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B.C. inmate loses case related to restricted computer time during pandemic

Tanzirul Alam alleged he was singled out and his charter rights had been breached
Matsqui Institution in Abbotsford (Black Press file photo)

An inmate in an Abbotsford prison has lost his court case in which he claimed his charter rights were breached when his computer and recreation times were reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tanzirul Alam is serving a 12-year sentence (reduced to eight years and eight months after credit for time served) at Matsqui Institution. He was convicted in 2017 in Calgary of 17 charges – including luring, sexual assault and making/possessing child pornography – related to three teen girls.

His civil lawsuit against Matsqui Institution and the Attorney General of Canada stated that, before the pandemic, all inmates could access computers for four hours each weekday and 9.5 hours on each weekend day.

The documents state that at the start of the pandemic, inmates were locked down and computer access was limited to 90 minutes per day.

If an inmate wanted to use a computer, the only time available was the 90 minutes that would otherwise be slotted for recreation, the lawsuit stated.

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Alam said he required more computer time than was permitted because he had several legal matters in progress (not related to his conviction or an appeal).

He said his access to computers was more restrictive than other inmates and “constituted a significant deprivation of his residual liberty.”

Alam filed a grievance with the prison in May 2021, and was provided with a response from the warden in July 2021, stating that Alam had the same access to computers as all the other inmates.

Alam then filed his lawsuit in December 2021, alleging that the actions of Correctional Service Canada (CSC) were “arbitrary, grossly disproportionate, overbroad, procedurally unfair and discriminatory” and resulted in a “substantial change in the conditions of his confinement.”

He sought an order for CSC to provide him with a computer so he could prepare his legal documents, an order to provide him with at least 90 minutes of recreation time every day and $300 in costs.

He also sought several declarations from CSC, including that the agency breached his charter rights and contravened sections of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

Lawyers for the respondents stated that the lawsuit should be dismissed because it was “frivolous,” “fundamentally defective” and “improperly brought.”

“The Attorney General submits that the computer restrictions resulted from an administrative decision that did not affect Mr. Alam’s residual liberty interests, let alone ‘substantially,’ ” the court documents state.

The documents state that since Alam filed his lawsuit, computer access at the prison has been increased and there is now a computer in the unit where Alam is housed with 80 other inmates.

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Justice Alan Ross ruled on July 5 in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver that Alam’s lawsuit should be dismissed because his complaints did not fall into the scope of “habeas corpus” – to determine whether a person’s imprisonment or detention is lawful – as would be required for the matter to proceed at the superior court level.

Rather, Alam should have instead filed an appeal of his initial grievance, Ross said.

“Instead, he sought to reformulate his argument to attempt to fit it within the limited scope of habeas corpus. In my opinion, that attempt was ill-conceived at best and frivolous at worst,” Ross said.

He also ruled that Alam should pay $1,000 in costs to the respondents.

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