Stop the torture! Good idea.

An unsolicited email received from Yasir Naqvi and dated May 11 invited submissions for the “Comprehensive Review of Segregation” Ontario’s Community Safety & Correctional Services is undertaking. This has been in the works since the media began heavily criticizing federal and provincial governments and our penal systems for its overreliance on the use of solitary confinement, and the resulting damages of the practice.

The invitation came about because of letters sent to Minister Naqvi over time questioning the operation of this province’s jails. However, the deadline for submissions was May 15, too late for us to offer an opinion. It’s never too late though to argue a position. We’ve published our letter to Mr. Naqvi here, and have copied five stakeholders as listed.

There is a reference in the letter to the Globe and Mail’s Tuesday, April 26 editorial, “Solitary Confinement: Stop the torture”, and copies were attached to the addressees. Copyright prevents our reproducing it here, but we can quote from it.

Firstly, the title is definitive. The editorial begins, “What does it take to get governments to pay attention to crises of their own making? In the case of the cruel overuse of solitary confinement…….., the answer would appear to be that there is nothing at all that can move authorities to action.” It continues, “….only Ottawa has made a firm commitment of any kind to ban long-term solitary confinement in federal prisons…”, and concludes, “Solitary confinement, when misused the way it too often is in Canada, is torture. Only the 14 governments that oversee it can fix this. That only one has made a commitment to do so is shameful.”

May 24, 2016

The Honourable Yasir Naqvi,
Minister of Community Safety & Correctional Services,
18th Floor, George Drew Building.
25 Grosvenor Street,
Toronto, ON M7A 1Y6

Re: Comprehensive Review of Segregation

Dear Minister Naqvi:

I thank you for your May 11 email requesting submissions around a review of segregation policies in the province’s jails, but your May 15 deadline left me unable to contribute. Nonetheless, I will comment.

First, I would recommend the Globe and Mail Editorial from Tuesday, April 26 of this year, entitled “Solitary Confinement: Stop the torture”, copy attached.

Reform evasion: Correctional Service of Canada has attempted to pre-empt federal reforms to segregation by voluntarily revising its use of solitary confinement, but only by improving procedural policies. Practices don’t change. Likewise, CSCS is using SHU (Special Handling Unit) ranges to move inmates out of segregation into an environment which can easily be as bad, or worse, than segregation, primarily because of incessant lockdowns. When staff shortages arise elsewhere in an institution, guards are pulled from SHU ranges and inmates there are simply locked down, sometimes for days. But, technically, the SHU is not ‘segregation’ and not subject to the review you are undertaking.

Compliance: Your office and CSCS management presume policies, practices and procedures in force within our provincial institutions are followed as a matter of course. I don’t doubt they are, to a large degree. However, there isn’t an inmate or inmate support who doesn’t understand best practices are at times compromised as “suggestions”, while relevant documentation will conform to the management model all the same. CSCS has not thus far guaranteed safeguards to independently scrutinize compliance.

Inmate Remedy: Provincial inmates have no substantive resource to challenge a segregation placement, or any institutional decision for that matter. Internal options are weighted against a complainant. Most external choices manage broad mandates which can leave jail inmates in a priority margin. Not only that, but even if an inmate is able to access the Inmate Information Guide for Adult Institutions (September 2015), pages 10 to 15, and can obtain assistance from staff, the complexities of the process can seem daunting, be discouraging, and too often regarded as futile, particularly where there are financial considerations.

There is no Utopian solution, but a major move in the right direction would see Ontario establish a dedicated destination solely for prisoner petitions, similar to the federal Office of the Correctional Investigator. An important distinction between the federal OCI and an Ontario equivalent though would have the provincial office submit its annual report directly to the legislature, rather than through CSCS or the Attorney General.

Whatever changes your office proposes, the objective must be a level playing field, both in substance, and with the perception, of fairness, legitimacy and impartiality, backed by an at-arms-length enforcement component.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

Margaret Welch, Associate Deputy Minister, Correctional Services, MCSCS
Christina Danylchenko, Assistant Deputy Minister, Institutional Services, MCSCS
Paul Dubé, Ombudsman, Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario
Human Rights Legal Support Centre,
Honourable Glen Murray, Ministry of Environment & Climate Change

Note:  Glen Murray is our local MPP


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