A lawyer for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association called the system of administrative segregation unconstitutional and said a key statute must be rewritten to protect inmates from harm.
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Peter Macdiarmid

Solitary confinement being challenged in court


Solitary confinement is the practice of putting a prisoner in a small cell, alone, for days and nights, with only an hour or two of time outside the cell, daily.

It has been condemned internationally, and the United Nations has banned the practice.

Many western countries do not rely on the practice to control prison populations, but Canada is still using it, and in some very outrageous ways.

That’s being challenged in court this week. On behalf of the Canadian Civil Liverties Association, (CCLA) a team of lawyers is arguing the practice violates prisoner’s rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“limited to 15 days, and never for the mentally ill and those under 21”

Michael Rosenberg is one of those lawyers. He is a partner in the Litigation Group at McCarthy,Tetrault and he’s acting as pro bono council for the CCLA.


He says the case evolved out of Ashley Smith inquest. Ashley Smith was the 19 year-old who managed to strangle herself with a piece of cloth, while under suicide watch, and guards watching her on video terminals.

The CCLA was not satisfied with Correctional Services Canada’s response to the findings of the inquest, in the wake of the teenager’s death Rosenberg says, and has continued to pursue changes in the correctional system.

The inquest resulted in several recommendations in how to improve the correctional system, particularly in regard to solitary confinement.

“One of those recommendations was limiting the use of solitary confinement to hard caps, a hard cap at fifteen days, and another was limiting its use with respect to mentally ill inmates.” Rosenberg says.

Ashley Smith took her own life in custody at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ontario, in 2007. She was 19. © CBC/Submitted by Ashley Smith’s family

These recommendations have not been implemented despite PM Trudeau,calling for them to be implemented by the Justice Minister, Jody Raybould when she accepted the post.

The authorities have argued that it needs the ability to use “administrative segregation” as a population management tool, not for punitive purposes, which does have limits placed on it.

Several medical organizations in Canada have protested the use of solitary confinement, arguing that as little as 48 hours of the experience can cause psychosis, hallucination, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide.

Michael Rosenberg says U.S. statistics reveal that “about half the suicides are in solitary confinement, despite the fact that less than seven per cent of prison population is in solitary confinement.”

And he says, the international community has spoken.

The Mandela Rules, which were adopted unanimously by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 2015, state, Rule 45, that prolonged solitary confinement, which is solitary confinement beyond 15 days, is prohibited, as is solitary confinement for the mentally ill in so far as it affects their conditions.”

In Canada, inmates have been put into “administrative segregation” in one case for 138 days “without doing anything” and in another case, 580 straight days in order to protect him from other inmates.

The CCLA wants the practice limited to 15 days, and never for the mentally ill and those under 21.

The lack on independent overview body is another missing element in Canada’s Correctional Service.

“We say that it is constitutionally impermissible to maintain solitary confinement beyond five days without an independent approval,” Rosenberg says.

“Even at five days you’re at a point where the risk of harm is sufficiently significant that you want to have that kind of independent oversight.”

Michael Rosenberg cites the example of the U.K. where they don’t use solitary confinement.

As a result of the work of Professor Andrew Coyle, a former prison warden and leading international prisons expert says the use of isolation is very rare and not as extreme as it is now in Canada.

“He describes 56 prisoners in close supervision centres, out of a prison population of 85,000 prisoners. Rosenberg says of Coyle.

Oral arguments continue tomorrow.

With files from CBC

Categories: Politics, Society

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

@*@ Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.

Netiquette »

When you express your personal opinion in an online forum, you must be as courteous as if you were speaking with someone face-to-face. Insults and personal attacks will not be tolerated. To disagree with an opinion, an idea or an event is one thing, but to show disrespect for other people is quite another. Great minds don’t always think alike—and that’s precisely what makes online dialogue so interesting and valuable.

Netiquette is the set of rules of conduct governing how you should behave when communicating via the Internet. Before you post a message to a blog or forum, it’s important to read and understand these rules. Otherwise, you may be banned from posting.

  1. RCInet.ca’s online forums are not anonymous. Users must register, and give their full name and place of residence, which are displayed alongside each of their comments. RCInet.ca reserves the right not to publish comments if there is any doubt as to the identity of their author.
  2. Assuming the identity of another person with intent to mislead or cause harm is a serious infraction that may result in the offender being banned.
  3. RCInet.ca’s online forums are open to everyone, without regard to age, ethnic origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
  4. Comments that are defamatory, hateful, racist, xenophobic, sexist, or that disparage an ethnic origin, religious affiliation or age group will not be published.
  5. In online speak, writing in ALL CAPS is considered yelling, and may be interpreted as aggressive behaviour, which is unpleasant for the people reading. Any message containing one or more words in all caps (except for initialisms and acronyms) will be rejected, as will any message containing one or more words in bold, italic or underlined characters.
  6. Use of vulgar, obscene or objectionable language is prohibited. Forums are public places and your comments could offend some users. People who use inappropriate language will be banned.
  7. Mutual respect is essential among users. Insulting, threatening or harassing another user is prohibited. You can express your disagreement with an idea without attacking anyone.
  8. Exchanging arguments and opposing views is a key component of healthy debate, but it should not turn into a dialogue or private discussion between two users who address each other without regard for the other participants. Messages of this type will not be posted.
  9. Radio Canada International publishes contents in five languages. The language used in the forums has to be the same as the contents we publish. The usage of other languages, with the exception of some words, is forbidden. Messages that are off-topic will not be published.
  10. Making repetitive posts disrupts the flow of discussions and will not be tolerated.
  11. Adding images or any other type of file to comments is forbidden. Including hyperlinks to other websites is allowed, as long as they comply with netiquette. Radio Canada International  is in no way responsible for the content of such sites, however.
  12. Copying and pasting text written by someone else, even if you credit the author, is unacceptable if that text makes up the majority of your comment.
  13. Posting any type of advertising or call to action, in any form, to Radio Canada International  forums is prohibited.
  14. All comments and other types of content are moderated before publication. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to refuse any comment for publication.
  15. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to close a forum at any time, without notice.
  16. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to amend this code of conduct (netiquette) at any time, without notice.
  17. By participating in its online forums, you allow Radio Canada International to publish your comments on the web for an indefinite time. This also implies that these messages will be indexed by Internet search engines.
  18. Radio Canada International has no obligation to remove your messages from the web if one day you request it. We invite you to carefully consider your comments and the consequences of their posting.


One comment on “Solitary confinement being challenged in court
  1. Avatar Zoe Wyse says:

    Restrictions on solitary confinement are a great idea. I hope this case leads to some changes. The fact that it can cause “psychosis, hallucinations, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide” suggests that this practice is incredibly unsafe for the people who are locked up.

    Administrative segregation can also be a response to problems that have not in fact happened yet. While disciplinary segregation responds to a clear violation of prison rules, administrative segregation can be very arbitrary.

    Subjecting people to torturous conditions does not make problems less likely in the long-term–it makes them more likely. These people are eventually getting out of prison in the majority of cases. Coming back to the community suffering from “psychosis, hallucinations, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder” and probably a whole bunch of anger at the arbitrary and painful way they were treated is unlikely to lead to good results.

    There are real safety issues in prison and I respect that. But if hypothetical gang member “Bob” is told he is in isolation because he might hurt some other gang member, then sits in a cell getting worse for month after month, and then is suddenly released back into the community, “Bob” is still “Bob” and now is probably even more frustrated with life and people than when he went in.

    Creating growth and positive change takes work on everyone’s part. But it is far better to develop some creative solutions while people are in prison than to deal with their lack of growth and (understandable) incredible pain and anger at the world once they come back to the community.