The CCLA seeks to ensure that the criminal law is flexible enough to allow the judiciary to fashion appropriate and proportionate responses to criminal conduct on a case-by-case basis.
Noa Mendelsohn Aviv on January 27, 2015
“Solitary confinement deprives the prisoner of vital human contact. This practice has devastating effects on the prisoner’s mental and physical wellbeing, and constitutes the harshest form of punishment that may be administered in Canadian penitentiaries. As such, the ready, routine and prolonged use of solitary confinement in Canadian penitentiaries is unjustified, unethical, and ultimately, unconstitutional.”
The CCLA is deeply concerned about the practice of solitary confinement in Canadian prisons, and has long worked to uphold the rights of prisoners. CCLA has advocated with respect to these concerns, and noted the disproportionate representation of vulnerable groups in segregation including individuals with mental health issues and Aboriginal Peoples. CCLA has also conveyed in various fora its concerns regarding failing safeguards and an absence of adequate oversight with respect to segregation, and recently, the wholly inadequate response of the Correctional Service of Canada to the Ashley Smith Inquest recommendations.
Background – the Impact of Solitary Confinement:
Solitary confinement – also known as segregation – can cause severe mental and physical pain or suffering. In the case of prolonged segregation of over 15 days, some of its harmful psychological effects can become irreversible. These findings, based on psychological studies, have been affirmed by international human rights bodies. Indeed, according to a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatement (August 2011), when segregation is used “as a punishment, during pre-trial detention, indefinitely, prolonged, on juveniles or persons with mental disabilities, it can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and even torture.”
In addition, given the closed nature of prisons generally, and the isolation of solitary confinement, any abuses, misuse of authority, or mistreatment – such as that experienced by Ashley Smith – may go undetected and unchallenged.
There is also a troubling connection between segregation and suicide in federal penitentiaries, and a disproportionately high rate of suicide among prisoners in segregation. According to a recent report by the Office of Correctional Investigator (September 2014):
“A major finding of this review, one that is repeatedly supported by the literature, is that suicide rates are more prevalent in physically isolated cells (segregation, observation and mental health cells) than in general population cells. The literature is also clear that physical isolation and separation increases the risk of suicidal behaviour. Placement of a mentally disordered inmate in segregation or in an observation or special suicide-resistant cells has both perceived and actual punitive aspects… As this Office has long advocated, long-term segregation of mentally disordered inmates or those at risk of suicide or serious self-injury should be prohibited. Such a prohibition would be more consistent with existing policy on managing suicide risk than the status quo.”
In November 2009, CCLA announced that it was joining with the Criminal Lawyers’ Association to call for an immediate government response to the alarming increase in the use of solitary confinement in Canada’s federal penitentiaries.
On March 15 2010, CCLA – jointly with the Criminal Lawyers Association, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, the John Howard Society of Canada, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, and the Schizophrenia Societies of both Ontario and Canada – sent a letter to the Minister of Public Safety concerning the use of segregation and the special needs of prisoners with mental health issues.
Inquest into the Death of Ashley Smith – In March 2011, CCLA sought status as a public interest party in the Inquest into the Death of Ashley Smith. CCLA was represented on a pro bono basis by Allison Thornton (Koch Thornton LLP), assisted by Amy Slotek (CCLA). CCLA was a party to the Inquest and remained actively involved in it, through its various phases, until its conclusion in December 2013. During this time, CCLA questioned witnesses, called Prof. Andrew Coyle as an expert witness (from the U.K.), worked with the other parties to draft, where possible, joint recommendations for the jury, made oral submissions, endorsed and opposed the final submissions submitted by Coroner’s Counsel, and submitted its own Additional Recommendations to the inquest jury.
In May 2012, CCLA addressed the issue of solitary confinement in its report to the UN Committee Against Torture, making a number of submissions, and referring specifically to the Ashley Smith inquest which was at that time ongoing.
In December 2013, nearly a year following the conclusion of the Inquest into the death of Ashley Smith, Correctional Service Canada released its response to the Inquest recommendations. CCLA was deeply disappointed by this response, as failing to adequately address the practice of administrative segregation, place firm time limits on its use, or provide for meaningful oversight and accountability mechanisms.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 27, 2015- The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) are challenging the inhumane practice of placing individuals in solitary confinement in Canadian prisons. This morning CCLA and CAEFS filed a petition in the Ontario Superior Court to challenge the constitutionality of legislative provisions which allow for solitary confinement.
“In 2011, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment declared solitary confinement contrary to the successful rehabilitation and reintegration needs of prisoners,” asserted Kim Pate, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and the Sallows Chair in Human Rights at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law. “Recently, Canada’s own Correctional Investigator reported that 14 of 30 prisoner suicides in the past three years occurred in segregation, which elevates suicide risk. Most prisoners who died in segregation had a documented history of mental health issues.”
“The link between torture, cruel treatment and solitary confinement is too important for Canadians to remain silent,” said Sukanya Pillay, General Counsel and Executive Director of CCLA. “We cannot equivocate about measures that result in torture. We must protect the prison population’s most vulnerable members, which includes people with mental health issues.”
The CCLA and CAEFS have long worked to uphold the rights of prisoners particularly with respect to the concerning segregation, and the disproportionate representation of vulnerable groups in segregation including individuals with mental health issues and Aboriginal Peoples. Failing safeguards and an absence of adequate oversight over uses of segregation, and the wholly inadequate response of the Correctional Service of Canada to the Ashley Smith inquest recommendations prompted CAEFS and CCLA to take action.
“The practice of solitary confinement in Canada is fatally flawed,” remarked Jonathan Lisus of Lax O’Sullivan Scott Lisus LLP, Counsel in the petition to Superior Court. “Our clients are bringing these challenges to end practices that have violated the constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual treatment or punishment”.
“Canadian prisons subject inmates to solitary confinement without any limit on duration, without any guarantee of independent review, and without any consideration of the frailties of the inmate” said Michael Rosenberg of McCarthy Tétrault LLP, Counsel in the petition to the Superior Court. “The ready, routine and prolonged use of solitary confinement in Canadian penitentiaries is unjustified, unethical, and ultimately, unconstitutional”.
The CCLA and CAEFS have also urged Canada to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture, which would allow independent visits of detention centres.
CCLA and CAEFS acknowledge the work of their colleagues in British Columbia who last week launched a suit also challenging provisions enabling solitary confinement. “It is incumbent on all members of civil society to speak out against torture,” said Pillay, “we support their efforts and our joint suits reinforce the importance of these issues central to CCLA’s mandate.” Kim Pate, a Canadian expert who has worked to end solitary confinement for decades, argues that, “The preventable deaths of such prisoners as Ashley Smith, Kinew James, and Edward Snowshoe, have galvanized opposition to the use of segregation, especially for Indigenous prisoners and those with mental health issues. Eliminating or severely curtailing the use of isolation is a laudable objective. But the Correctional Service of Canada, by defining certain units as “special needs”, “mental health observation”, or “intensive psychiatric care”, often avoids the current review requirements stipulated by the Act. The resulting, often punitive, disciplinary responses exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues. Not only do we need accountability, but we need to recognize that in Canada, entire prisons for youth, men and women, have been managed for months and sometimes years, without segregation units.”
CCLA—an independent, non-partisan, non-profit, non-governmental organization—works to protect the rights and freedoms of all Canadians. Its mission is to promote respect for and observance of fundamental human rights and civil liberties, and to defend, extend, and foster recognition of these rights and liberties.
CAEFS –is a federation of twenty-five autonomous societies which work with, and on behalf of, marginalized, victimized, criminalized and institutionalized women and girls.
The CCLA and CAEFS are represented on their petition to the Superior Court by Lax O’Sullivan Scott Lisus LLP and McCarthy Tétrault LLP.
Canadian Civil Liberties Association
(416) 363-0321 ext. 230
Cara Zwibel on September 24, 2014
Join the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project in Ottawa for a discussion of pre-trial imprisonment in Canada. Due to a serious crisis with our bail and criminal justice system, Canada is imprisoning an increasing number of people who are simply waiting for their day in court. Pre-trial detention rates have tripled over the past 30 years, fueling major problems with crowding, violence and inhuman conditions in our provincial jails.
How did we end up here? How can we work towards a safe and just future in our community and others like it across Ontario and Canada?
WHERE: University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, Fateux Hall, Room 135
WHEN: Wednesday, October 1st, 2014, 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm
Abby Deshman – Director, Public Safety Program, CCLA and co-author of recent CCLA report, “Set Up to Fail: Bail and the Revolving Door of Pre-trial Detention”
Jacqueline Tasca – Policy Analyst, John Howard Society of Ontario and author of JHSO report “Reasonable Bail?”
Marie-Eve Sylvestre – Vice-Dean of Research and Communications, Civil Law, uOttawa
Catherine Latimer – Executive Director, John Howard Society of Canada
Alex Scantlebury – CEO of EBM Pro Writing and former OCDC prisoner
Cara Zwibel on September 24, 2014
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Ontario are teaming up to deliver educational workshops on police record checks across the province of Ontario!
Police records present numerous barriers for individuals who have had past police contact or justice involvement and who are attempting to find employment, housing and even treatment. Traditionally in Ontario non-conviction and police contact records have been routinely disclosed on police record checks – including information from non-criminal calls to 9-1-1, apprehensions under the Mental Health Act, suspect or person of interest designations, and charges that resulted in withdrawal, acquittal or other non-conviction dispositions.
The On the Record series aims to provide helpful information, tailored to two audiences:
1) those who help or work with people who may be impacted by police records (i.e. direct social service providers, legal/court professionals, government etc.) and,
2) Those who use police record checks in hiring or volunteer screening – HR professionals, Volunteer Organizations/Coordinators and Employers.
The workshop, delivered by Abby Deshman of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Jacqueline Tasca of the John Howard Society of Ontario, will provide:
Employers and HR professionals will also receive information regarding:
This series is funded through a grant from the Law Foundation of Ontario. To find out more about CCLA’s work on record checks, visit www.ccla.org/recordchecks.
UPCOMING SCHEDULED SESSIONS
Contact the person identified under each session to register, or if you would like to host your own On the Record session, please contact Jacqueline Tasca at firstname.lastname@example.org
YORK REGION / SIMCOE
LONDON & AREA
Noa Mendelsohn Aviv on September 17, 2014
The case of P.S. v. Ontario concerns an individual detained for over 18 years in a maximum security mental health facility, despite a broad consensus that he does not need to be in maximum security, and significant evidence that he may not need to be in an institution at all and may be eligible for a community placement. Mr. S. is deaf and pre-lingual, however his disability and language needs were reportedly not accommodated by the institution, apparently leading to intense social isolation, lack of adequate assessment and treatments, and ultimately the lengthening of his detention.
CCLA intervened in this case to argue, before a 5 judge panel at the Ontario Court of Appeal: that there need to be adequate safeguards for people in involuntary detention under the Mental Health Act; that mental health detainees are entitled to Charter protection of their rights; that the Charter applies to non-government hospitals that function as detention facilities; and that the court must consider the compound nature of fundamental rights violations where applicable. CCLA’s submissions appeared to be of interest to the 5 judge panel, who referred to CCLA’s arguments a number of times during the hearing. CCLA is grateful to the work of counsel David Morritt and Eric Morgan (Oslers).
To read CCLA’s factum, click here.
Abby Deshman on August 8, 2014
On August 6, 2014, the Ontario Divisional Court decided that hundreds of individuals who were detained and arrested in mass police cordons during the G20 can have their legal claims heard together as a class action. Hundreds of those detained at the Eastern Avenue Detention Centre may also have their claims jointly heard as part of a related class. The Court’s decision recognizes the seriousness of the claims being brought forward and the alleged conduct of the police on that weekend in June 2010. As stated by Justice Nordheimer, who authored the unanimous decision:
“If the appellant’s central allegation is proven, the conduct of the police violated a basic tenet of how police in a free and democratic society are expected to conduct themselves. Their actions, if proven, constitute an egregious breach of the individual liberty interests of ordinary citizens. On this view of the respondent’s conduct, it is not hyperbole to see it as being akin to one of the hallmarks of a police state, where the suppression of speech, that is uncomfortable for those in positions of power, is made a prime objective of those whose job it is to police the public.”
CCLA filed evidence in support of the motion for certification, and has continued to be involved in other post-G20 accountability efforts including ongoing disciplinary proceedings against the senior Toronto Police Service officer who ordered several of the mass arrests. You can learn more about the ongoing class action, including who is included within the class, at http://www.g20classaction.ca/. To read more about CCLA’s actions before, during and after the 2010 G20 Summit click here.
Read the decision here.
Read the full press release from Klippensteins Barristers & Solicitors here.
Abby Deshman on August 6, 2014
On Friday August 1st the Supreme Court released its decision in R v Hart, a case that examined whether the existing legal limits on a police investigative tactic known as “Mr. Big” were sufficient to protect individuals’ rights and ensure fair trials. The Court agreed with the position advanced by CCLA and a number of others that the existing limits on this particular police technique were not sufficient, and crafted a new more rigorous test aimed at ensuring that police activities in these undercover operations do not produce false confessions and are not abusive.
The “Mr. Big” tactic is a specific type of undercover police operation. Police target a suspect, befriending him or her and slowly involving the suspect into the activities of a fictitious criminal organization. The suspect is given financial rewards and friendship, with the promise of more money and support to come. Eventually, he or she is introduced to the crime boss – “Mr. Big” – who must approve the suspect’s involvement, and presses him or her for a confession to the unsolved crime.
As recognized by the Supreme Court, there are numerous dangers involved in this type of police operation: “Suspects confess to Mr. Big during pointed interrogations in the face of powerful inducements and sometimes veiled threats.” In short, it is an inherently coercive process that can result in false confessions. Introducing the confession in court also necessarily involves detailed testimony of the suspect’s willingness to commit other crimes and join a criminal organization – information that can easily prejudice a jury against the accused.
In recognition of these dangers, the Supreme Court established strong new rules governing the admissibility of Mr. Big confessions. These confessions will now presumptively be inadmissible, and it will be up to the Crown to prove that they are reliable enough to be used as evidence. The conduct of the police will also be scrutinized: “No matter how reliable the confession, the courts cannot condone state conduct – such as physical violence – that coerces the target of a Mr. Big operation into confessing.”
CCLA welcomes the newly restrictive rules governing these coercive police techniques.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) has released a report: Set Up to Fail: Bail and the Revolving Door of Pre-trial Detention, which questions the extensive rise in pre-trial custody populations and identifies the extreme personal and financial costs of current practices in Canadian bail courts.
Despite a falling crime rate, the remand rate in Canada has nearly tripled in the past 30 years. Currently the majority of people detained in provincial and territorial jails are legally innocent, waiting for their trial or a determination of their bail. 2005 marked the first time in Canadian history that our provincial institutions were primarily being used to detain people prior to any finding of guilt, rather than after they had been convicted and sentenced.
CCLA is aware that this is an issue various governments are actively struggling with, and looks forward to constructive engagement with all justice and law enforcement actors to try to address some of the trends identified by the report.
The report outlines a series of recommendations including:
Please join the Canadian Civil Liberties Association on July 23, 2014, for the release of its new report on bail and pre-trial detention. The report, which is the result of a year-long study of the operation of bail in five provinces and territories, highlights Canada’s increasing reliance on pre-trial detention, presents new data about the operation of bail courts, and calls on governments and court professionals to institute reforms in the law and practice of bail. Report authors and/or other experts will be available for comment in both Toronto, Ontario and Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Sukanya Pillay, CCLA General Counsel and Executive Director
Report authors Abby Deshman, CCLA Program Director and Professor Nicole Myers, Criminology, Simon Fraser University
Kim Pate, Executive Director, Elizabeth Fry Societies
Jacqueline Tasca, Policy Analyst, John Howard Society of Ontario
Corey Shefman, lawyer, Board Member of Canadian Civil Liberties Association and President of Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties
John Hutton, Executive Director, John Howard Society Winnipeg
Wednesday July 23rd, 2014
Toronto: Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Suite 210, 215 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON
Winnipeg: Winnipeg Law Courts (adjacent to sculpture), 408 York Avenue, Winnipeg, MB
Canada’s crime rate has been steadily falling for decades, and four out of five individuals brought before criminal courts are charged with non-violent offences. Nevertheless, our rate of pre-trial detention has increased by 300% in the past 30 years. Pre-trial detention, which is frequently carried out in over-crowded, maximum security institutions with frequently lock-downs and little to no programming, is generally recognized as one of Canada’s harshest forms of incarceration. The new report from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association details how Canada’s bail system is contributing to this problem and proposes recommendations for reform.
CCLA Media Fellow
416 363 0321 ex 225