COVID-19 is not a ‘get-out-of-jail-free card,’ says B.C. judge

Suspect denied bail, despite using pandemic as defence to be released from jail

An Abbotsford judge has ruled that COVID-19 is not a “get-out-of-jail-free card” for inmates using it as an argument to be released from prison.

Judge Gregory Brown made the statement April 17 in denying the release on bail of a man who was charged with fleeing from police in Abbotsford in March.

David Sean Anderson, 36, appeared via teleconference in Abbotsford provincial court on April 8, at which time his lawyer asked that Anderson no longer be detained in prison due to the pandemic.

He has been in custody since March 27. On that day, police allegedly noticed Anderson parked in a remote area of Abbotsford near the border, but when they approached his vehicle, he sped away.

According to court documents, Anderson allegedly reached speeds of up to 150 km/h in an 80 km/h zone and continued to drive away even after hitting a spike belt set up by police.

Anderson allegedly abandoned the vehicle and ran away, but was arrested shortly afterwards. He was subsequently charged with dangerous operation of a vehicle, driving while disqualified, fleeing from police and breaching his probation.

“Defence counsel submits that although this is a case where ordinarily a detention order could be considered, I ought to look at the risks associated with COVID-19 in prisons and release Mr. Anderson with an innovative release plan,” Brown stated in his written ruling.

The release plan presented by Anderson’s lawyer included a $2,000 cash release order and house arrest in a “type of gated community,” Brown wrote.

RELATED: Mission inmate dies from apparent complications of COVID-19

But Brown said Anderson has a criminal record that is “extensive and unenviable,” including five convictions for dangerous driving and eight convictions for driving while disqualified or driving without the owner’s consent.

Brown said Anderson also has several convictions for property offences and breaching his court-ordered conditions.

Anderson was last sentenced in February 2020 for several offences, including driving while disqualified, possession of stolen property, fraud, two break-ins and theft of a vehicle.

He was given a sentence of time served and 18 months’ probation.

The judge said COVID-19 is a “valid factor” when considering whether an individual should remain in prison.

He cited the outbreak at Mission Institution, which, at the time of his ruling, had 54 infected inmates and eight staff members who had tested positive.

RELATED: Federal handling of COVID-19 outbreak at Mission Institution criticized by local MPs, advocates

“Inmates are housed in closed quarters, making them a vulnerable, state-mandated group of people,” Brown wrote.

But he said that other segments of society – such as health-care workers and elderly residents of care homes – are especially at risk, and the “vulnerability of prisoners must be placed in context.”

Brown concluded that Anderson does not have any health concerns that would put him at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and that his release plan “cannot properly mitigate the risk to the public.”

“If a spike belt cannot immediately slow Mr. Anderson down, I do not think a release order will do so now,” he wrote.

Anderson remains in custody and is next due back in court on May 11.


 

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vhopes@abbynews.com

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