Court Cases

Solitary confinement is no joking matter – and the…

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv
Director of Equality Program





The Ontario Court of Appeal has once more handed down a scathing decision to the government on its use of solitary confinement, and its failure, again, to fix flaws as ordered 16 months ago. If you are concerned about the use of solitary confinement in Canadian prisons, agree with courts and inquiries that prolonged solitary is cruel and unusual treatment, and believe that solitary should not be an option for vulnerable people, you are not alone. Given the many decisions, almost-missed deadlines, and requests for extensions, we thought it may be helpful to provide a brief update on our challenge, and why the government should stop fighting.

The bottom line: Despite the fact that CCLA won its challenge in December 2017, the government has not reformed its solitary confinement regime, not fixed the constitutional flaws found by the courts, and not passed new legislation. What it has done is fought, appealed, appealed again, and on 5 separate occasions (and counting) asked the courts for time to fix or delay fixing the law. And all the while, people are spending extended periods in Canada’s prisons in horrendous conditions and extreme isolation. It is now well past time. The government must stop fighting in the courts, and start making the necessary reforms in our prisons.

As to where things stand, in December 2017, the Ontario Superior Court agreed with CCLA’s expert witnesses about the devastating harms of solitary. It concluded that the current regime known as administrative segregation was unconstitutional because it did not provide independent review of decisions to place or keep someone in solitary. The government did not appeal this decision and it is still good law. However, the government did say that they needed time to amend the law and asked for 12 months. Over CCLA’s objections, the Superior Court granted the government the full 12 months requested.

Ten months later, the government introduced Bill C-83 in October 2018. However, this bill did not fix any of the issues raised by CCLA, including the issue of independent review as ordered by the Superior Court. The government then asked the Ontario Court of Appeal for more time to pass this bill. The Court of Appeal expressed serious reservations about this delay and the fact that the bill did not resolve the issue of constitutionality as found by the lower court, but granted an extension until April 30th 2019. As this date approached, the government made yet another request for more time. The Court of Appeal granted this too, “with great reluctance,” until June 17th, all the while making it clear that this was the last time.

That’s where things stand with the decision emanating from the Superior Court.

In the meanwhile, CCLA, while happy with our victory in the lower court, was not fully satisfied with the outcome. The lower court had only ruled the lack of independent review to be unconstitutional. CCLA had also argued that there were other unconstitutional aspects to the solitary confinement regime, including prolonged solitary confinement (over 15 days), and the placement of vulnerable people (such as people with mental illness, and youth) in solitary. And so CCLA appealed our own win to the Ontario Court of Appeal – and won again.

In another tremendous victory, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that prolonged solitary confinement amounted to cruel and unusual treatment and is unconstitutional. The Court gave the government 15 days to fix the problem.

It may not come as a shock to learn that in seeking an appeal of this decision at the Supreme Court, the government also asked the Supreme Court for, you guessed it, more time. This time, the government asked to delay implementation of the Court of Appeal’s decision on prolonged solitary. The Supreme Court granted a delay but only until the next phase of the process, which it heard on an expedited basis. At that point, the Supreme Court will issue its decision on whether the government has to comply with the Court of Appeal’s decision to end prolonged solitary confinement straight away – or whether it can wait until the Supreme Court hears the entire appeal.

If this all sounds terribly complex and Sysphean, it is and it is not. It is true that the government is wasting taxpayer time and resources. It is true that the government has yet to implement an independent review process as ordered by the Superior Court or to end prolonged solitary as required by the Court of Appeal. But the government has in the meantime quietly found solutions for many of the people formerly housed in solitary. The numbers in these units have reportedly dropped 59% in the past 5 years. So what the government claims it cannot do and needs more time to do, it is nonetheless doing. All it takes, it seems, is patience, strength, and the determination to make things right.

Sign our petition demanding Canada stop fighting these necessary reforms

Court Cases


UPDATE: Tuesday July 23, 2019

La version française suit.

– For Immediate Release –


NCCM & CCLA file an application for leave to appeal Justice Yergeau’s decision

(Montreal – June 23, 2019)

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) have filed an application for leave (attached) to appeal the Honourable Justice Yergeau’s decision in Hak c. Procureure générale du Québec, 2019 QCCS 2989. P

The NCCM & CCLA submit that leave should be granted because, in their estimation, the decision contains a number of important errors of law.

The new application asks the Quebec Court of Appeal to take another look at the decision that denied a request to suspend operation of the Act respecting the laicity of the State (Bill 21).

The “Laicity” Act bans people who wear religious symbols from holding a variety of public sector jobs, including as teachers, police officers and prosecutors. The law will most seriously curtail the freedoms of Muslim women who wear the hijab, Jews who wear the kippa, and Sikhs who wear turbans.

The NCCM and CCLA filed a constitutional challenge of the Act hours after it was enacted, and with it, asked the court for an urgent interim measure – to suspend the Act’s operation.

“We promised Quebecers and Canadians that we would stand up for their rights and we intend to do exactly that,” says NCCM Executive Director Mustafa Farooq, “We believe, as we always have, that this piece of legislation has no place being on the books in 2019. This is a historic moment as Quebecers of all faiths and backgrounds come together to oppose an unjust law, and stand with us in filing our application for leave.”

“It is not acceptable to hang signs telling certain people they are not welcome in stores, beaches, parks, or workplaces. A law that excludes people because of who they are and how they dress is both absurd and abhorrent – it has no place in a society that values justice, equality and freedom. This is why we fight,” says Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, Equality Program Director at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

The appellants are represented by Catherine McKenzie and Olga Redko of the distinguished litigation firm IMK LLP of Montreal.

The NCCM is an independent, non-partisan and non-profit organization that is a leading voice for civic engagement and the promotion of human rights.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) is a national, non-partisan, non-profit organization that works to protect the rights and freedoms of all people in Canada.



Mustafa Farooq, NCCM Executive Director, or 613-406-2525

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, CCLA Equality Program Director,, 647-780-9802


Bochra Manai, NCCM Quebec Public Affairs Spokesperson, or +1 (438) 932-7197

Sarah Abou-Bakr, NCCM Quebec Community Relations Coordinator, or 613-254-9704 Ext 236

– Pour diffusion immédiate –


Le CNMC et l’ACLC soumettent une demande d’autorisation d’en appeler de la décision du Juge Yergeau.

(Montréal – 23 juin 2019)

Le Conseil national des canadiens musulmans (CNMC) et l’Association canadienne des libertés civiles (ACLC) ont aujourd’hui soumis une demande d’autorisation d’en appeler de la décision de l’Honorable Juge Yergeau dans l’affaire Hak c Procureure générale du Québec, 2019 QCCS 2989 (ci-jointe).

Le CNMC et l’ACLC soumettent que l’autorisation d’en appeler devrait leur être octroyée puisque la décision initiale contient plusieurs erreurs importantes de droit.

La nouvelle demande vise à ce que la Cour d’appel du Québec révise la décision rejetant la demande de suspendre l’application la Loi sur la laïcité de l’État (projet de loi 21).

La Loi sur la « laïcité » empêche les individus qui portent un symbole religieux d’avoir certains postes dans le secteur public, incluant celui d’enseignant, de policier et de procureur. Cette loi va significativement restreindre les droits et libertés d’individus, notamment des femmes musulmanes qui portent le hijab, des juifs qui portent la kippa, et des sikhs qui portent un turban.

Le CNMC et l’ACLC ont contesté la validité de la nouvelle loi au lendemain de son adoption, au motif qu’elle est inconstitutionnelle. Les organisations ont simultanément invoqué une mesure provisoire d’urgence : la suspension de l’application de la loi.

« Nous avons promis aux Québécois et aux Canadiens que nous élèverions notre voix pour protéger leurs droits et libertés. C’est exactement ce que nous faisons. »  dit Mustafa Farooq, Directeur exécutif du CNMC. « Nous croyons, et nous avons toujours cru, que cette loi n’a pas sa place en 2019. C’est un moment historique que de voir les Québécois de toutes les confessions s’allier pour s’opposer à une loi injuste et nous appuyer dans notre demande d’autorisation pour en appeler de la décision. »

« Il n’est pas acceptable d’afficher des signes interdisant l’accès à certaines personnes à des boutiques, des plages, des parcs, ou des milieux professionnels. Une loi qui exclut des individus en raison de leur identité et de leur façon de s’habillant est à la fois absurde et aberrante; une loi du genre n’a pas de place dans une société qui promeut la justice, l’égalité et la liberté. C’est pour cela que nous nous battons. » dit Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, Directrice du Programme égalité de l’ACLC.

Les demandeurs sont représentés par Catherine McKenzie et Olga Redko de la firme distinguée IMK LLP de Montréal.

Le CNMC est une organisation nationale indépendante non-partisane à but non-lucratif qui est une voix éminente pour l’engagement civique et la promotion des droits de la personne.

L’Association canadienne des libertés civiles est une organisation nationale non-partisane à but non-lucratif qui travaille à protéger les droits et libertés de tous les individus au Canada.



Mustafa Farooq, Directeur exécutif du CNMC, ou 613-406-2525

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, Directrice du Programme égalité de l’ACLC,, 647-780-9802



Bochra Manai, CNMC Quebec, Porte-paroles de affaires publiques, ou +1 (438) 932-7197

Sarah Abou-Bakr, CNMC Quebec, Coordinatrice des relations communautaires, ou 613-254-9704 Ext 236

Court Cases

End to Solitary Confinement as we know it

UPDATE: Thursday, March 28, 2019

In an extraordinary decision, the Ontario Court of Appeal has ordered an end to prolonged solitary confinement in Canada’s prisons – in 15 days. Prolonged solitary is the confinement of a person for over 15 consecutive days in extreme isolation. In effect, the Court has ordered an end to the practice of housing inmates in these horrendous conditions. The decision states that solitary is capable of producing serious permanent negative mental health effects including altered brain activity, depression and suicidal ideation, confusion and hallucinations, paranoia, self-mutilation, and declines in mental functioning. The Court concludes that holding people in solitary for over 15 days “outrages standards of decency and amounts to cruel and unusual treatment,” and is unconstitutional.

This decision will come into effect in 15 days. This is an unusual remedy. Most constitutional victories nonetheless grant the government many months to create alternative laws. Here, however, the Court has put an end to the practice of prolonged solitary almost immediately.

Read the court’s decision here.

Monday, Nov. 19, 2018

For immediate release — TORONTO —
The federal government has failed to meet its Ontario court-imposed deadline of tomorrow to fix its solitary confinement laws.  So it has to beg the Ontario Court of Appeal for an extension this week.

“The feds have really bungled it this time,” said Michael Bryant, Executive Director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “Not only did they break their election campaign promise to end indefinite solitary confinement, but now they broke their promise to Ontario courts to fix a law by tomorrow that the Ontario Superior Court found to be unconstitutional a year ago. The court gave them a year to fix their broken laws, and they’ve failed.”

Rights groups who have won court challenges against indefinite solitary confinement were in courts last week in BC and this week in Ontario, fighting the Crown’s botched plans to fix the law of solitary confinement in Canada.  Tomorrow (11/20/18) at 10 a.m. the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) will argue before the Ontario Court of Appeal that the federal government has run out of time, and CCLA will also appeal various findings of the Ontario Superior Court from 2017.

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.

But they didn’t. The feds “arrogantly bided their time, introducing a new bill a month before the deadline, knowing full well that Parliament couldn’t pass it in time. It’s maybe even too late to pass it before the next election,” said Bryant.

The federal Crown is asking the Court tomorrow to extend the one-year suspension of the 2017 order for a further seven months to permit Parliament to consider legislation “that has no prospect of addressing the Constitutional deficiency,” CCLA argues in its written brief to the Court, adding: “Canada makes this request without any evidence to explain either its delay in taking action or its failure to implement any interim measures to mitigate its continuing Charter breach.”

Last week, the BC Court of Appeal had the federal Crown squirming in its justification for failing to meet the deadline. Tomorrow, it’s their turn to face the Ontario Court of Appeal. Representing CCLA pro bono is Jonathan Lisus and Michael Rosenberg (details below).  


Links: Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruling; B.C. Supreme Court ruling

Read CCLA’s Factum here.


Michael Bryant
Executive Director and General Counsel
CCLA: 416-230-8658


McCarthy Tétrault LLP
Tel: 416-362-1812
Michael Rosenberg

Lax O’Sullivan Lisus Gottlieb LLP
Tel: 416-598-1744

Jonathan C. Lisus



June 13, 2019 CCLA’s Response to Canada’s Motion for an Interim Stay

June 7, 2019 ONCA Order Regarding Extension of Suspension Declaration

March 28, 2019 Ontario Court of Appeal ruling

April 6, 2018 CCLA’s Factum

December 18, 2017 Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruling


Previous Updates

April 29, 2019 Solitary Confinement is No Joking Matter – And the Courts Are Not Amused – Again! Here are Where Things Stand

January 17, 2018 Legal Fight Against Solitary Confinement Continues 

December 17, 2018 CCLA Wins Important Battle Against Feds on Solitary Confinement 

December 18, 2017 Court Strikes Down Solitary Confinement Regime in Response to CCLA’s Challenge


Corrections and Prisons

Keep your promise on solitary confinement, groups tell Ottawa

Rights groups in legal challenges unite to urge government to comply with court orders

(le français suit)

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 rulingB.C. Supreme Court ruling


Michael Bryant, Executive Director and General Counsel, CCLA: 416-230-8658
Catherine Latimer, Executive Director, JHSC: 613-219-6471
Josh Paterson, Executive Director, BCCLA: 778-829-8973

For more information, visit our segregation challenge post here.

Tenez votre promesse au sujet de l’isolement cellulaire, disent des groupes à Ottawa

Des groupes de défense des droits dans des affaires juridiques s’unissent pour inciter le gouvernement à respecter les ordonnances de la cour

(Le français suit)

OTTAWA, Territoire Algonquin Anishnaabeg (14 mai 2018) – Des groupes de défense des droits qui ont remporté des contestations judiciaires contre l’isolement cellulaire indéfini étaient à Ottawa ce matin pour inciter le gouvernement fédéral à se conformer aux jugements rendus par les tribunaux. L’Association canadienne des libertés civiles (ACLC), l’Association des libertés civiles de la Colombie-Britannique (ALCCB) et la John Howard Society of Canada (JHSC) ont remporté des contestations constitutionnelles contre l’isolement cellulaire indéfini par des décisions rendues par les tribunaux de l’Ontario et de la Colombie-Britannique à la fin de 2017 et au début de 2018. Les groupes ont affirmé qu’au lieu de mettre en oeuvre sa promesse électorale de mettre fin définitivement à l’isolement cellulaire dans les prisons fédérales, le gouvernement Trudeau a décidé de lutter pour invalider le plus récent jugement du tribunal.

« Notre message est clair. Le gouvernement doit cesser la torture de l’isolement cellulaire indéfini. Les tribunaux ont défini une voie à suivre et le gouvernement devrait cesser de lutter et obéir aux ordonnances de la cour, » a affirmé Michael Bryant, directeur général de l’ACLC. « Non seulement un, mais deux tribunaux ont jugé la loi inconstitutionnelle, faisant remarquer le danger et le tort associés à cette horrible pratique. »

Des tribunaux de l’Ontario et de la Colombie-Britannique ont conclu que les lois actuelles du Canada portant sur l’isolement cellulaire contreviennent à la s. 7 de la Charte des droits et libertés puisqu’il   expose les détenus à des risques accrus d’automutilation et de suicide, en plus de causer un préjudice psychologique et des lésions corporelles. Le tribunal de la Colombie-Britannique a jugé que les lois sont inconstitutionnelles puisqu’elles discriminent contre les personnes handicapées et les malades mentaux, ainsi que les détenus autochtones.  Chaque tribunal a suspendu les effets de sa décision pour un an afin de donner au Parlement le temps de se conformer aux décisions.

Catherine Latimer, directrice générale de la Société John Howard du Canada a déclaré : « Certains détenus passent des mois et des années dans de petites cellules, privés de contacts humains significatifs.  La preuve apportée démontre que cet isolement cause de graves souffrances physiques et psychologiques qui peuvent aller jusqu’au suicide.  La cour suprême de la Colombie-Britannique a décidé que la cruauté associée à l’isolement cellulaire indéfini n’a pas sa place dans nos prisons et le gouvernement doit obéir à la loi, point final. »

En déposant son appel contre la décision de la Cour de la Colombie-Britannique, le gouvernement fédéral a affirmé vouloir obtenir une « clarté juridique » entre les deux décisions. Josh Paterson, directeur général de l’Association des libertés civiles de la Colombie-Britannique avoue ne pas être d’accord avec cet énoncé : « Les jugements de la C.-B. et de l’Ontario ne manquent pas de clarté et ne sont pas source de conflit. Les deux tribunaux ont aboli des lois existantes et rien n’empêche le gouvernement de se conformer aux décisions. Le gouvernement choisit de lutter. »

Les organisations ont signalé qu’elles avaient écrit au gouvernement suite aux décisions des tribunaux afin de l’inciter à mettre fin aux batailles juridiques et à réparer le système. Le gouvernement a décliné l’invitation pour discuter de l’enjeu, choisissant plutôt de faire appel à la décision du tribunal de la C.-B.


Liens: Jugement de la Cour supérieure de justice de l’Ontariojugement de la Cour suprême de la C.-B.


Michael Bryant, directeur général et avocat général, ACLC : 416-230-8658
Catherine Latimer, directrice générale, JHSC : 613-219-6471
(français) Josh Paterson, directeur général, ALCCB : 778-829-8973