Vancouver, B.C. – The BCCLA is calling on the Minister of Public Safety to drastically reform the use of solitary confinement in Canadian prisons. The BCCLA joined with other concerned groups, the Criminal Lawyers Association, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, the John Howard Society of Canada, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and the Schizophrenia Societies of both Ontario and Canada, to express grave concern regarding the pervasive use of solitary confinement in Canadian prisons, particularly where it concerns those with mental illness.
Over the past ten years, multiple reports from government taskforces, commissions and ombudsmen have called for significant reform. Despite this, the use of solitary confinement has continued to increase, both in number of persons confined and duration of confinement. There are particularly alarming concerns regarding the rising number of persons with mental illness in solitary confinement, and the impact this may have on their health both during and after their incarceration.
The effects of prolonged isolation are well-documented, and include symptoms ranging from confusion to brain impairment, hallucinations and psychosis.
“No one should be subject to the brutal conditions of lengthy solitary confinement, but for the mentally ill to be forced to live in them is truly barbaric,” says Grace Pastine, Litigation Director for the BCCLA. A 1996 report issued by the commission of inquiry conducted by Justice Louise Arbour recognized the potentially devastating mental and physical effects of prolonged isolation. Solitary confinement has also been found by international human rights bodies to constitute either torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. A key recommendation of the Arbour Report was that periods of segregation be limited to 30 consecutive days, and be imposed no more than twice in a calendar year.
“International human rights bodies, including the U.N. Committee Against Torture, have emphasized that solitary confinement should be considered an exceptional measure, and subject to independent judicial review whenever it is used,” says Carmen Cheung, Counsel for the BCCLA. “Adopting the Arbour Report’s recommendations is the least Canada can do to ensure adequate human rights protections.”