Bell Canada asked to set aside phone charges for Ontario prisoners during COVID-19 pandemic

Amidst closures in Ontario, provincial government has suspended family visits to prisons

Bell Canada asked to set aside phone charges for Ontario prisoners during COVID-19 pandemic

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent suspension of prison visits effected by the Ontario government, Sotos LLP has asked Bell Canada to waive its fees for long-distance calls from Ontario jails to any location within North America, as long as the suspension is in effect.

In a letter addressed to Bell, David Sterns of Sotos LLP cited the situation in Italy, where COVID-19-related lockdowns and suspensions of family visits led to prison riots resulting in the deaths of several prisoners.

“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,” Sterns wrote. “Bell’s conduct is both legally wrong and morally repugnant.”

Earlier this year, Sotos LLP initiated a class action on behalf of Ontario prisoners and other persons made to pay charges under the Offender Telephone Management System set in place by Bell, in accordance with a contract between Bell and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services of Ontario, granting Bell the exclusive right to provide telephone services to prisoners in correctional facilities in Ontario.

In the statement of claim, plaintiffs argued that Bell, which charges more than $30 per long-distance call of no more than 20 minutes, imposed unconscionable telephone service rates and committed unfair practices contrary to s. 15 of the Consumer Protection Act.

"Failure to [waive the fees] will result in irreparable harm to all prisoners and their loved ones,” wrote Sterns. “It is time for Bell to match its words with actions and do the right thing.”

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