A solitary confinement cell is shown in a undated handout photo from the Office of the Correctional Investigator. (Office of the Correctional Investigator via The Canadian Press)

B.C.’s top court gives Ottawa more time to fix solitary confinement law

Federal government now has until mid-June to bring in replacement legislation

The Court of Appeal of B.C. has given the federal government more time to fix its solitary confinement law after a lower court declared indefinite prisoner segregation unconstitutional.

The B.C. Supreme Court ruling last January gave Ottawa a year to enact replacement legislation, and the Appeal Court has now extended the deadline to June 17, with conditions to protect prisoners’ constitutional rights in the meantime.

READ MORE: B.C. Supreme court rules indefinite solitary confinement in prisons unconstitutional

“While we are prepared to extend the suspension of the declaration of constitutional invalidity, that cannot be a justification for the federal government to maintain unchanged the conditions of inmates kept in administrative segregation,” a three-judge panel wrote in a joint ruling released Monday.

The conditions to protect prisoners include that health-care professionals must complete daily visual observations of inmates in solitary confinement and advise the institutional head within 24 hours if they believe the inmate must be removed from segregation.

The institutional head must then either remove the prisoner from solitary confinement “without delay,” or provide a written explanation of why the recommendation is not being implemented, the court said.

Segregated inmates must also be offered an extra 30 minutes of daily yard time, bringing their total time allowed outside their cells to 2 1/2 hours a day.

The court also ordered the Correctional Service of Canada to direct staff to inform segregated prisoners of their right to a lawyer and to allow lawyers to make submissions on behalf of inmates at solitary confinement review board hearings.

The correctional service must also take steps to have Indigenous elders routinely visit segregation units and offer counselling to Indigenous inmates, the court said.

The deadline to have most of the conditions in place is Jan. 18.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada launched the legal challenge.

A nine-week trial in 2017 heard from former inmates who continue to experience mental health issues after being released and from the father of a 37-year-old man who hanged himself at Matsqui Institution in Abbotsford, B.C., following his placement in a segregation cell.

Jay Aubrey, litigation counsel for the civil liberties association, said Monday that prolonged solitary confinement causes severe psychological distress, causing some inmates to take their lives.

“This is the cost of solitary confinement. It’s human lives. It’s people that we love,” she said.

The advocacy groups also oppose a bill introduced in October. Bill C-83 would mean prisoners who pose risks to security or themselves would instead be moved to new “structured intervention units” and offered the opportunity to spend four hours a day outside their cells, with a minimum of two hours to interact with others.

However, the bill does not include hard caps on how many days or months inmates can be isolated from the general prison population.

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Man found dead in his tent at Chemainus homeless camp

Facebook posts tell of personal struggles and attempts to stay clean and sober

Simpson staying sharp for the baseball call

Pirates’ Chemainus player scraps initial plans for Houghton College in New York

CBIA ad campaign a business booster

Great to learn more about the people serving the community

Chemainus Inn experiences a direct hit from Theatre shutdown

Occupancy down 80 per cent in large part to cancelled bookings

3 people found violating court imposed curfews in Cowichan

People are placed on curfews for a variety of public safety reasons.

March dental conference key to many of B.C.’s COVID-19 cases

Early infections from China, Iran were quickly contained

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

Cortes Island affordable housing project hangs by a thread

Regional decision makers resort to COVID-19 concerns despite virtual meeting option and push hearing to September

MAP: Dr. Henry reveals which B.C. regions have seen most COVID-19 cases

B.C. health officials release a first look at how the novel coronavirus has reached all corners of the province

North Island recreation camping site closed due to vandalism

Damage happens every year, forcing site manager to reallocate improvement budget to repairs

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman, 26, fatally shot by police in Edmundston, N.B.

Police were conducting a well-being check at the time of the incident

Seniors to receive up to $500 in promised COVID-19 emergency aid in early July

The Liberal government first promised the extra help in mid-May, but had to create a new system to deliver the aid

VIDEO: Revelstoke bear wanders into Animal House pet store

Staff got ready to chase it out with a broom

New study is first full list of species that only exist in Canada

Almost 40 per cent of them are critically imperilled or imperilled and eight are already extinct

Most Read