Ontario Judge Awards $20 Million to Inmates Placed in Solitary Confinement

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

A recent decision by a Judge of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario has ruled that the federal government breached prisoners’ rights and will have to pay $20 million to thousands of individuals who were placed in administrative segregation for long periods of time.

WHAT IS ADMINSITRATIVE SEGREGATION?

Administrative segregation refers to the isolation of inmates for safety reasons in circumstances when authorities believe there is no reasonable alternative.  Segregation occurs when a prisoner is placed in a small cell for up to 22 hours without any human contact or programming.

Critics of administrative segregation argue that this method of isolation causes severe psychological harm and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Courts in both Ontario and British Columbia have also ruled that this practice of segregating prisoners is unconstitutional.

WHO IS INVOLVED IN THIS CASE?

Julian Reddock (“Reddock”), the representative plaintiff (the individual who brings a case against another in a court of law), began his action in March 2017.  His case was certified as a class action last year.  The class comprises almost 9,000 inmates who were placed in isolation in federal penitentiaries for more than 15 days between November 1, 1992 and March 2015.  

The class action claim alleges that the Federal Government breached the inmates rights to the following under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Charter“):

  • to life, liberty, and security of the person (section 7);
  • not to be arbitrarily detained (section 9);
  • not to be tried or punished again for an offence (section 11(h)); and
  • not to be subjected to cruel and unusual treatment or punishment (section 12).

The class members also bring a claim in systemic negligence against the Federal Government.

According to Reddock, he spent days without leaving his cell and never knew when he would be allowed out.  Reddock would find ways to consume anti-anxiety drugs, which he would use to knock himself out.  He testified:

All I wanted was to pass out cold for as long as possible, again and again.  It was all I could think to do to cope with the hopelessness of not knowing they would let me out.

WHAT WAS THE RULING?

Justice Paul Perell provided a lengthy written ruling, which was based upon 22,500 pages of evidence.  The ruling held that the Federal Government breached the class member’s rights to life, liberty and security of the person and to be free of cruel and unusual punishment under the Charter by placing inmates in administrative segregation for more than fifteen days.

In regards to the negligence claim made by the class members, Justice Perell also ruled that the Federal Government had a duty of care in operating and managing the federal institution.  The Judge concluded that the Federal Government’s breach of its duty of care resulted in damages to each of the class members. 

Justice Perell concluded that Correctional Service of Canada violated the inmates rights protected under Canada’s Charter due to an absence of independent oversight and the lengthy terms of segregation, which caused numerous detrimental effects including anxiety, hallucinations, delusions, panic attacks and psychosis.

Justice Perell ruled that an inmate is considered to be “cruelly and unusually treated” once the placement in administrative segregation is more than 15 days.

In his ruling, Justice Paul Perell stated:

The Correctional Service operated administrative segregation in a way that unnecessarily caused harm to the inmates.  Class members suffered harm because of a systemic failure. …Many of the administrative or disciplinary cells are very poorly maintained.  They are filthy and unsanitary.

Even if some form of segregation were necessary to ensure the safety or security of the penitentiary and its population, there never has been an explanation and hence no justification for depriving an inmate of meaningful human contact.  This form of segregation is not rationally connected to the safety of the penitentiaries.

Justice Perell awarded the class of inmates $20 million, but did not award any punitive damages.  Each inmate is entitled to $500 for each placement in administrative segregation for more than 15 days for “vindication, deterrence, and compensation”.  The individual class members have the right to pursue claims for punitive and other damages at individual issues trials, if they can prove individual harm. 

The decision in the Reddock class action case is expected to be appealed by the Federal Government.  We will continue to follow the developments in the legislation and case law regarding the legality of administrative segregation 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 contact Affleck & Barrison at 905-404-1947 or contact us online.  We are highly knowledgeable and extremely experienced at defending a wide range of criminal charges.  For your convenience, we offer 24-hour phone services.