Prisons & the law

WE CANNOT SENTENCE A PERSON TO PRISON FOR COMMITTING A CRIME AND THEN TORTURE THEM IN CUSTODY.
WE CANNOT SENTENCE A PERSON TO PRISON FOR COMMITTING A CRIME AND THEN TREAT THEM IN CUSTODY IN A WAY THAT PHYSICALLY OR MENTALLY HARMS.
WE CANNOT SENTENCE A PERSON WHO HAS A MENTAL OR PHYSICAL DISABILITY TO PRISON FOR COMMITTING A CRIME AND THEN IGNORE THAT DISABILITY WHILE THEY ARE IN CUSTODY.
WE CANNOT DO THAT IN CANADA.

Repeating again federal Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger’s citation that we send people to prison as punishment, not for punishment.

This applies equally to provincial and federal prison industries.

So why has the Ontario Human Rights Commission gone after the province’s ministry responsible for its jails….for the third time in seven years…..asking the Human Rights Tribunal to hold Ontario accountable for failing to meet its legal obligations?

Ontario agreed to a comprehensive settlement with Christina Jahn in 2013 that included a provision to not place persons with a mental illness in solitary confinement except as a last resort. Ms. Jahn had mental health and addiction disabilities but was held in segregation in Ottawa for more than 200 days. Not only has Ontario been taken to task more than once for not obeying the provisions of this settlement, but under two different governments even more people with noted mental disorders have been placed in solitary. Soleiman Faqiri was one, highlighted again in our September 13 posting. He was killed by jail guards in Lindsay in 2016 after a segregation placement.

This time though, the OHRC is also asking that no provincial inmate without a mental health condition be placed in segregation for more than 15 continuous days and a total of 60 days in a year. This would be in line with the latest case law and international standards.

As counterpoint, a spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General said the province has met “all 31 deliverables specified in the consent orders.”

Right. Now tell us, who are the compliance supervisors?

)()(

Meanwhile federally, Dr. Anthony Doob, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto Centre for Criminology, chaired the Implementation Advisory Panel established by Ottawa to monitor the ending of solitary confinement in federal prisons. Included among the eight members of the panel was Ed McIsaac, executive director of the federal prison ombudsman’s office from the late 1980s until about 10 years ago.

The panel never received data it needed from Correctional Service of Canada despite repeated requests, and its members were appointed for only one-year terms, which ended this past summer. “We have accomplished nothing,” Dr. Doob said. “How much confidence do we have that the experience of a prisoner has changed? My answer is none, because we don’t have any information.” The professor accused Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and CSC of back-pedaling and delaying promises to provide even basic information.

Minister Bill Blair has committed to revive the panel as its term lapsed before it could accomplish anything. In response, Mr. McIsaac commented, “I don’t see it coming back to life absent of having the information we requested in hand, and I don’t think further promises are going to get us very far.” Professor Doob added, “I guess I’m tired of being jerked around. Nobody’s watching. Nobody’s watching the keepers. The irony of it all is that a well-run organization would have wanted to have the data collection we’re asking for in place on Day 1. It’s not rocket science to say: ‘Start recording it with a paper and a pencil – and here’s how you sharpen a pencil.’”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government is making good on Bill C-83.

We wrote Mr. Trudeau:

August 28, 2020

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau,
Ottawa, ON

Dear Prime Minister:

About the time your father was chasing the federal government out of the nation’s bedrooms back in the 60s, I was beginning to delve into our country’s prison industry.

According to Colin Freeze in yesterday’s Globe and Mail, “Ottawa not adhering to law on solitary, watchdog says,” he noted that “Prime Minister Trudeau said to reporters on Wednesday that the Liberal government is living up to its commitment to do away with solitary confinement.”

How would you know?

A little experience with Correctional Service of Canada teaches that the agency can be Trumpian with the truth. What CSC says is so may be smoke and mirrors, and what it lives by as true may not survive beyond the front gates. Assessing C-83’s efficacy must include the perspectives of the men and women who are intended to benefit from its provision, namely the inmates. As one said to me about the difficulties CSC is having with the new handheld technology, “That’s b.s.!”

Prime Minister, keep you smellmeter handy.

Yours truly……

Copies went to Professor Anthony Doob, Minister Bill Blair, and Correctional Service of Canada Commissioner Anne Kelly.

Thanks to the panel for being refreshingly frank.

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