Should Gay Couples in Prison Get to Live Together?

Two Canadian prisoners are fighting a court battle for the right to live together in a minimum security facility. So far they’ve not met with much success, but their case actually throws up an interesting issue.

Jean Richer and Leslie Sinobert, who are currently housed separately in a Saskatchewan prison, recently argued in court that the Correctional Service of Canada is violating their rights by preventing them from living together at the minimum security prison.

The prisoners, one of whom is serving life while the other is serving an indeterminate sentence, argue that they have a long standing relationship. They contend that when they were both moved to the minimum security housing facility of the federal Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert, it was wrong for the authorities to assign them to different facilities and disregard their relationship.

It’s worth interjecting here and saying that, according to reports, this case actually goes further back, with Richer having filed a grievance with the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in 2007 over the same issue of the prison service separating he and Sinobert. This was included in their court bid to show that the couple had previously and unsuccessfully used the prison system’s appeals process.

The case is complicated by the fact that one of the couple, Sinobert, has had three strokes over the past 10 years, and requires special care for the effects of mercury-poisoning that he suffered as a child. The prison authority argues that this is one factor in why the two were separated because Sinobert needed the mental health care his prison housing provides. The authority also maintains that the prisoners get ample time to see each other during recreation time after work and on weekends.

Justice Mona Dovell last month rejected the couple’s appeal. While she noted that the couple do indeed appear to be involved in a genuine longstanding relationship, the judge ruled she did not have authority over the housing policy of the prison and said the matter should be followed up within the prison’s administrative appeals process.

Secondly, she said she doubted that the prisoners would have won their case anyway. Judge Dovell contended that not all sanctions and regulations amount to an unlawful abridgment of freedom, and that the housing assignments were reasonable given the circumstances surrounding Sinobert’s health.

On Friday, the prisoners filed an appeal with the Saskatchewan appellate court, arguing that Judge Dovell was wrong and that the courts do have the authority to rule in this case because the prison system simply won’t treat their appeal fairly.

The couple argue that the prison’s grievance system “is not fair and expeditious and not impartial.” They also contend that Dovell failed to take into account discrimination based on sexual orientation and their overriding right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. In effect, they contend that the prison service knew about their longstanding relationship and when reassigning them specifically chose to split them up.

This case appears to hinge on whether the couple can prove that the prison system has particularly chosen to punish them by keeping them apart despite several attempts made by the couple to ask to live together — there appears no strict regulation against them being housed together, simply that once assigned a housing unit it is against the rules to attempt to stay in another housing unit.

The case therefore isn’t actually about housing gay prisoners together as much as it is about whether it’s lawful to keep them apart knowing that they are in a relationship and that this inflicts a very particular form of distress — an issue that really does appear to deserve a federal court’s attention.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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Past Member 1 years ago

NO. You are there for punishment for a crime, not to play house.

Trina Hawkins
Trina Hawkins1 years ago

YIKES ! Prison is a place where you have NO RIGHTS ! You do what they tell you to do ! And being as though they are living in the same prison already,what's the Big Deal ? People have ways of doing things in prison,putting them in different housing units won't stop anything ! But being as though one of them is Ill ,a little compassion wouldn't hurt either ! After all they are still Humans ! Everyone makes mistakes in this life,just some don't get caught,and others do !

HELEN V.1 years ago

I understand some people's feelings about punishment. Although I respect their viewpoint, I feel that there is a middle road.
As long as the occupancy of our prisons, orphanages and mental institutions continues to grow instead of diminish, this reflects on the failure of our society to address issues that lead to crime. People are not born criminals. We are not slaves to our genes. New evidence in biology has demonstrated, that it is our environment (thoughts, people act) which trigger genetic tendencies. So a more co-operative and harmonious society would produce fewer crimes.
Material and scientific progress is insignificant when it cannot help man live in a state of peace and harmony. And even if we cannot achieve perfection, the road to perfection improves the lot of every human being. Too much avarice and greed are standing in the way of proper progress.
Every criminal is a human being that has erred. It can happen to anyone, given circumstances and unfortunately there are quite a few people living among us who appear to be above board and yet responsible for heinous crimes, and the law cannot touch them.
Just because some-one does not have compassion and understanding for me doesn't mean that I should not feel compassion for them. It would be hypocrisy on my side.

If there is a way to be compassionate, even for prisoners, I would try to apply it.

Kaya Myrie
Past Member 1 years ago

Absolutely not!Wait until you get out of prison,like every one else has to!

Rhonda Bird
Rhonda B.1 years ago


BMutiny TCorporationsEvil

I am ASHAMED to see in Care2 members, this LUST FOR PUNISHMENT - it is irrational, SADISTIC, and almost SEXUAL in nature! Take a LOOK at yourself!
What ever happened to REHABILITATION? Back in the day, that USED to be a goal or excuse for imprisonment, for depriving a person temporarily of their Human Freedom.
It is, really, because of the IRRATIONAL DRUG WARS, the War on Drugs really being a War Against the Poor - that the idea of "Rehab" almost sounds QUAINT now, and for all practical purposes has been UTTERLY ABANDONED.
Oh, those Drug Fiends, STRING 'EM UP BY THEIR THUMBS, TORTURE THEM! THAT'LL teach 'em!
Do you think PUNISHMENT is a WORTHY GOAL? Like Eternal Hellfire, the Judgement of God? and not CHANGING A PERSON from doing wrong to doing right, doing good?
IF, and I say IF, "Rehabilitation" were a goal here, then allowing Friends and Lovers to be together - PARTICULARLY if one was very ill - would FACILITATE this goal, this process.
And I think the comment is SPOT ON, that Straights are worried Gays have "more fun", especially sexually... that enters in here too.
If ONE group is deprived of Human Rights, YOUR and MY Rights are in extreme jeopardy also... Geez....

BMutiny TCorporationsEvil

Since Society has chosen to make prisons sex-segregated - which is probably a Good Thing, preventing women prisoners from being raped by male prisoners - which happened in the old, non-sex-segregated prisons of the 18th century -
Since Society has chosen to make prisons sex-segregated, Gay or Same-sex couples DO live together and stay together in prisons - haven't you ever read a prison book or seen a prison movie?! - it's just that they usually MEET in prison AFTER they are incarcerated. And why not?
Since these prisoners are in minimum-security facilities, they can't be considered dangerous or violent. And since one of them is ill, it would be a tremendous comfort to have a friend rather than strangers in the immediate vicinity.
Being very ill, or dying, in prison, can't be much fun - in fact, I think it would be terrifying. And I don't imagine medical treatment would be of the best.
We don't know what these men did, or even if they are guilty - plenty of INNOCENTS get sent to prison - or their sentences might be far too long for what they actually did {like Drug Sentences are}. If they were dangerous or violent criminals, they wouldn't be in minimum security.
There is absolutely NO reason they shouldn't be together, except SPITE and Pettiness. Very surprised to see these on display by Care2 members!

Siobhan Ball
Siobhan Ball1 years ago

Syd L. No one should ever lose their human rights. That should go without saying.

Dave G.
Dave G.1 years ago

STUPID does NOT rule here, in these comments!
Yes, Virginia... It's PRISON!
Not to sound like that sanctimonious arsehole of an Arizona sheriff, Joe Something-or-Other, but PRISON IS PUNISHMENT...

Lisa D.
Lisa d.1 years ago

I agree with most of you.

They should not be given any special privileges at all!
When a male & female couple get arrested they don't even share a prison let alone a cell!