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Despite a declining provincial custody population, deaths in custody in Ontario are increasing at an alarming rate.  

CCLA has sent a letter to the Solicitor General of Ontario urging immediate action to improve transparency, accountability, and provide trauma-informed support for prisoners and families after a loved one dies in a provincial prison.   

The letter comes on the heels of a new report, released this morning, which documents a sharp increase in the number of deaths in Ontario provincial institutions.   

The report shows that deaths in Ontario provincial custody have increased 173.3% from 2010 and 2021.  

The number of annual reported deaths have risen from 15 in 2010, to 25 in 2019, to 41 in 2021. Preliminary numbers from the first 10 months of this year report 28 custodial deaths.  

In total, since 2010, there have been over 280 deaths in Ontario’s provincial institutions.  

Ontario’s jails are disproportionately filled with racialized persons, and in particular Black and Indigenous people, individuals experiencing poverty, homelessness, mental health issues, and those criminalized for substance use. These deaths have had a significant impact on Ontarians whose families and community members are incarcerated within these institutions. 

There are ongoing deficiencies in Ontario’s reporting and tracking of deaths in custody. Families are left with very few supports and information, and prisoners who may have been present for or witnessed deaths are met with a securitized, rather than trauma-informed, response. 

Ontario’s Office of the Chief Coroner is currently examining provincial deaths in custody from 2014 to 2021. While the review is welcome, actions can be taken now to address the situation. In 2017 the Independent Review of Ontario Corrections thoroughly examined Ontario’s policies and procedures for deaths in custody and made recommendations on death investigation oversight and response.  Many of these recommendations have remained unaddressed for the past five years.    

CCLA urges the Solicitor General to act now to improve oversight, transparency and trauma-informed supports after in-custody deaths. 

Tracking (In)Justice is a law enforcement and criminal justice data and transparency project that brings together civil society and academics to track and analyze police-involved and carceral deaths across Canada. CCLA is one of the founding partners of the project.  

About the Canadian Civil Liberties Association

The CCLA is an independent, non-profit organization with supporters from across the country. Founded in 1964, the CCLA is a national human rights organization committed to defending the rights, dignity, safety, and freedoms of all people in Canada.

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