• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

We are inching along, but not as quickly as we (or you) would like. If you have already donated, thank you so much. If you haven’t had a chance, consider skipping the coffee this week and drop CounterPunch $5 or more. We provide our content for free, but it costs us a lot to do so. Every dollar counts.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Rebranding Canada’s Solitary Confinement Policy Doesn’t Change What It Is

There was a time when an unconstitutional government policy was not something lamented then simply rebranded. Once a court found it unconstitutional, the practice just … ended, especially when politicians had campaigned against it. Not so solitary confinement – an old practice that today’s Canadian Parliament loves to hate, hates to love, but just keeps on doing.

Reading the latest court decision on solitary confinement (R v. Prystay, from Alberta), one doesn’t know whether to sigh with relief that another court got it so right, or cry over what took place. How could it be that a person in our country was held for 400 days in the deplorable conditions and extreme isolation that make up solitary confinement?

Justice Dawn Pentelechuk held that placing an inmate in solitary confinement for 400 days – where he suffered physical and psychological harms – was cruel and unusual punishment in violation of Section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She wrote:

“Societal views on what is acceptable treatment or punishment evolve over time. Forced sterilization, residential schools, lobotomies to treat mental disorders, corporal punishment in schools and the death penalty are all examples of treatment once considered acceptable. Segregation ravages the body and the mind. There is growing discomfort over its continued use as a quick solution to complex problems.”

And yet our federal government intends to maintain the practice of solitary confinement – now rebranded as “administrative segregation.” While the recently introduced Bill C-83 declares that it would “eliminate the use of administrative segregation,” the actual provisions of the bill would do no such thing. It is true that Bill C-83 would change the name of the “segregation unit” to the “structured intervention unit.” It would add a few daily hours out of cell for some inmates. And it would offer most inmates a shower and a few other minor improvements. However, Bill C-83 also would allow our penitentiaries to keep people in conditions of extreme isolation for at least 22 hours a day for undefined, perhaps indefinite periods.

But Bill C-83 has not yet been passed. The government can amend it, or better yet, introduce a new bill that truly eliminates solitary confinement. In doing so, the government could still seek to include any exceptions it thought necessary. If the government had evidence to support specific, rare, and very brief situations of isolation, this is something reasonable people could discuss.

Instead, unfathomably, Parliament is doubling down on Bill C-83 and fussing over what kind of independent review process is needed to keep someone in the newly named structured intervention units. To be sure, the concern about independent review is important, and is no doubt the government’s response to court decisions that struck down the administrative segregation regime in two recent constitutional challenges by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, respectively. The courts in Ontario and B.C. took issue with the lack of an independent review process when determining if someone should stay in solitary. However, this was not the only constitutional issue before the courts. CCLA and BCCLA also challenged the long, indefinite durations, segregation of people with mental illness, youth and those who simply asked to be safe, and the discriminatory use of segregation against Indigenous people. Many of these issues were accepted by the B.C. court. Most are back before the courts on appeal.

In striking down the administrative segregation regimes, the Ontario and B.C. rulings spend pages detailing the many harms, sometimes irreversible and permanent. These include hallucinations, depression, anxiety, loss of control, paranoia, self-mutilation and suicidal thoughts. These harms were researched and established by doctors and psychologists over many years.

Justice Pentelechuk’s recent Alberta decision attributes these harms to the extreme isolation faced by people in solitary. She wrote:

“Arguably, it is the lack of meaningful human contact that is the most pernicious consequence of placement in segregation. Human beings are not meant to be isolated, particularly not for extended periods. The longer a person is isolated, the more challenging it is to relate to others in an acceptable way.”

In her view: “Informed Canadians also realize that indefinite placement in segregation thwarts an inmate’s chance of successfully re-integrating into society.”

After all, as the Ontario court found, inmates leave solitary confinement deeply traumatized and socially disabled. Since most return to society, how can a practice that disables them in this manner be justified on the basis of safety?

Courts in Alberta, Ontario and B.C. have all found Charter breaches in relation to segregation, and all expressed grave concern over the harms associated with keeping people in extreme isolation. Even our federal government appears to concede these harms and recognize the need to eliminate this practice. Why else change the name of the unit? Why else would the government announce that its new bill will “eliminate the use of administrative segregation”? All we need now is for the government to keep this promise in a meaningful way.

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv is director of the equality program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail.

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 21, 2019
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Wolf at the Door: Adventures in Fundraising With Cockburn
Rev. William Alberts
Myopic Morality: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Sheldon Richman
Let’s Make Sure the Nazis Killed in Vain
Horace G. Campbell
Chinese Revolution at 70: Twists and Turns, to What?
Jim Kavanagh
The Empire Steps Back
Ralph Nader
Where are the Influentials Who Find Trump Despicable?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Poll Projection: Left-Leaning Jagmeet Singh to Share Power with Trudeau in Canada
Thomas Knapp
Excuses, Excuses: Now Hillary Clinton’s Attacking Her Own Party’s Candidates
Brian Terrell
The United States Air Force at Incirlik, Our National “Black Eye”
Paul Bentley
A Plea for More Cynicism, Not Less: Election Day in Canada
Walter Clemens
No Limits to Evil?
Robert Koehler
The Collusion of Church and State
Kathy Kelly
Taking Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition
Charlie Simmons
How the Tax System Rewards Polluters
Chuck Collins
Who is Buying Seattle? The Perils of the Luxury Real Estate Boom
Weekend Edition
October 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Trump as the “Anti-War” President: on Misinformation in American Political Discourse
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Where’s the Beef With Billionaires?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and the Violence of Environmental Decline
Paul Street
Bernie in the Deep Shit: Dismal Dem Debate Reflections
Andrew Levine
What’s So Awful About Foreign Interference?
T.J. Coles
Boris Johnson’s Brexit “Betrayal”: Elect a Clown, Expect a Pie in Your Face
Joseph Natoli
Trump on the March
Ashley Smith
Stop the Normalization of Concentration Camps
Pete Dolack
The Fight to Overturn the Latest Corporate Coup at Pacifica Has Only Begun
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Russophobia at Democratic Party Debate
Chris Gilbert
Forward! A Week of Protest in Catalonia
Daniel Beaumont
Pressing Done Here: Syria, Iraq and “Informed Discussion”
Daniel Warner
Greta the Disturber
John Kendall Hawkins
Journey to the Unknown Interior of (You)
M. G. Piety
“Grim Positivism” vs. Truthiness in Biography
Christopher Fons – Conor McMullen
The Centrism of Elizabeth Warren
Nino Pagliccia
Peace Restored in Ecuador, But is trust?
Rebecca Gordon
Extorting Ukraine is Bad Enough But Trump Has Done Much Worse
Kathleen Wallace
Trump Can’t Survive Where the Bats and Moonlight Laugh
Clark T. Scott
Cross-eyed, Fanged and Horned
Eileen Appelbaum
The PR Campaign to Hide the Real Cause of those Sky-High Surprise Medical Bills
Olivia Alperstein
Nuclear Weapons are an Existential Threat
Colin Todhunter
Asia-Pacific Trade Deal: Trading Away Indian Agriculture?
Sarah Anderson
Where is “Line Worker Barbie”?
Brian Cloughley
Yearning to Breathe Free
Jill Richardson
Why are LGBTQ Rights Even a Debate?
Jesse Jackson
What I Learn While Having Lunch at Cook County Jail
Kathy Kelly
Death, Misery and Bloodshed in Yemen
Maximilian Werner
Leadership Lacking for Wolf Protection
Arshad Khan
The Turkish Gambit
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail