ONTARIO – Get with it!

The Ontario Human Rights Commission reached a binding ‘landmark’ legal settlement with Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services in September of 2013 in support of inmate Christina Jahn’s complaint that she had spent 210 days in solitary confinement at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, where she endured cruel and inhumane treatment because of her gender and mental illness.

Among what were called “public interest remedies” to address the treatment of women and mentally ill inmates in provincial jails, MCSCS committed to prohibit placing mentally ill inmates in segregation except under extreme circumstances, plus a greater monitoring of segregation practices, and the development of enhanced mental health screening. In addition, every inmate sent to segregation was to be given a handout, a booklet explaining the conditions of a solitary placement, and the rights, recourses and resources available.

Not much happened, despite the agency’s claim to the contrary.

MCSCS was taken to task again, and again it claimed to be moving forward with what it had agreed to do. Admitting to the ministry’s shortcomings though, Minister Marie-France Lalonde insisted work was underway to correct them.

Since the settlement was reached four years ago, 11 people have died in Ontario segregation units. What’s more, Howard Sapers, Canada’s former federal correctional investigator who is acting for the province to report on the state of provincial jails, and recommend improvements, issued findings on solitary confinement in May of this year. It showed the segregation of mentally ill inmates had increased in the years since the Jahn settlement.

Renu Mandhane, Ontario’s head human rights commissioner, told a news conference in the fall that, “when the province signs on the dotted line, it should be held accountable for its promises.”

And so, on September 26, 2017, the OHRC took new legal action, asking the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to expedite an order for the government to implement the terms of the agreement it had voluntarily accepted. The human rights commission intends to press for an speedy resolution.

This is one further example of why policy around our prison industry operations needs to be enshrined in legislation, and not left to the whims of mandarins in the public service.

Ontario…..a place to stand, a place to grow? How about a place where the government keeps its word, and does what’s right!

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