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Ontario corrections ministry opens disciplinary procedure in jail baby case

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OTTAWA - Ontario's Corrections Ministry has opened a formal disciplinary proceeding after receiving a report on the case of a baby born on the floor of an Ottawa jail last fall.

The Ontario College of Nurses is also investigating the incident, in which an inmate gave birth while in a segregation cell at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre.

Julie Bilotta, 26, of Cornwall, Ont., gave birth prematurely on Sept. 29, complaining at the time that her pleas for help were ignored.

The incident sparked outrage across the country and was described by women's groups as just another example of the harsh conditions women endure behind bars in Canada.

Critics have also linked it to the Ashley Smith tragedy, in which a 19-year-old Moncton, N.B., teen choked herself to death in a Kitchener, Ont., prison in 2007.

They say disciplining one or more corrections employees won't fix the shortcomings in the prison system.

"The problems are systemic, they're not about bad apples," said Dawn Moore of the Mother-Child Coalition for Justice.

"Calling out a couple of prison workers or nurses because of specific wrongdoing does not even come close to addressing the problem."

The coalition said it has repeatedly asked to meet Ontario Corrections Minister Madeleine Meilleur to discuss the plight of women in jail.

Those calls have gone unanswered, said Moore.

"Her office has been obstructionist and blocked us at every turn," she said.

"That, to me, speaks volumes to the fact the ministry is not interested in addressing this as a broader matter of public concern."

Meilleur's office, however, said it had not received any formal requests from the coalition to meet, but added that the minister met with the Elizabeth Fry Society immediately after they officially requested a meeting to discuss their concerns about the case.

Officials say Meilleur has also asked her deputy to launch a "province-wide systemic review" of the ministry's delivery of health-care services to inmates.

Ontario's correctional investigation and security unit sent its findings in the Bilotta case to the deputy corrections minister this week.

But the report is being held under wraps while the College of Nurses investigation continues. Neither Bilotta nor her lawyer have been given a copy of the investigator's findings.

Shortly after the Bilotta baby was born, a nurse at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre was suspended with pay.

It's not clear whether she is the only employee facing potential discipline.

Bilotta said jail staff didn't believe she was in labour and ignored her pleas until it was too late to go to hospital. She gave birth to a boy, Gionni Lee Garlow, on the cement floor of her cell.

Bilotta was in the detention centre on drug trafficking and fraud charges filed in her hometown of Cornwall — charges that have not been proven in court.

She was granted bail in mid-October under strict conditions, including that she live with her son at an Ottawa halfway house. Bilotta was also ordered not to use street drugs or associate with anyone with a criminal record or who uses drugs or alcohol. She was ordered to participate in counselling programs.

She is scheduled to go to a judicial pretrial hearing in Cornwall on Thursday.

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