Rights groups in legal challenges unite to urge government to comply with court orders
OTTAWA, Algonquin Anishnaabeg Territory (May 14 2018) – Rights groups who have won court challenges against indefinite solitary confinement were in Ottawa this morning to urge the federal government to abide by the courts’ rulings. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and the John Howard Society of Canada (JHSC) won constitutional challenges against indefinite solitary confinement in decisions by the Ontario and British Columbia courts in late 2017 and early 2018. The groups stated that instead of implementing its election promise to end indefinite solitary confinement in federal prisons, the Trudeau government has decided to fight to quash the most recent court ruling.
“Our message is clear. The government must end the torture of indefinite solitary confinement. The courts have laid out a path and the government should stop fighting and obey the court orders,” said Michael Bryant, executive director of the CCLA. “Not one but two courts have found the law unconstitutional, noting the danger and harm in this horrendous practice.”
Courts in Ontario and British Columbia concluded that Canada’s existing law on solitary confinement violates s. 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as it places prisoners at increased risk of self-harm and suicide and causes psychological and physical harm. The B.C. Court further held that that the laws are unconstitutional because they discriminate against the mentally ill and disabled, and against Indigenous prisoners. Each court suspended the effect of its judgment for a year to give Parliament time to comply.
Catherine Latimer, Executive Director of the John Howard Society of Canada, stated: “Some prisoners are spending months and years in small cells, deprived of meaningful human contact. The evidence in our case showed that this isolation causes people severe physical and psychological harm, and can lead them to take their own lives. The BC Supreme Court ruled that the cruelty of indefinite solitary confinement has no place in our prisons, and the government should obey the law, period.”
In filing its appeal of the BC court decision, the federal government stated that it was doing so in order to have “juridical clarity” between the two decisions. Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, took issue with that statement: “There is no lack of clarity and no conflict between the BC and Ontario rulings. Both Courts struck down the existing laws and nothing is preventing the government from complying. The government is choosing to fight.”
The organizations pointed out that they wrote to the government following the court decisions urging the government to end the court battles and to fix the system. The government declined to meet to discuss the issue, instead responding by appealing the BC court decision.
Links: Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruling; B.C. Supreme Court ruling
Michael Bryant, Executive Director and General Counsel, CCLA
Catherine Latimer, Executive Director, JHSC
Josh Paterson, Executive Director, BCCLA
For more information, visit our segregation challenge post here.
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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