Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it is “unacceptable” that his government continues to use solitary confinement in federal prisons.
Asked by VICE World News on Wednesday about new data showing that the unconstitutional practice of solitary confinement, and outright torture, is commonplace in Canada’s prisons, Trudeau did not say what he would actually do to stop it.
“We have taken very seriously this report,” Trudeau said. “Making a commitment to end solitary confinement, administrative segregation, is very important to this government. We will move forward on that.”
To date, his government has given no indication as to what it means to “move forward” on this issue. The government has had a copy of the findings for weeks. A lengthy statement from Correctional Services, sent in response to the report, downplayed and rejected its findings.
In 2018, Trudeau’s Liberal government introduced legislation that purported to end solitary confinement—referred to, euphemistically, as “administrative segregation”—to comply with a series of court rulings calling the practice unconstitutional. The courts found that locking inmates in a cell for 22 hours a day, indefinitely, was dangerous to their mental health and constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
Back then, his government was told by lawyers and prison advocates that the bill was insufficient, and that it would fail to end solitary confinement. But his government ignored those warnings, and struck amendments introduced in the Senate to beef up the bill.
The new cells, rebranded Structured Intervention Units, are supposed to afford inmates more time outside the cell, more oversight, and more mental health support. The new report, from criminologist Anthony Doob, using the Correctional Service’s own data, finds that isn’t happening.
Now, those warnings have come true. VICE World News asked Trudeau: Will anyone, such as Public Safety Minister Bill Blair or Correctional Services Canada Commissioner Anne Kelly, be asked to resign?
“I can assure that Corrections Canada and Minister Blair are following up on this,” Trudeau said. “It is unacceptable that we still have Canadians in such difficult circumstances—we need to make sure that we’re respecting their rights and respecting our commitments to ending administrative segregation and we need to make sure that’s what we’re working on.”
An action being brought against Correctional Service Canada at the Canadian Human Rights Commission illustrates exactly how these cells are being used.
Joey Toutsaint is an Indigenous man who has been incarcerated, on-and-off, for much of his adult life and, as is labelled a dangerous offender, is unlikely to be released anytime soon. In an application to the commission, Toutsaint says he has consistently been denied mental health support, even despite a history of self-harm and suicide attempts.
Advocates at Prisoners’ Legal Services have been trying to get Toutsaint sent to a psychiatric facility for years.
Toutsaint has been in a Structured Intervention Unit at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary since February 2020. Prior to this new, supposedly better, system, Toutsaint spent 2,180 days in solitary confinement.
A 2018 review of Toutsaint’s placement in this cell concluded it “greatly exacerbates Mr. Toutsaint’s psychiatric problems and directly contributes to him becoming more suicidal than he is at his baseline when he is not in solitary.”
Yet, when Toutsaint showed signs of distress, the application alleges, “not only did [Correctional Service Canada] not provide him with appropriate treatment, but also continued to place him in solitary confinement–contrary to its own policy.”
Toutsaint and his team are seeking damages, and to improve his conditions of confinement.
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