noted.
In a ruling made public Monday, the Federal Court said the detailed affidavits of five senior officials, four of whom work in federal prisons, showed that "although not luxurious, the offenders' needs are met adequately" when it comes to food, clothing and hygiene items.
"If there are gaps, they were not demonstrated in any way in the case presented to this court," Justice Yvan Roy wrote.
The court also rejected all of the prisoners' legal arguments.
In the ruling, Roy said the court did not weigh the wisdom of the Conservative government's decision to make pay deductions, merely the legal basis for doing so.
Even so, the argument of cruel and unusual treatment fails because wages that are less generous than expected cannot be equated with practices that would "outrage standards of decency," such as lashing, castration or lobotomy, Roy said.
"Deprivation of liberty or security of the person is doubtful but, more importantly the applicants did not identify, much less demonstrate, how the principles of fundamental justice had been violated," he added. "The burden was on them, and they did not discharge it."
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The Canadian Press