We have previously blogged about solitary confinement in Canada, and are revisiting this issue given the recent announcement by Ontario Crown prosecutors declaring that they will not appeal Superior Court Justice John Fregeau’s decision to stay the proceedings in the first-degree murder case against Adam Capay (“Capay”).
On January 28, 2019, Justice John Fregeau stayed the first-degree murder charge against Capay due to the “complete and utter failure” of Ontario’s correction system in managing Capay’s solitary confinement for more than four years while awaiting trial. Capay was released to his family following this decision.
On June 3, 2012, Capay fatally stabbed Sherman Quisses (“Quisses”) twice in the neck while they were in a correctional facility in Thunder Bay.
Capay was immediately placed in segregation after his attack on Quisses on the basis that he was a threat to both himself and other prisoners. Capay was kept in a Plexiglass cell with the lights on 24-hours a day for 1,647 days. He was often kept in detention blocks where he was not allowed to flush the toilet from inside the cell.
Capay’s decline became publicly known after Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, visited him during a tour of Thunder Bay District Jail and released the details to the media.
Capay described his lengthy segregation as having impaired his ability to speak and differentiate day from night. On October 18, 2016, The Globe and Mail published the first in a series of stories about Capay and his prolonged isolation.
JUSTICE FREGEAU’S DECISION TO ORDER A STAY
Capay’s lawyers requested a stay (a ruling by the court halting any further legal proceedings) of the first-degree murder charge on the basis that Capay’s rights were violated under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Charter”). Justice Fregeau heard testimony from corrections staff and numerous experts in the field of forensic psychiatry, human rights, and correctional law and policy.
Justice Fregeau found that Capay suffered from pre-existing mental-health issues as a result of his childhood experiences of physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence in his home, parental alcoholism and other intergenerational trauma, and concluded that these issues were exacerbated by his isolation, sleep deprivation, and lack of access to mental health services.
According to Justice Fregeau, Capay’s isolation violated four sections of the Charter, including:
- The right of life, liberty and security of person (Section 7);
- The right not to be arbitrarily detained (Section 9);
- The right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment (Section 12); and
- The right to be equal before and under the law (Section 15).
Although Capay was responsible for Quisses’ death, his many years of isolation amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and a violation of his Charter rights.
Justice Fregeau ruled that these Charter violations were so “prolonged, abhorrent, egregious and intolerable” that the only appropriate solution was to stay his murder charge and allow Capay to be released.
Justice Fregeau’s decision set out the following issues with the Thunder Bay District Jail, which included:
- Failing to hold legally mandated reviews of Capay’s segregation status;
- Advising staff to avoid talking to the inmate; and
- Neglecting Capay’s declining mental health.
Justice Fregeau wrote in his decision:
When exercising their statutory discretion in making segregation decisions regarding the accused, the complete and utter failure of correctional officials to properly balance the accused’s charter rights with the statutory objectives can only be described as profoundly unreasonable, unacceptable and intolerable.
The treatment of the accused was, in my opinion, outrageous, abhorrent, and inhumane. There would be ongoing prejudice to the accused if forced to proceed to trial.
RECOMMENDATIONS MADE TO THE CORRECTIONAL SERVICES MINISTER
On February 21, 2019, Renu Mandhane (“Mandhane”), chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, wrote an open letter to the Honourable Sylvia Jones, the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, calling for an end to segregation in Ontario.
Mandhane emphasized that prisoners in Ontario continue to be held in segregation for extended periods of time, despite the fact that it is harmful to their mental and physical health, and undermines institutional safety, rehabilitation and reintegration.
The data from May 2018 reveals that there were nearly 4,000 segregation placements over a two-month period, with 657 of those exceeding 15 days.
The numbers are large and it can be hard to remember that each number represents a person. Adam Capay’s treatment is a reminder of the lived reality behind the numbers and the long-term negative consequences that segregation has on prisoners, correctional officers, victims of crime, the community and the administration of justice.
Mandhane recommends that the government immediately launch an action plan, including limiting segregation to fifteen-days, judicial reviews of isolation decisions, and bans on the segregation of pregnant, suicidal, mentally ill and physically disabled inmates.
The previous Liberal government passed a bill incorporating many of Mandhane’s recommendations prior to last year’s election, however, this bill has not yet been proclaimed by the Lieutenant-Governor and the new Progressive Conservative government.
We will continue to follow the developments in the law regarding 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 Barrison Law at 905-404-1947 or contact us online. For your convenience, we offer 24-hour phone services.