Yukon gets a Gold Star!

“Yukon to place strict limits on solitary” headlined Patrick White’s Globe and Mail prominent front-page story on October 28.

Editor’s note: This was prepared for publication late last year prior to the two-month hiatus referenced at the head of the last posting. It remains relevant and current all the same.

Those limits are the thrust of Yukon’s Bill 6, an Act to Amend the Corrections Act 2009, which was in committee after passing first and second reading in the territory’s legislature when the Globe article was published. Since then it passed third reading and came into force on November 27.

Under the Act, an inmate cannot be held in segregation who is pregnant or has recently given birth, who is suicidal or chronically self-harming, has a mental disorder or intellectual disability, requires medical observation, or has a mobility impairment. All exemptions have prescribed legislated conditions.

Bill 6 declares an inmate cannot be held in segregation for more than 15 days to an annual 60-day limit. And, an inmate who is released from segregation after 15 days cannot be placed in segregation again until a period of five days has expired since the end of the last 15-day segregation period. Those limits can be exceeded only with the consent of an independent arbitrator, who could not be a government employee.

The legislation is the first in Canada to comply with the United Nations General Assembly’s 2015 adoption of what are now called the Mandela Rules, which asks all jurisdictions to limit solitary confinement to 15 days. As such, this bill doesn’t address questions around segregation placements for less than 15 days, except that 60-day annual maximums apply.

Yukon Director of Corrections Andrea Monteiro wanted to be pro-active in dealing with the issue and make the territory a leader in segregation reform. Yukon has only one territorial prison, the Whitehorse Correctional Centre with a problematic recent history with solitary confinement, but the government is advantaged in its reform efforts over other jurisdictions like Ontario which has 25 provincial jails.

Canada’s prison industry is watching the impact of this legislation. The Courts have been very clear with its position on segregation practices and any federal or provincial government that ignores recent decisions will face and is contending with further litigation. “The hard 15-day cap has been met with stiff resistance from current and former prison staff, who say it jeopardizes the safety of employees and inmates,” said Patrick White in the Globe and Mail.

Former federal warden Glen Brown, now a criminology instructor at Simon Fraser University, described Yukon Bill 6 as “terse and perfunctory” in attempting to comply with the Mandela Rules, claiming the complexity and seriousness of circumstances can’t be effectively managed under its provisions.

On the other hand, Howard Sapers, a former federal correctional investigator who advised Yukon on this bill, says that its “far-reaching approach” is to be admired. “My experience in the federal sphere, sadly, is that the government was quite content to be re-active, to not get ahead of these things. It’s nice to see a jurisdiction that wants to be pro-active,” he said.

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