Media Release: Coroner’s inquest begins into death in solitary confinement

Posted on

July 18, 2016

For immediate release

Burnaby, BC—A coroner’s inquest begins today into the death of Christopher Robert Roy, who committed suicide in his prison cell after spending two months in solitary confinement. Mr. Roy was being held in “administrative segregation”, where inmates may be isolated for prolonged and indefinite periods, without any kind of independent review or oversight. The practice is the subject of a constitutional challenge launched in 2015 by the BC Civil Liberties Association and John Howard Society of Canada.

“My son was not suicidal before he was placed into solitary confinement” said Robert Roy, Chris’s father. “He called us every day while he was in prison, but after 5 weeks in solitary, he stopped. And 3 weeks after that, he was dead. I am heartbroken and devastated that when Chris was at his lowest, he was isolated and alone, held in solitary confinement with no idea when he would get out. To me, that’s unconscionable. This brutal and debilitating practice must end.”

Administrative segregation is the practice of confining a prisoner to a cell and depriving him or her of meaningful human contact for up to 23 hours a day. These conditions result in significant periods of sensory deprivation and social isolation, and are known to have debilitating physical and psychological effects. Prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement is internationally regarded as cruel and unusual treatment amounting to torture. According to the Correctional Investigator of Canada, experiencing solitary confinement is an important risk factor for prison suicide. Nearly half all suicides in prison happen in solitary confinement.

“It is expected that the jury will hear evidence indicating a direct correlation between Mr. Roy’s suicide and his placement in segregation” said Bibhas Vaze, counsel for Chris’s parents, Robert and Brenda Roy. “The Roy family is seeking answers: What efforts were made to determine if Chris had mental health concerns, especially given that he was in segregation? What efforts were made to address those concerns, and what efforts are made to address mental health concerns for all inmates in segregation as a matter of policy? What monitoring took place of Chris? What alternatives to segregation were being considered, and why was he kept there so long? And with everything we know about the cruel nature of solitary confinement and suicide, is CSC making any effort at all to end it? How many more people will have to die for them to change? ”

The inquest into Mr. Roy’s death begins a year and a half after the report of the inquest into the death of Ashley Smith, who also committed suicide while in solitary confinement. Following that inquest, the jury recommended a ban on indefinite segregation and strict time limits on its use. To date, the government has failed to implement these recommendations. Last year, the BC Civil Liberties Association and John Howard Society of Canada filed a lawsuit challenging the ongoing use of administrative segregation on the basis that it constitutes cruel and unusual treatment and violates human rights contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Trial is scheduled to begin in January, 2017.

“Just two weeks ago, another woman committed suicide in solitary confinement in the very same institution where Ashley Smith died” said Laura Track, counsel with the BC Civil Liberties Association. “Without urgent action, these tragic and preventable deaths will continue. Administrative segregation – the practice of isolating prisoners for weeks and months at a time, with no end in sight – has no place in Canadian prisons. It is incredibly damaging, it creates and exacerbates mental illness and is completely counterproductive to the goals of rehabilitation and reintegration. We stand with the Roys in demanding justice for their son and an end to solitary confinement in Canada.”