Prolonged solitary confinement unconstitutional

By Yves Faguy January 18, 201818 January 2018

Prolonged solitary confinement unconstitutional


The B.C. Supreme Court has ruled that Canada’s use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement in federal prisons is unconstitutional.

Money quote

"There is an emerging consensus in international law that under certain circumstances solitary confinement can cross the threshold from a legitimate practice into cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (“CIDT”), even torture."

The B.C. Supreme Court goes on to mention UN bodies who have declared that prolonged solitary confinement mounts to conduct prohibited by the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Where do we go from here?

The ruling is not without meaning given how much attention the practice has received over the last decade.  The issue really gained attention after the death of 19-year-old Ashley Smith who committed suicide having spent a total of 1047 days in solitary confinement. The media has also reported on other cases of  inmates taking their lives in solitary confinement. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and the John Howard Society of Canada deserve kudos for bringing the case forward and getting a big win.

The federal government is not completely caught off guard, however.  In June it tabled Bill C-56 (and also tried to delay the constitutional challenge), which introduced amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that would impose a presumptive time limit (21 days at first later to be dialed down to 15) on the use of administrative segregation for inmates.

But Josh Paterson of the BCCLA says the court ruling “goes much further” than the proposed legislation, particular in its declaration that the law has failed to ensure independent review of decisions to hole inmates in confinement and the right to counsel at segregation review hearings.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in a statement the his government will study all recent court judgments (including a recent Ontario Superior Court decision that found that confinement must be limited to five days) with a view to possibly amending the proposed legislation.

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