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4 Things to know about transferring federal prisoners for court attendance

Prisoners in federal penitentiaries may be required to attend court for a variety of reasons. A prisoner may face new charges while imprisoned, be called as a witness, need to attend a family or civil proceeding, etc. In some cases, prisoners can be transferred to another correctional facility to attend court in-person.

Below are some things to know about transfers for court attendance:

  • A federal prisoner can be transferred to another prison or a provincial correctional facility for the purposes of attending court. Normally, individuals serving sentences of two years or more must be held in a penitentiary, but they can be temporarily held in provincial facilities to attend court. Provincial remand and detention centres may be significantly closer to the court the prisoner must attend, which can make this a convenient option for corrections staff when a prisoner must attend court for several days or longer. Prisoners who must attend court for lengthy proceedings may be transferred to another correctional facilities for weeks or even months.
  • In some cases it is mandatory that the prisoner be transferred to attend court, in other cases Correctional Service Canada has discretion. In particular, prisoners must be transferred to attend an application under section 745 of the Criminal Code (a faint hope clause application) for a reduction in the number of years of parole ineligibility, if the court requires it or the prisoner requests to be present. In other cases, CSC may authorize a transfer where it “is necessary to facilitate the inmate’s attendance at a judicial proceeding”.
  • Before a prisoner can be transferred to a different region to attend a court proceeding, staff at the sending institution must confirm that videoconferencing is not an option. More proceedings (including trials) are now being conducted via Zoom and other videoconferencing programs, but some proceedings may still require in-person attendance. COVID-19 has impacted transfers for court proceedings. Prisoners may not be transferred even if they want to be. Moreover, prisoners who are transferred to other institutions for court attendance may be subjected to quarantine upon arrival and return.
  • The procedure for transferring prisoners for court appearances can differ from the procedure otherwise used for transfers. An Assessment for Decision is not required in all cases involving transfers for court appearances, and a prisoner who objects to a transfer may not be given the same procedural protections given to prisoners transferred in other contexts. Prisoners who object to a transfer for court attendance should speak to a lawyer well in advance of their anticipated transfer and court appearance.
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