Prisons and Jails
Prisons and jails are uniquely closed, non-transparent institutions that have a vast amount of power and control over almost all aspects of prisoners’ lives. When incarcerated individuals’ rights are violated, they may be marginalized, segregated and subject to further abuse if they complain. Prisons also tightly regulate outside access, limiting the amount of independent monitoring and verification that can occur. As such, those who are vulnerable to rights violations in this setting face particular, and at times insurmountable barriers to sharing their experiences and pursuing legal remedies.
We need to document rights abuses, ensure access to meaningful remedies and tackle systemic change.
On an average day, over 40,000 people are incarcerated in Canada’s jails and prisons. Many of these people are waiting for their trial or a bail decision and have only been accused of a crime. These people are subject to a deprivation of their liberty and basic rights that most of us will never experience or truly understand. For decades, provincial and federal inquests, inquiries, commissions and investigations into the treatment of Canadian prisoners have made repeated recommendations concerning oversight, accountability, and transparency; few have ever been implemented.
Although various laws and policies exist to protect prisoners and detainees from arbitrary or excessive use of power, mounting evidence suggests that systemic violations of human rights continue to occur, and at times have tragic consequences.
Our recent work
2014 supreme court win
Khela, a prisoner in a medium-security facility, was transferred to a high-security facility after the government received information that he was involved in the stabbing of an inmate. Khela applied for habeas corpus, which is an ancient legal tool that has protected people against unjustified detention since 1215. The government attempted to argue that habeas corpus should be limited in the context of involuntary prison transfers.
Everyone should be granted protection against deprivations of their liberty, and the onus is on the government to justify any detention.
Our lawyers went to court to argue that habeas corpus should remain accessible in all contexts and that the government can only withhold information on why a person is being detained when there are security-related reasons for doing so. Thankfully, the Supreme Court agreed and issued a judgment that affirmed the value of robust habeas corpus review.