Government decides to abandon solitary confinement appeal

THE federal government has decided to abandon its fight against a BC Court of Appeal ruling that found that Canada’s laws governing administrative segregation violate the Charter because they permit prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement. The government, in a notice given to the Supreme Court of Canada on Tuesday, said it was discontinuing its attempt to appeal the ruling.

The case was brought by the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and the John Howard Society of Canada (JHSC). The case was supported by the first-hand evidence of current and former prisoners who stepped forward to describe the cruel reality of solitary confinement. They described spending up to 22 hours a day locked in a cell about the size of a parking spot, their only human contact through the meal slot in the door.

Catherine Latimer, Executive Director at the John Howard Society of Canada, said: “At last federal prisoners can be assured that their rights to be protected from abusive solitary confinement will be protected.  We are grateful that the federal government has brought any uncertainty to a close and trust it will apply the Charter protections articulated by the B.C. courts to all cases of isolated confinement in the federal system.”

Grace Pastine, Litigation Director for the BCCLA, said: “We are very pleased that the federal government has decided to abandon their appeal. This is a victory for prisoners and everyone who objects to the barbaric practice of prolonged solitary confinement.

“It is shameful that the government brought this appeal in the first place. For decades, an international chorus of human rights and mental health experts has called for a total ban on prolonged solitary confinement. There is a broad consensus that more than 15 days of isolation amounts to torture.

“Canadians should be outraged that the Correctional Service of Canada has continued to use this cruel practice as a routine form of prison management – and that new legislation, passed by Parliament in June 2019, continues to permit prolonged solitary confinement.

“The government’s decision to abandon this fight is a welcome reversal – we hope that the government will commit itself to upholding the fundamental rights of prisoners and basic human decency abolishing this abhorrent practice once and for all.”

Jessica Magonet, staff counsel at the BCCLA, added: “Prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement is psychologically devastating to people, and increases the likelihood of suicide. Indigenous people and mentally ill prisoners are cruelly impacted by the practice – they are more likely to be placed in solitary confinement.

“While we are thrilled that the federal government is abandoning this appeal, we are extremely disturbed by the numerous reports that the Correctional Service of Canada is using lengthy solitary confinement to isolate prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic. The health of inmates can and must be protected without resorting to this cruel practice.”

The BCCLA and JHSC are represented by Joe Arvay and Alison Latimer of Arvay Finlay LLP.