The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER–The Court of Appeal of British Columbia 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 but the Appeal Court now has extended the deadline to June 17, with conditions to protect prisoners’ constitutional rights in the meantime.
“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 yesterday.
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 then either must 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 also must be offered an extra 30 minutes of daily yard time, bringing their total time allowed outside their cells to two-and-a-half hours a day.
As well, the court 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 also must take steps to have indigenous elders routinely visit segregation units and offer counselling to indigenous inmates, the court said.
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 yesterday that prolonged solitary confinement causes severe psychological distress, causing some inmates to take their lives.
“This is the cost of solitary confinement,” she stressed. “It’s human lives. It’s people that we love.”