Ontario Ombudsman to Investigate Solitary Confinement Practices in the Province

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

As we have regularly been blogging about , the use of solitary confinement in correctional facilities in Ontario has been in the news since the story of Adam Capay’s plight at the Thunder Bay District Jail came to the public’s attention earlier this year.

Last week, Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube announced that he has launched an investigation into the way in which the province tracks and reviews the placement of prisoners in solitary confinement. The Ombudsman’s investigation will look into how the system logs prisoners in segregation, how the system counts the amount of time they have spent in isolation, and will examine the effectiveness of the safeguards that are intended to scrutinize segregation placements.

The Ombudsman has stated that this investigation was prompted, in part, by the details that have been emerging about the conditions that Adam Capay was kept in at the Thunder Bay facility. Another factor prompting the investigation was a spike in complaints about solitary confinement.

Since April 1st of this year, the Office of the Ombudsman has received 175 complaints pertaining to segregation, which is on track to surpass the number of complaints made in previous years. Overall, the office received a total of 4,051 complaints about provincial correctional facilities in 2015-2016.

The office has stated:

As a fully independent, impartial office that has been investigating thousands of complaints about Ontario correctional facilities for more than 40 years, we are uniquely placed to investigate and comment on this issue

The investigation will be conducted by the Special Ombudman Response Team (SORT), which is responsible for the office’s major field investigations. The investigators will visit several institutions, and among other things, review statistics, procedures, and other documentation related to segregation. The goal is to complete the investigation as quickly as possible.

The Ontario government recently appointed Howard Sapers, a former federal correctional investigator, to review the province’s segregation practices and the operations of the correctional system overall, beginning in January 2017. The Ombudsman has stated that Mr. Sapers’ investigation “would not conflict” with SORT’s investigation, but rather, would “enhance that effort”.

Previous Actions Taken

Earlier this year, a Globe and Mail investigation uncovered significant disparities in the way Canada’s provincial, territorial, and federal prison systems were tracking the length of time that inmates were spending in solitary confinement. For instance, Ontario was unable to provide detailed information about how many prisoners had spent more than 15 days in solitary over the previous five years. The United Nations considers solitary confinement for more than 15 days to be torture.

In May 2016, the Ombudsman made an official submission and 28 recommendations on the ongoing use of segregation. Among the recommendations was a call for an outright ban on long-term confinement, and a recommendation that the province strictly adhere to the 15 day limit.

The submissions also noted that the Ombudsman’s office had alerted the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services several times in recent years about correctional facilities “not meeting their legal requirements to review and document segregation placements”.

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