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Solitary confinement is the practice of confining someone in conditions of extreme isolation.

Getting the practice ruled unconstitutional has been a major goal of both CCLA and BCCLA.

We went to Canada’s highest court for a showdown with the federal government.

Why Solitary Confinement is an Issue;

The UNs Mandela rules dictate that being in solitary for more than 15 days is torture. If 15 days is considered torture, then why is the Canadian standard so much lower than that?

Holding people in extreme isolation causes devastating, permanent and irreversible harms to people. And there is a devastating body of evidence detailing what it does to a person to be left day after day, in their cell, in extreme isolation.

A key prison researcher in Canada conducted interviews with prisoners and concluded that segregation is “the most individually destructive, psychologically crippling and socially alienating experience that could conceivably exist within the borders of the country”. This was published in 1983 – over 35 years ago.

We know segregation harms mental health. Solitary confinement causes the following: massive anxiety, difficulties thinking, disturbances in thought content, problems with impulse control, cognitive impairment (e.g. concentration, memory, hallucinations) and emotional impairment (feelings of hopelessness, depression, rage and self-destructiveness).


When you’re in solitary, every day feels like a nightmare.

We fight for the rights of people who live this nightmare.

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 Black and Aboriginal Peoples.

Our Work To Stop Solitary Confinement.

CCLA is grateful for the support and pro bono contribution of our outstanding litigation team and their firms: Jonathan Lisus, Michael Rosenberg, Larissa Vermeersh, Charlotte-Ann Malischewski and Jacob Klugsberg (Lax, O’Sullivan, Lisus, Gottlieb LLP; and McCarthy Tétrault LLP).

The federal government has finally agreed to stop fighting CCLA and has withdrawn its appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada against an Ontario decision prohibiting prolonged solitary confinement.. CCLA is relieved by this important news, which comes after years of advocacy both inside and outside the courts.. The dangers of solitary confinement – and prolonged solitary in particular – are well known and well-documented, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has been fighting the government’s solitary confinement rules and practices for years.

CCLA advocated on this issue, bringing an international expert on solitary before the jury at the Ashley Smith inquest jury; CCLA, has reached out to government actors on several occasions; we have spoken out publicly against various corrections bills that did not fix the problem; and we have been fighting in the courts for over 5 years.

CCLA successfully challenged the solitary confinement regime known as administrative segregation, first at the Ontario Superior Court on the basis of a lack of independent review.

We were successful again at the Ontario Court of Appeal which found that the practice of prolonged solitary confinement (over 15 days) constitutes cruel and unusual treatment, violating s.. 12 the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada appealed the Court of Appeal decision several months ago, but today informed us that it was dropping its appeal.

This is an important victory for every person who is or has been held in solitary, and it has been a long time coming.

Over a Decade of Work:

CCLA has argued that the law allowing for solitary is unconstitutional for 5 different reasons:

  1. It forced isolation on people who were simply concerned about their own safety, rather than providing appropriate, safe alternatives;
  2. It allowed for the seclusion of people with mental illness, despite the severe harms to mental health caused by solitary;
  3. There was no prohibition on isolating teenagers and young adults up to the age of 21, despite medical evidence of the severe harms on their developing brains;
  4. Decisions and reviews of decisions about keeping someone in solitary were made by the institutional head – the warden – there was no independent or external review or protection.
  5. And there were absolutely no time limits on how long person could be placed in solitary confinement, despite the fact that this was supposed to be a measure of last resort, and that by this time, international law prohibited keeping people in indefinite or prolonged solitary confinement, which is defined as any period exceeding 15 days.


Photo of a typical solitary confinement cell.
The Office of the Correctional Investigator.


“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,”

Michael BryantExecutive Director of CCLA
Solitary has been used to punish criminals guilty of various offence levels for many weeks, months, and even years.
One prisoner, Adam Capay, spent a total of 1,647 days in solitary when the international rules say anything over 15 days is torture.

The Ashley Smith Inquest

Children and mentally ill individuals are being put in solitary confinement. 

One of the most well known of these was a teenager named Ashley Smith whose story you may be familiar with. By fifteen she had shown behavioural problems by throwing crabapples at a mailman, trespassing, and other small incidents. She was undiagnosed at the time and would end up spending much of her youth in juvenile detention facilities for minor offences.

Mental health supports and rehabilitation opportunities were not adequately provided, and she was continually penalized for various behaviours, including self-harm, all of which led to a negative spiral of behaviours, consequences, and reactions.

At the tender and terrified age of 18, she was considered a “difficult” inmate, transferred into an adult federal penitentiary, and placed in solitary where she continued to self-harm, often by tying ligatures around her neck. The tragic end of her story is well-known. The warden at the prison decided that Ashley was seeking attention – which may in fact be true, as she must have been desperate for human contact – and ordered prison officials not to enter Ashley’s cell unless she had stopped breathing. And so, on October 19 2007, four prison officials stood outside Ashley’s cell and watched as she tied a ligature around her neck for the final time and stopped breathing.

Ashley Smith was 19 when she died that day and had spent around 11 and a half months of cumulative time in solitary confinement.
We were a party at the inquest and fought for justice for Ashley and for her death to be recognized as a homicide.
CCLA is fighting for people like Ashley.
The Timeline


October 25, 2022

Victory at Quebec Superior Court

Huge victory against racial profiling at Quebec Superior Court. The decision can be read here:

May 30, 2022

First Day of Trial

The first day of trial in Quebec Superior Court; proceedings are expected to continue throughout June 2022.


May 18, 2021

CCLA Files Materials

CCLA files materials to participate as a conservatory intervenor.

February 2, 2021

Amended Originating Application Filed

An amended originating application is filed in Quebec Superior Court. 

Click here for the French copy. 

Click here for the unofficial English translation. 


November 9, 2020

Case First Filed in Quebec Superior Court
Materials & Documents

Latest Updates and Briefs


Groups: Canada must end “extreme”, prolonged solitary confinement

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, John Howard Society Canada, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry…
August 30, 2022

CCLA and Others Renew Calls to Limit Dry Cell Use – An “Extreme” Form of Solitary Confinement

Earlier this summer the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and a number of other groups urged…
August 30, 2022

Coalition Pens Open Letter to CSC, Renews Calls to End Prolonged Solitary Confinement

In June 2021, the Correctional Service of Canada (“CSC”) invited dozens of community organizations to…
July 6, 2021

CCLA on Ontario’s Proposed Changes to Regulations Governing Solitary Confinement

On June 4, 2021, the CCLA made submissions to the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor…
June 9, 2021

Justice Vs. Solitary Confinement: Torture in Canadian Prisons

Justice Vs. looks at how solitary confinement is used within the Canadian criminal justice system,…
November 30, 2020

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Appeal by Government against CCLA’s Challenge of Solitary Confinement Laws

Today, the Supreme Court of Canada issued its decision granting the government of Canada leave…
February 13, 2020

Attorney General of Canada V. Corporation of The Canadian Civil Liberties Association Factum

Attorney General Of Canada V. Corporation of The Canadian Civil Liberties Association Factum
June 28, 2019

Solitary Confinement: The Case Goes On

Canada’s solitary confinement regime is due to end on Monday but the government has sought…
June 18, 2019

Keep Your Promise On Solitary Confinement, Groups Tell Ottawa

Rights groups in legal challenges unite to urge government to comply with court orders.
May 14, 2018

CCLA Court Challenge To Solitary Confinement: The Next Step

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) will challenge the Government of Nova Scotia’s exceptionally broad injunction limiting…
April 6, 2018

CCLA Calls on Court to End Solitary Confinement – Hearing Starts September 11th

TORONTO, Ont. – On September 11th, 13th, 14th and 15th, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association…
September 8, 2017

CCLA Concerned by Coroner’s Report Findings of Soleiman Faqiri’s Death

The CCLA is greatly troubled by findings of the Coroner’s report concerning the death of…
July 21, 2017

Canada To Join Critical Anti-Torture Protocol

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) will challenge the Government of Nova Scotia’s exceptionally broad injunction limiting…
May 3, 2016

Government must end solitary confinement of mentally ill prisoners.

PRESS RELEASE: Canadian prisons need to drastically re-evaluate their use of solitary confinement, especially where…
March 10, 2010
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