As we continue to blog about the ever changing laws regarding solitary confinement in Canada, the Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled that placing inmates in solitary confinement for more than 15 days constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. This is the first time a Canadian court has imposed a specific time limit on solitary confinement.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (“CCLA”) launched the challenge of solitary confinement four years ago.
A lower court in Ontario found that solitary confinement could cause serious psychological harm to inmates, but these impairments could be avoided if staff adhered to existing laws requiring close monitoring of prisoners’ health. Justice Marrocco of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice rejected the CCLA’s argument that solitary confinement constituted cruel and unusual punishment and was in violation of Section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The CCLA appealed Justice Marrocco’s decision and the case was argued before the Ontario Court of Appeal. Justice Mary Lou Benotto, writing on behalf of the three-judge panel of the Ontario Court of Appeal, ruled that the Correctional Service’s use of prolonged administrative segregation could cause permanent harm that no level of medical monitoring could prevent.
Justice Benotto stated:
Legislative safeguards are inadequate to avoid the risk of harm. In my view, this outrages standards of decency and amounts to cruel and unusual treatment.
The Appeal Court did reject the CCLA’s position that solitary confinement should be banned entirely for inmates who are 18 to 21 years of age, those with mental illness, or those in segregation for their own protection.
THE IMPACT OF THE APPEAL COURT DECISION
Michael Rosenberg, co-counsel for the CCLA, stated:
With this decision, the Court of Appeal has brought to an end a sorry chapter in the administration of Canada’s prisons. This is a significant win for the CCLA and for the administration of justice more generally.
What is most unusual about this decision is that the Court of Appeal has applied a short timeline to institute action. The Appeal Court has ruled that the 15-day cap of solitary confinement is to take effect 15 days following the decision.
Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, equality director for the CCLA, stated:
Usually, courts give governments months or a year to fix problems before a declaration of invalidity becomes active. With this short timeline, the court is saying this is enough, this is intolerable, this cannot continue.
The Correctional Service of Canada is currently reviewing the Appeal Court’s ruling. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has not yet commented on the latest decision regarding solitary confinement. A spokesperson for Goodale has advised that his office is also reviewing this recent decision.
FEDERAL INMATES WIN CLASS-ACTION LAWSUIT
Last week, federal inmates were successful in their class-action lawsuit against the Correctional Service of Canada. A judge found that the practice of isolating approximately 2000 seriously mentally ill inmates breached Sections 7 and 12 of the Charter. These sections protect against arbitrary state actions and cruel and unusual punishment.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perrell has ordered the federal government to pay $20 million for placing mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement for more than 30 days involuntarily and for those who spent more than 60 days in administrative segregation voluntarily.
Justice Perrell stated:
The placement of a seriously mentally ill inmate in administrative segregation goes beyond what is necessary to achieve the genuine and legitimate aim of securing the safety of the institution. It does not accord with public standards of decency or propriety in the treatment of a mentally ill inmate.
The funds are to remedy to the harm caused to society which has suffered from the correctional service’s failure to comply with the charter and also its failure to comply with the spirit of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and its purpose of rehabilitating mentally ill inmates to return to society rather than worsening their capacity to do so by the harm caused by prolonged solitary confinement.
It has not yet been determined how compensation will be distributed amongst individual members of the class. Submissions to the court regarding this issue will be heard by the court at a later date where individual members of the class can put forth personal medical and prison records to make a case for damages. Those inmates who spent less than 30 days in administrative segregation will also be able to put forward claims on an individual basis.
In the meantime, Justice Perrell has ordered that $20-million be put towards mental-health resources and other programming at federal prisons, less legal fees. Therefore, the total amount for damages will be more greater than $20-million.
We will continue to follow developments in the matter of solitary confinement in Canada and blog about updates as they become available.
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