Solitary Confinement in Canada

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November 30, 2020 marks one year since Bill C-83 was proclaimed in force.  It introduced Structured Intervention Units, patient advocates, and other measures designed to address the mental health of federal prisoners and improve service to Indigenous prisoners.

The creation of Structured Intervention Units was the government’s response to: 

· Prime Minister Trudeau’s 2015 instruction to his Minister of Justice to end long term solitary confinement and implement the recommendations in the Ashley Smith coroner’s report;

· Canadian judicial decisions that the administrative segregation regime authorizing solitary confinement violated Charter rights of prisoners;

· The growing body of evidence of the harm to the mental, physical, psychological, and emotional health of those subjected to isolated confinement;

·The United Nations determination that prolonged isolation amounts to a form of torture;

·The findings that such isolation worsens institutional adjustment and impedes rehabilitation and reintegration; and

·The increasing public sentiment that such harsh treatment of prisoners violates Canadian values.

The Structured Intervention Units were predicted by the government and the Minister responsible to be transformational, effectively ending solitary confinement in the federal correctional system.

Evidence suggests that this has been far from the case. 

After delays in providing needed information to the independent Structured Intervention Unit – Implementation Advisory Panel, the data eventually provided shows that the vision of a minimum of 4 hours out of cells and 2 hours of meaningful human contact is generally not occurring.  Solitary confinement, as defined by the United Nations as 22 hours per day in cells without meaningful human contact, is occurring both within and outside of the Structured Intervention Units under different names.  

This cruelty has been exacerbated by the government’s decision to combat COVID-19 in federal prisons with solitary confinement which the Correctional Investigator has described as extreme isolation and outside the legal framework.   

Given the apparent lack of respect for prisoners’ Charter rights or their mental and physical well-being, the failure to respect the rule of law, the failure of the Structured Intervention Units to address the harms of solitary confinement, the increasingly regressive correctional regime which denies prisoners access to programs and opportunities to make progress on their correctional plans, we, the undersigned, call on the federal government to:

1. Establish a Commission of Inquiry into the federal prison service to examine the use of solitary confinement in all forms and to make recommendations to ensure the rights and well-being of prisoners are being safeguarded; and 

2. Amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act immediately to define solitary confinement  and to prohibit all forms of prolonged solitary confinement consistent with the United Nations Nelson Mandela Rules; and

3. Develop and implement alternatives so that solitary confinement can be abolished; and

4. Provide legal aid so that federal prisoners have access to counsel to protect their Charter and statutory rights; and

5. Ratify the Optional Protocol of the Convention Against Torture.