Chelsea Novak: Breaking news — prisoners have rights

In actual fact, the “benefits” laid out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are rights.

It may come as a surprise to some readers, but in Canada people who have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to time in prison have rights.

I say this not because some new survey shows Canadians don’t know that prisoners have rights, but because recent activity on Facebook has suggested that some of our readers don’t know the basics.

On Jan. 17, the story “Indefinite solitary confinement in prisons unconstitutional: B.C. Supreme Court” was published to Black Pre websites and shared on the Facebook pages.

We received many responses to the story via Facebook, including a number of comments that either implied or explicitly stated that Canadian prisoners should not or do not have rights.

“If found guilty you don’t get rights!…..our system is seriously flawed,” wrote one commenter — who was apparently torn between stating that prisoners don’t have rights and simultaneously bemoaning the system that does, in fact, grant them rights.

“The benefits of our constitution are a privilege, not a right,” wrote another.


In actual fact, the “benefits” laid out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are rights — as per the title and wording of the charter — as well as freedoms.

And this piece of our constitution — which can be read at — does in fact address the circumstances under which any of those rights may be denied to a Canadian citizen: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

The Corrections and Conditional Release Act — — further clarifies that prisoners retain their rights except those removed or restricted by their sentence: “offenders retain the rights of all members of society except those that are, as a consequence of the sentence, lawfully and necessarily removed or restricted.”

We received more demeaning comments aimed at prisoners after the story “‘Violated and humiliated’: Inmate claims privacy breach in jail” was published to our site on Mar. 27.

“No, some people are not human,” wrote one commenter, in response to another comment saying that prisoners were “still human and people have rights.”

First off, let’s take this opportunity to clarify the difference between fact and opinion.

Saying “prisoners don’t have rights” is a statement of fact. Anyone reading this without previous knowledge, or with little knowledge, of Canadian laws and the constitution could be led to believe that Canadian prisoners do not, in fact, have rights.

“I don’t think prisoners should have rights” is an opinion. The wording doesn’t make it clear whether or not prisoners do have rights, but it makes it pretty clear how the speaker feels about the issue. And this is a pretty important distinction, particularly in the age of fake news. More specifically in the age where y’all want come at me with “fake news” when I accidentally spell someone’s name wrong while you spew this misinformed slop on Facebook.

Second, can we please address the irony of a bunch of people railing against prisoners while simultaneously eyeing up Canada’s laws and constitutions and concluding “I don’t agree with this piece of legislation, therefore I shall behave as if it does not exist.”

And before those commenters pull out their right to an opinion — because they’ve already forgotten the difference between a fact and an opinion, and I can see the saliva gathering at the corners of their mouths and hear their heartrates increasing as they prepare to joyfully slap it in my face — I ask them to remember that the “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression” is theirs to claim because it’s in the charter. The same one that protects the rights of all Canadians, including prisoners.

And before they get all up on their high horses defending their own rights, they should remember that the charter comes with the responsibility of defending all of the rights and freedoms, as they apply to all Canadians.

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