The ‘torture’ of Canadian prisoners in solitary confinement must stop immediately

Posted on March 31, 2021 in Child & Family Policy Context

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Contributors

Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. Perhaps Einstein was thinking about Canada’s Correctional Service when he coined the phrase. His words are certainly apt regarding their implementation of the structured intervention units (SIUs) — a form of solitary confinement.

This week, Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair asked Parliament for an additional $135 million dollars to properly implement structured intervention units in Canadian prisons. For context, the Correctional Service has already been allocated $300 million to implement the SIUs. Despite this astronomical sum, they have failed nearly every step of the way.

The comedy of errors surrounding the SIUs has been noted time and time again. In the Star, in the Globe, in CBC. First, the Correctional Service refused to release SIU data. Then the data wasn’t available in the proper format. Then software was a problem. Now the excuse is that “transformative change” takes time.

In February, the renowned federally appointed criminologist Anthony Doob unequivocally stated that 195 SIU prisoners are experiencing “torture.” Jack Harris raised Doob’s report at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. Bill Blair accepted the findings.

Yes, you read that correctly. In Canadian prisons 195 people were tortured as per the UN’s definition. Bill Blair accepts that torture is occurring, but has done nothing to fix it. In fact, prior to Jack Harris raising concerns, Bill Blair never even responded to Doob’s report.

Now, Blair has emerged from his silence with a blank cheque in hand. He has asked for an additional $135 million taxpayer dollars to give the Correctional Service another kick at the can. Enough is enough.

Torture is not just unacceptable, inhumane, and unconstitutional, but it is also extremely expensive. To date, courts have awarded prisoners $20 million dollars for confinement in administrative segregation. The Minister’s Committee estimates included $100 million to pay for such past damages. Each day that Blair waits to stop extreme isolation is a day that increases the likelihood another award will be granted. As Justin Ling tweeted, one prisoner has spent 454 days straight in an SIU cell.

There is certainly some irony that taxpayer dollars are spent to compensate the most troublesome of prisoners for being tortured by our Correctional Service. Surely we can find a better use for taxpayer money? Housing the homeless? Health care? Crime prevention? Anything.

It is time to simply prohibit prolonged solitary confinement (15 days straight or more). Then, appoint a non-CSC expert to ensure legislative compliance. Prisoners would remain locked-up but in a manner that is Charter-compliant. This simple change would ensure taxpayers do not see another $135 million squandered on confinement that violates the Charter and offends our values.

Murray Fallis is an articling fellow with the John Howard Society of Canada.

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