CCLA Launches Lawsuit Challenging Solitary Confinement in Prisons

January 27, 2015

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) is challenging the inhumane practice of placing individuals in solitary confinement in Canadian prisons. CCLA  filed a petition in the Ontario Superior Court to challenge the constitutionality of legislative provisions, which allow for solitary confinement, in January 2015 and we continue to work to move the case forward.

“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 has 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 propelled CCLA  to take this action.

“The practice of solitary confinement in Canada is fatally flawed,” remarked Jonathan Lisus, Lead 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.”

The CCLA has also urged Canada to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture, which would allow independent visits of detention centres.

CCLA  commends the work of groups in British Columbia who have also 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.”

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) is 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.