The Supreme Court of Canada is seen Friday, April 25, 2014 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Feds give up fight against 15-day hard cap on solitary confinement

The court gave correctional authorities 15 days to end the practice in March 2019

The federal government has given up its fight against court rulings that effectively outlawed placements in solitary confinement lasting longer than 15 days.

In a notice to the Supreme Court of Canada on Tuesday, the government said it was discontinuing its attempt to appeal a ruling from Ontario’s top court that found long-term segregation to be cruel and unusual punishment.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which pushed the case, called Ottawa’s decision a belated good day for justice.

“It is just disappointing that it was so long coming,” said association lawyer Michael Rosenberg. “Far too many suffered needlessly before the country turned a corner.”

In its ruling in March last year, the Ontario Court of Appeal said placing prisoners deemed a risk to themselves or others in segregation for more than 15 days amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and was therefore unconstitutional. The court gave correctional authorities 15 days to end the practice.

However, the federal government sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, obtaining an emergency stay pending the outcome. The government had maintained the lower court did not take into account the consequences of capping administrative segregation, and warned that imposing a hard limit in all cases could be dangerous.

“There is currently no alternative recourse to address these situations, placing the safety and security of all federal institutions, the inmates and the staff at high risk,” the government said in its notice of leave to appeal.

Similarly, Ottawa said it was abandoning related appeals, one from British Columbia’s top court pressed by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

“It is shameful that the government brought this appeal in the first place,” the B.C. association said in a statement.

In a statement of its own on Tuesday, the government said it decided against pursuing the appeals given that it had repealed the offending provisions and replaced it with a new regime that took effect in November.

“The (new) system is supported with an investment of $448 million for new staff, infrastructure and mental healthcare,” the ministers of public safety and justice said.

Studies indicate that depriving inmates of meaningful human contact for much of their day can cause long-term, even permanent psychological damage. Solitary confinement has been the subject of several successful lawsuits across the country.

In one such case, an Ontario judge last August ordered the federal government to pay about 9,000 inmates who had been placed in solitary confinement for long periods a preliminary $20 million for breaching their rights.

“The Correctional Service operated administrative segregation in a way that unnecessarily caused harm to the inmates,” Justice Paul Perell said in the ruling. “Class members suffered harm because of a systemic failure.”

In response to the various lawsuits and criticism, the government revamped the law to put in place a system of “structured intervention units.” The aim, it said, was to ensure inmates would get a minimum of four hours a day outside their cell, including two hours a day of meaningful interaction with others, and any segregation placements would be reviewed.

“Continued vigilance will be required, given the serious harms caused by prolonged solitary confinement,” Rosenberg said.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

solitary confinement

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Houston mill to re-open June 8

Ends lengthy shutdown which began in March

Fibre installation for South Hazelton begins

Citywest says it will install cable in the summer and home installations in the fall

Annual bird count thrills organizer

Count took place over 48 hours

B.C. government eyes antlerless moose harvest increase in bid to save caribou

Antlerless moose hunts reduce predation for threatened mountain caribou, says ministry

Major paving projects announced

Extends west of Smithers to east of Houston

March dental conference key to many of B.C.’s COVID-19 cases

Early infections from China, Iran were quickly contained

MAP: Dr. Henry reveals which B.C. regions have seen most COVID-19 cases

B.C. health officials release a first look at how the novel coronavirus has reached all corners of the province

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman, 26, fatally shot by police in Edmundston, N.B.

Police were conducting a well-being check at the time of the incident

Seniors to receive up to $500 in promised COVID-19 emergency aid in early July

The Liberal government first promised the extra help in mid-May, but had to create a new system to deliver the aid

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

VIDEO: Revelstoke bear wanders into Animal House pet store

Staff got ready to chase it out with a broom

New study is first full list of species that only exist in Canada

Almost 40 per cent of them are critically imperilled or imperilled and eight are already extinct

Federal aid for care home systems needed ahead of second wave, advocates say

Ontario Long Term Care Association calling for more action

Most Read