CANADIAN EFFORTS TO REFORM SOLITARY
On January 17, 2018, British Columbia Supreme Court judge Peter Leask ruled that the practice of indefinite solitary confinement in Canadian prisons is unconstitutional. Justice Leask made the finding but he suspended his decision for 12 months to give the government time to deal with its ramifications. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale stated that the Canadian government “is committed to addressing the needs of the most vulnerable in the federal correctional system.”
In the years leading up to the January 2018 ruling (British Columbia Civil Liberties Association v. Canada, 2018 BCSC 62), solitary confinement and related issues pertaining to inhumane conditions in Canada’s jails and prisons have garnered widespread media attention in British Columbia and Ontario. In December 2017, an Ontario Superior Court judge gave Ottawa one year to overhaul the laws governing solitary confinement after finding existing statutes unconstitutional during a landmark case launched by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association nearly three years ago. An Ontario Ombudsman, Paul Dubé, called segregation a “soul-crushing, cruel and counter-productive practice that must stop.The Ontario Human Rights Commission called for a ban on segregation in Ontario’s jails, and the College of Family Physicians of Canada also called for the abolition of solitary confinement, stating that the “negative consequences of sensory deprivation can be seen as early as 48 hours.”
Ombudsman Dubé issued written submission to the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) on segregation in 2016 entitled “Segregation: Not an Isolated Problem.” In 2016, the MCSCS, which operates and monitors Ontario’s adult correctional institutions and probation and parole offices, called for a report from an independent advisor on corrections reform. That report, Segregation in Ontario: Independent Review of Ontario Corrections, was released by Advisor Howard Sapers in March 2017. The report examines the use of segregation (solitary confinement) in Ontario’s adult correctional facilities and makes 41 recommendations about how Ontario should reform its use of segregation. Dubé noted that, after submitting “Segregation: Not an Isolated Problem” to the Ministry, serious systemic concerns and complaints persisted. In December 2016, the Ombudsman’s Office launched an investigation into how the MCSCS tracked the admission and placement of segregated inmates, and the adequacy and effectiveness of the review process. In a April 2017 report, “Out of Oversight, Out of Mind,” Ombudsman Dubé released the results of this investigation, concluding that MCSCS’s “tracking and review of segregation placements is unreasonable, wrong, oppressive, and contrary to law under the Ombudsman Act.”
Because MCSCS does not have jurisdiction over individuals below the age of 18, Segregation: Not an Isolated Problem ‘s recommendations do not pertain directly to youth. However, the report’s recommendations include banning solitary for individuals who are suicidal, individuals who have been diagnosed with significant mental illness, those with medical conditions, and pregnant women. In August 2017, two government watchdogs called for a ban on solitary confinement for young people ages 18-21, a practice believed to impair the growing brains of people in their teens and early 20s. Ivan Zinger, the federal prisons ombudsman, and Irwin Elman, Ontario’s Advocate for Children and Youth, made the recommendation in a joint report, “Missed Opportunities,” submitted to the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC). Investigators for the report found that, among those serving sentences in the federal prison system, individuals between 18 and 21 were overrepresented in solitary confinement.
CANADA PHYSICIANS AGAINST SOLITARY FOR YOUTH
In March 2017, the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) released a statement on solitary confinement. CFPC is the professional organization responsible for establishing standards for the training and certification of family physicians and represents more than 35,000 members. CFPC supports ending solitary confinement in Canadian correctional facilities, abolishing solitary for youth, for those who suffer from medical conditions and mental illness, and abolishing solitary confinement for disciplinary purposes since evidence shows it is not effective.