Indefinite solitary confinement in prisons unconstitutional: B.C. Supreme Court

Associations argued solitary confinement was inhumane and should be vetoed from Canadian prisons

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled that the practice of indefinite solitary confinement in Canadian prisons will end, after deeming the practice unconstitutional.

The ruling released Wednesday was based off a nine-week trial between the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada verse the Attorney General of Canada.

“This is the most significant prison law decision from a trial court in Canadian history,” Jay Aubrey, staff lawyer at the BCCLA, said in a news release.

“It is a stunning decision that is grounded in four decades of history, and the best social science and medical evidence on the impact on inmates health of solitary confinement, and alternatives to solitary confinement.”

Justice Peter Leask says the practice of isolating prisoners for undefined lengths of time is unconstitutional, but he suspended his decision for 12 months to give the government time to deal with its ramifications.

The Crown argued the practice is a reasonable and necessary tool when prisoners pose a threat to others or are at risk of being harmed by the general prison population.

The federal government introduced a bill in June that would set an initial time limit for segregation of 21 days, with a reduction to 15 days once the legislation is law for 18 months.

The government tried to stop the trial, saying the legislation introduced last year would impose a time limit on solitary confinement terms, but the judge allowed the case to proceed.

Leask concluded in his judgment released Wednesday that prolonged confinement places the federal inmates in significant risk of serious psychological harm, including mental pain and suffering, and puts them at increased risk of self-harm and suicide.

The written decision says the risk of harm is intensified in the case of inmates with mentally illness.

Leask wrote that while many acute symptoms are likely to subside when prisoners are brought out of segregation, “many inmates are likely to suffer permanent harm as a result of their confinement.”

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said reform will take time and effort but the federal government has been working since early 2016 to correct the mistaken views and directions of the previous administration under former prime minister Stephen Harper.

“Our government is committed to addressing the needs of the most vulnerable in the federal correctional system,” Goodale said. He added that the government is reviewing the ruling but did not say whether it intends to file an appeal.

Aubrey said for inmates who have gone through solitary confinement, the decision means: “What’s been done to you is very, very wrong.”

Leask’s decision says the health of people can be put at risk after only a few days in segregation, and the risk of harm increases the longer someone is confined under those conditions.

The indeterminate length of administrative segregation is especially problematic because it “exacerbates its painfulness, increases frustration and intensifies the depression and hopelessness that is often generated in the restrictive environments that characterize segregation,” the decision says.

Josh Paterson, the association’s executive director, described the conditions of segregation as similar to “modern-day dungeons,” with evidence of walls covered in food and bodily fluids, people sleeping with their heads inches from toilets and screaming from other prisoners.

Often the only interaction for a prisoner is through a feed hole, Paterson added.

Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press

With files from Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media

Just Posted

New hospice programs aim eyed for at-home patients and caregivers

Abbotsford Hospice Society set to launch day program for people living at home with terminal illness

Abbotsford Arts Council seeks submissions for 2020 exhibits

Kariton Art Gallery hosts 10 to 12 shows each year

Abbotsford man crafts one-of-a-kind metal sculptures at Green Lake home

‘I am in an office all day and this is my way to get away from all of that’

SLIDESHOW: Symphony in the Park

Free concert at Mill Lake featured Abbotsford’s young orchestra talent

VIDEO: Abbotsford police arrest man suspected of using pepper-spray against another man

Police cruisers collide in pursuit of suspect fleeing on a stolen bicycle

QUIZ: How much do you remember about Woodstock?

Weekend music festival in Bethel, New York, was held 50 years ago

U16 B.C. fastpitch team named national champs

Girls went undefeated at national tournament in Calgary

Advocates ‘internationalize’ the fight to free Raif Badawi from Saudi prison

Raif Badawi was arrested on June 17, 2012, and was later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his online criticism of Saudi clerics

Canadian entrepreneurs turning beer byproduct into bread, cookies and profits

Some breweries turn to entrepreneurs looking to turn spent grain into treats for people and their pets

Canada ‘disappointed’ terror suspect’s British citizenship revoked

Jack Letts, who was dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by the U.K. media, has been detained in a Kurdish prison for about two years

Chrystia Freeland condemns violence in Hong Kong, backs right to peaceful assembly

There have been months of protests in the semi-autonomous region

Most Read