Canada promised to finish solitary confinement, report exhibits it has not | Human Rights Information
Montreal Canada – More than a quarter of inmates held in special units in Canadian federal prisons are held in conditions resembling solitary confinement, a recent report found, while one in ten were held in conditions that constitute torture by United Nations standards.
The revelations come less than two years after Canada passed laws promising to end solitary confinement practices that would usher in “a transformative era” of corrections, according to the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC).
The law was passed in 2019 after civil rights groups were sued over the country’s former “administrative segregation system” which they claimed violated Canada’s constitution and prisoner rights.
“There doesn’t seem to be any improvement over time, so it’s getting harder and harder to argue that this is just one type of growing pain as you switch from one set of rules to another,” said Jane Sprott, professor of criminology at Ryerson University in Toronto.
Canadian federal inmates are transferred to SIUs if they pose a security threat to themselves, others, or the facility, or if they could disrupt an investigation. However, under the SIU system, they must get at least four hours out of their cells each day, two of which must involve “meaningful human contact”.
Sprott, who co-authored the report with Anthony Doob, a professor at the University of Toronto, said CSC data shows that only more than 28 percent of prisoners in SIUs are incarcerated for 22 hours or more a day without significant contact with others were.
This corresponds to solitary confinement under the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules.
A man walks past a banner prior to a rally in Oakland, California, the United States, in 2015 [File: Robert Galbraith/Reuters]According to the report, 9.9 percent of SIU inmates were in “prolonged solitary confinement” – more than 15 consecutive days in solitary confinement – which the Mandela Rules prohibit as “torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” .
“There [are] People with mental health problems who live in these isolated areas and who can really make mental health problems worse. This has resulted in some deaths in custody, ”Sprott told Al Jazeera.
“It’s like a prison within a prison,” she said of the SIU cells. “It’s a little more uncontrolled, it’s more isolated. You are in this cell and if you are out for less than two hours it means your main interaction for the day is pushing food through a grocery slot. “
Countless human rights groups and international experts have documented the harm even short periods of time in solitary confinement can have on inmates, including depression, hallucinations, paranoia and ideas of self-harm. The risk of long-term and severe damage also increases for inmates who already suffer from mental health problems.
Authorities in various countries have nonetheless defended the practice as a necessary means of ensuring that inmates do not harm themselves or others. In Canada, the federal government is sticking to its SIU system, which is “fundamentally” different from the previous model of administrative separation.
CSC spokeswoman Esther Mailhot told Al Jazeera in an email that SIUs are designed as a temporary measure to help inmates “adopt more positive behaviors that keep the facility overall safe and secure”.
Inmates detained in SIUs have access to the same programs and services as other inmates and receive daily visits from staff, Mailhot said. The system is designed to minimize situations in which inmates are in their cells for too long. But she said inmates can sometimes stay longer in their cells “if they refuse to leave”.
Mailhot said the department had reviewed Sprott and Doob’s most recent report and “its analysis identifies issues and data trends that we are tracking”. She did not comment directly on the allegations of continued solitary confinement or torture.
“As we continue to learn and make adjustments, we remain determined to ensure the success of this new corrective model as we fulfill our mission to ensure the safe rehabilitation of federal inmates in Canada,” she said.
Lack of transparency
In a November 2020 report, Prisoners’ Legal Services, a West Coast Prison Justice Society project in British Columbia, said Canadian federal prisoners “continue to be kept in isolation at an alarming rate.”
Prisoners held in SIUs continue to face prolonged solitary confinement “often without access to legal assistance”, while “prisoners with the highest mental health needs in SIUs continue to be held in isolation without adequate treatment”.
Critics had previously warned that Canada’s plan to change the current system of administrative separation would not end the practice of solitary confinement.
You are in this cell and if you are out for less than two hours it means your main interaction for the day is pushing groceries through a grocery slot
In November 2018, independent Senator Kim Pate accused the federal government of “engaging in a cynical exercise that merely renamed this cruel treatment” and using “linguistic tricks” in its legislation.
“Ottawa cannot declare that segregation has been eliminated without addressing the horrors associated with the practice and removing the minimal restrictions the courts have placed on its use,” Pate said.
Sprott also said that there has been a lack of transparency regarding the SIU system since it came into force. “If there’s no transparency and people don’t even know what’s going on, it’s pretty unlikely that anything will change,” she said, adding that while the latest report applies to federal prisons, solitary confinement issues also apply to detention centers in the provinces.
“Part of us has died”
For example, the Ontario Human Rights Commission said last August that Canada’s largest province failed to ensure that people with mental health problems were only segregated as a last resort.
The commission filed a motion calling on the Ontario Human Rights Court to order a ban on segregation for inmates with mental illness, strict limits on segregation beyond 15 days and 60 days in a single year, and the creation of an independent monitor.
Between July 2018 and June 2019, more than 12,000 people – 46 percent of whom had mental health alerts – were segregated in Ontario, the commission said.
Yusuf Faqiri knows how destructive solitary confinement can be. His brother Soleiman died in a segregation cell in a provincial prison in Lindsay, Ontario, where he was awaiting transfer to a mental health facility in December 2016 after being held for assault.
Soleiman Faqiri, 30, died in an Ontario detention center on December 15, 2016 [Courtesy Yusuf Faqiri]Soleiman, who suffered from schizophrenia, died in his cell after a group of guards tried to hold him back. The guards violated the province’s use of force guidelines during the incident, CBC News reported for the first time last year, citing court documents.
Soleiman was found undercover in the cell, handcuffed and sprayed with pepper spray, and had a spit hood over his head, according to a 2017 coroner’s report. His body was covered with cuts and bruises.
“My brother was more than just his illness. He was a gifted mind. He meant the world to my family, each and every one of us, ”Yusuf told Al Jazeera, explaining that his family is still struggling to get information about what happened in the last moments of Soleiman’s life.
“Part of us died that day when Soleiman was taken from us when he was taking his last breath.”
Local police said they would not arrest anyone in connection with Soleiman’s death, and Ontario provincial police came to the same conclusion last year, saying “there is no reasonable prospect of criminal conviction,” as reported by local media.
Part of us died that day when Soleiman was taken from us as he took his last breath
Meanwhile, the coroner was ordered to investigate and the family filed a civil lawsuit for $ 14.3 million (US $ 11.3 million) against the province, the correctional center superintendent and seven staff members. Both are in preparation.
Nader Hasan, partner at Stockwoods law firm in Toronto and attorney for the Faqiri family, said Soleiman’s case illustrates that Canada’s criminal justice system is ill-equipped to deal with people living with mental health problems.
“Every single employee who came in contact with him knew that he was sick and that he didn’t belong there – that he belonged in a hospital – but they didn’t do anything … and then they beat and killed him on his last day.” said Hasan to Al Jazeera. “This is a worst-case scenario.”
For his part, Yusuf Faqiri said his family will continue to fight for answers. “We’re not going to stop until we get justice for Soleiman,” he said, “because justice for Soleiman means justice for all Canadians suffering from mental illness in the deadly context of the justice and incarceration system.”