March 23, 2020
Bell called upon to waive charges on prison long distance calls during the COVID-19 crisis
TORONTO, March 19, 2020 - In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario government has suspended all visits with family and friends at Ontario jails. In these circumstances, Bell's telephones in Ontario jails have become the only way prisoners can communicate with their families and support network.
Bell charges over $30 for a long distance call of no more than 20 minutes. A class action was started against Bell earlier this year over the fees that Bell charges for local and long distance calls from Ontario prisons. The plaintiffs allege in a statement of claim that the fees are unconscionable and illegal.
In a letter to Bell sent yesterday, plaintiffs' counsel, David Sterns, warned Bell that its extraordinarily high long distance fees will impose significant additional hardship on prisoners and their families:
"In light of the current economic turmoil and widespread job loss, it is entirely foreseeable that prisoners will be prevented from maintaining contact with the outside world, or will be forced to dramatically lessen their contact with the outside world, because they cannot afford to make long distance phone calls. This hardship will be caused entirely by Bell's desire to profit exorbitantly – and, in fact, increase their already exorbitant profits due to the increased volume of calls - from their forcible confinement."
Recent experience in Italy has shown that lockdowns and suspension of family visits increase tensions inside jails and can have deadly consequences for prisoners. Several prisoners have died in Italy in riots over anti- COVID-19 measures. The letter references Bell's "Let's Talk" campaign designed to reduce the stigma around mental health issues:
"As a company that prides itself on its commitment to mental health through its #BellLet'sTalk campaign among others, Bell will be well aware of the emotional harm that its excessive rates have on the prison population, many of whom suffer from depression and anxiety. Bell's conduct is both legally wrong and morally repugnant."
Mr. Sterns demanded that Bell immediately waive fees for long distance calls from Ontario prisons to anyone across North America for the duration of the current no-visit directive.
"Failure to do so will result in irreparable harm to all prisoners and their loved ones. It is time for Bell to match its words with actions and do the right thing," said Mr. Sterns.
SOURCE Sotos Class Actions