Canada: Ruling on indefinite solitary confinement in federal prisons

January 18, 2018

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Yesterday, the British Colombia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and John Howard Society of Canada (JHSC) won their court case challenging the use of solitary confinement in Canada’s federal prisons. The B.C. Supreme Court’s decision means an end to the practice of indefinitely isolating inmates in federal prisons across Canada.

Landmark decision

Jay Aubrey, staff lawyer at the BCCLA, stated: “This is the most significant prison law decision from a trial court in Canadian history. It is a stunning decision that is grounded in four decades of history, and the best social science and medical evidence on the impact on inmates health of solitary confinement, and alternatives to solitary confinement.”

Caily DiPuma, Acting Litigation Director for the BCCLA, reacts: “For decades, prisoners have suffered terribly in solitary confinement cells. Isolated for up to 23 hours a day, sometimes for months and years at a time, they have been harmed physically, mentally and spiritually. Today’s victory belongs to them, to their families and to everyone inside and outside of prison who fought tirelessly to end this unconstitutional and deeply harmful practice.”

Adriaan van Es, Secretary of IFHHRO | Medical Human Rights Network: “IFHHRO welcomes the landmark ruling of the British Colombia Supreme Court. This victory of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and John Howard Society of Canada is an important milestone in securing basic human rights of prisoners. There is abundant medical and psychological evidence that prolonged isolation is detrimental to the health of human beings. Prolonged isolation has been identified by the United Nations as a form of torture.”

Form of torture

In Canada, one out of every four prisoners in the federal prison system has spent time in solitary confinement. Also known as “segregation”, the practice of isolating inmates for up to 23 hours a day was found by the United Nations to be a form of torture when used in excess of 15 days. In Canada, prisoners have spent consecutive months and even years in solitary confinement.

The lawsuit was filed in 2015 by the BCCLA and JHSC. The case alleged that solitary confinement amounts to cruel and unusual punishment that leads to prisoner suffering and deaths, deprives prisoners of fundamental procedural protections, and is discriminatory against both mentally ill and Indigenous prisoners.

Source: News release British Colombia Civil Liberties Association, 17 January 2018