Court Finds that Solitary Confinement Laws are Unconstitutional

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

We have previously blogged about solitary confinement in Canada and are revisiting this issue given the recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court striking down Canada’s solitary confinement laws as unconstitutional following a three year challenge by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA).

WHAT HAPPENED?

In the court case, lawyers for the CCLA requested a declaration that sections 31 to 37 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (“CCRA”), which allow the Correction Service of Canada to remove an inmate from the general population for a non-disciplinary reason, are unconstitutional as they infringe upon the rights granted in sections 7, 11(h) and 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter”).

This application referred specifically to administrative segregation, the purpose of which is to maintain the security of the penitentiary and of all persons within the penitentiary. Under the current legislation, a warden is allowed to order solitary confinement when an inmate is at risk from others or poses a risk to the security of the prison. When this occurs, inmates are ordered to spend 22 hours in a cell without any meaningful human contact. There is no cap on the length of time that segregation occurs in the legislation.

Under the current legislative system, prison wardens are responsible for the initial decision to place an inmate in solitary confinement and are involved in the internal tribunal assembled five days later to study and judge that decision. Justice Marrocco found that this lack of independent review means that there is no accountability for the decision to segregate.

CURRENT SEGREGATION PROCESS IS “PROCEDURALLY UNFAIR AND CONTRARY TO THE PRINCIPLES OF FUNDAMENTAL JUSTICE”

Justice Marrocco ruled that this arbitrary and potentially biased system is improper given the severe deprivation of liberty and security of the person that takes place when an inmate is segregated. These are two rights guaranteed under section 7 of the Charter.

Justice Marrocco wrote:

I am satisfied that the statutory review of the decision to segregate is procedurally unfair and contrary to the principles of fundamental justice because the procedure chosen provides that the Institutional Head is the final decision maker for admission, maintenance and release from administrative segregation and is the final institutional decision-maker of required reviews and hearings which occur immediately after an inmate is segregated.

However, Marrocco stated that banning the practice immediately could be disruptive and dangerous. Therefore, Justice Marrocco put his declaration on hold for a year, which he felt was a reasonable time frame to allow Parliament to address the situation.

ADDITIONAL FINDINGS BY JUSTICE MARROCCO

The CCLA argued for a 15-day limit on solitary confinements, a prohibition on the isolation of mentally ill inmates, and, a rule barring prisoners aged 18 to 21 from solitary lockups.

Regarding the effect of solitary confinement, Justice Marrocco agreed with CCLA and wrote that “placing an inmate in administrative segregation imposes a psychological stress, quite capable of producing serious permanent observable negative mental health effects”. He, however, did not find that solitary confinement itself to be unconstitutional, even when applied to inmates aged 18 to 21 or the mentally ill. He rejected any argument that this practice amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Justice Marrocco also refused to declare placement in solitary confinement for more than 15 days to be unconstitutional.

The CCLA launched this constitutional application shortly after the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCLA) and the John Howard Society of Canada filed a similar, but unrelated, lawsuit in Vancouver. A ruling in the B.C. case is expected within the next three months.

We will continue to follow the developments in the law with regards to solitary confinement in Canada and will provide updates through this blog.

In the meantime, should you have any questions regarding your legal rights and need to speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer please call Affleck & Barrison at 905-404-1947 or contact us online. We are here to help you 24/7.