cruel and unusual punishment

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.

Toronto Inmate Alleges He Was Subject to Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

An inmate at the Toronto South Detention Centre has alleged that he was subject to cruel and unusual punishment by court and jail staff. The inmate told City News that he spent two weeks with untreated broken bones and was denied treatment, trips to the hospital, and an x-ray by correctional staff.

What Happened?

The inmate broke his hand in a fight with another inmate in the holding cells at the College Park courthouse in Toronto in July. Court officers, employed by Toronto police, broke up the fight, but the inmate claims they then denied his request to go to the hospital to get treated. The officers allegedly asked the inmate whether he wanted to get medical treatment for his hand, but when he responded in the affirmative, they told him “There’s no getting out of here” and returned him to a holding cell.

Once in the Detention Centre, he saw a doctor at the facility, who informed him that he needed an x-ray, but that there was no x-ray machine on the premises. However, the inmate was never taken off the premises to receive the x-ray.

The inmate went back to court for another a scheduled bail hearing twelve days after the fight. At that hearing, the inmate’s lawyer requested that the inmate’s condition be put on the record, along with the fact that the injury occurred in the cells at College Park. The Crown attorney went on the record and indicated that he saw swelling and

The Crown attorney went on the record and indicated that he saw swelling and discoloration on the inmate’s hand and that it appeared to be lacking circulation. The Crown attorney also confirmed that the injury looked acute. The presiding justice of the peace ordered that the inmate be taken to a hospital, but that request was allegedly ignored.

The inmate claims that court officers told him that many people come to court with broken arms and legs and that the only time something is done about it is “when somebody can’t breathe or it’s a life and death situation”. The special constables at the court house were allegedly informed that it was “not their job” to help the inmate.

The inmate then spent the weekend following the bail hearing dealing with the pain while the Detention Centre was on lockdown. He claims he told corrections officers that he was in pain and that his hand was changing colours.

The inmate is now in a cast but was not able to get one until he was released and immediately went to the emergency room.

Response by Toronto Police and Correctional Services Canada

A Toronto police spokeswoman confirmed the inmate’s account of the fight, and said that Toronto Police initially offered assistance, but that the inmate refused both police assistance and medical care. She also noted that the police have no notes from the bail hearing.

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services told CityNews that it will not publicly address individual cases, particularly where the personal health matters of inmates are involved, but did note that “all inmates have access to health care services”. The Ministry said that it will investigate all allegations of improper care and custody of an inmate.

We have been blogging regularly about prison conditions in Canada and will continue to do so going forward. In the meantime, if you have questions about your legal rights, either during detention or otherwise, contact the skilled Oshawa criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP. Our team has extensive experience defending a wide range of criminal charges. Whatever your issue, we can help. Call us at 905-404-1947or contact us online for a free consultation.