Two civil-rights groups filed a lawsuit against the Canadian federal government on Monday, January 19, seeking limits on solitary confinement in Canadian prisons. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada say in their lawsuit that administrative segregation violates prisoners’ charter rights to life, liberty, and security.
“Indefinite solitary confinement has been classified by the United Nations as torture. It’s been called by the Canadian Human Rights Commission cruel and unusual punishment. There’s been study after study saying that this needs to be eliminated,” said Josh Paterson, the association’s executive director. “This practice of holding people indefinitely and for prolonged periods of time in solitary is unconstitutional.”
The lawsuit comes a month after Correctional Services Canada, the country’s prison authority, responded to the inquest into the death of Ashley Smith, a teenage prisoner who was subjected to over 1,000 days in solitary confinement before killing herself in 2007.
Despite the fact that other jurisdictions, particularly in the United States, have reined in the use of solitary confinement, Correctional Service Canada has rejected any changes in their policy, arguing it could cause “undue risk to the safe management of the federal correctional system.”
A statement issued by the Public Safety Ministry says the government is “taking action to keep our streets and communities safe.”
“[Correctional Service Canada] uses all of its tools to make sure the corrections system actually corrects criminal behavior, including the use of segregation,” reads the statement. “Our efforts will continue to be focused on the victims of crime.”
“It is urgent that we ensure that practices conform to Charter of Rights protections before any more of our vulnerable prisoners, like Ashley Smith and Eddie Snowshoe, die alone in segregation,” Julia Payson, executive director of the John Howard Society of B.C. said at a downtown Vancouver news conference.
In December 2014, Canadian daily Globe and Mail reported Snowshoe killed himself in an Alberta prison after 162 consecutive days in solitary confinement.
Political pressure to end solitary confinement in Canada has mounted both domestically and internationally. A UN special rapporteur said that isolating prisoners for more than 15 days amounts to torture, while a UN committee has called for Canada to impose limits on the amount of time prisoners can be isolated.