Back in July of 2014, the Globe and Mail reported that our federal prison system was using solitary confinement beyond UN recommendations, at the same time other jurisdictions understood the negative impact of isolating prisoners and were moving away from it. Correctional Service of Canada, under Commissioner Don Head, paid lip service to prohibiting the practice “in principle”, but were making no move to change.
Our July 14 letter to Mr. Head criticized the lack of action and suggested new policies could be in place within 72 hours under his direction. In response, a two-page letter from Assistant Commissioner Scott Harris attempted to sidestep the matter by defining solitary confinement as something different from CSC segregation policies. This is one of those examples we often hear of CSC employees looking one straight in the eye and lying without batting a lash. We more or less told Mr. Harris that when his letter was answered on August 23.
Forward to “Great! But, will they comply?”, published on November 18 of this year.
Assistant Commissioner Harris again wrote us:
December 1, 2015
Dear Mr. Klassen:
Thank you for your correspondence of November 18, 2015, addressed to the Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), Mr. Don Head, in which you express concerns regarding his testimony at a Senate Committee hearing in March 2015.
At the onset, I would like to clarify that the Commissioner/s testimony before the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on March 12, 2015, related to Bill S-208, An Act to Establish the Canadian Commission on Mental Health and Justice and not specific to the case of federal inmate Edward Snowshoe.
As I previously explained in my letter dated July 30, 2014, administrative segregation is often compare to solitary confinement and segregation as recognized in Canada.
For more information on federal corrections, including administrative segregation, please consult the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA), the Corrections and Conditional Release Regulations (CCRR), and Commissioner’s Directive 709: Administrative Segregation, all of which can be found on CSC’s website at the following link: http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/acts-and-regulations/index-eng.shtml.
Thank you for taking the time to write
Communications and Engagement Sector
And again, we responded:
December 16, 2015
Scott Harris, Assistant Commissioner,
Communications and Engagement Sector,
Correctional Service of Canada,
340 Laurier Avenue West,
Ottawa, ON K1A 0P9
Assistant Commissioner Harris:
I’m as baffled today by your December 1st letter as I was when writing on August 23 last year in answer to the July 30th letter you referenced.
When any person or persons employed by Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) removes an inmate to isolation in an institution, confines that inmate to a cell for 23 hours per day or more, and where that inmate is without property previously in their possession, access to programs and/or jobs, and the contacts with population and staff they had prior to the move, that is solitary confinement. You may call it by whatever name you wish, and categorize and sub-categorize it ‘til the cows come home, but it is and always will be solitary confinement.
The government’s intent is to restrict this practice of isolating prisoners, and so it should, in spite of what will no doubt be the protests of CSC’s NHQ. The prime minister and his justice minister may in the end need to appoint at-arms-length compliance officers deputized to enforce PMO instructions without recourse to appeal or delay, as counterpoint to a recalcitrant bureaucracy.
However this will unfold, there are many of us in the community who will be watching.
Charles H. Klassen
cc Justin Trudeau
Sadly, controlling the civil service is like herding cats. It can take more resources than most people are willing to give, and some circumstances leave us suffering unnecessarily.