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Lockdown: BC Civil Liberties Association v. Attorney General of Canada

The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) has filed a lawsuit against the federal government to challenge the use of prolonged and indefinite lockdowns in Canadian prisons. These practices are inhumane and violate ss. 7, 12, and 15 of the Charter which prohibit long-term solitary confinement.

In 2019, the BCCLA secured a landmark victory when the BC Court of Appeal ruled that federal laws that permitted prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement were inhumane and unconstitutional. While the subsequent Bill C-83 purported to ban the practice of long-term isolation, federal prison wardens continue to enact measures such as lockdowns, which can result in all prisoners being placed in prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement. Lockdowns are frequent in federal prisons and can occur for a security incident, operational or administrative reasons. They confine people in prison to their cells for most of the day, sometimes for days, weeks, or months at a time.

This lawsuit will challenge the use of prolonged and indefinite lockdowns that amount to solitary confinement. Many lockdowns constitute solitary confinement under the Mandela Rules, a set of United Nations rules setting minimum global standards for people in prison. These rules define solitary confinement as confinement for 22 hours or more a day, with little or no access to meaningful human contact. The Mandela Rules prohibit the use of solitary confinement for any period of time for people with physical or mental health disabilities when it would exacerbate their conditions. They further prohibit the use of solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days for any person, as beyond that constitutes torture.

Prolonged lockdowns are devastating to the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual health of people in prison. Those who are subjected to extended usage of these procedures suffer from a wide variety of adverse effects, including: anxiety; hallucinations; panic; paranoia; ruminations and intrusive obsessional thoughts; self-harm; social withdrawal; suicidal thoughts and behaviours; and mental illness.

In this case, the BCCLA will argue that prolonged and indefinite lockdowns are not authorized by law and unjustifiably infringe ss. 7, 12, and 15 of the Charter.  The right to life is infringed by state-imposed conditions that cause an individual to end their life. The rights to liberty and security are infringed when state-imposed conditions deny an individual meaningful human contact, and expose an individual to physical, psychological, social and spiritual trauma. The right to equality is infringed when these practices impose particularly egregious suffering on mentally ill and/or disabled, racialized or Indigenous people in prison.  We will argue that these infringements cannot be justified in a free and democratic society.

If successful, we will put an end to the use of prolonged and indefinite lockdowns and restrictive movement routines in federal prisons.

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