The prison machine – can’t say “I’m sorry.”

FORCING A PERSON INTO SOLITARY CONFINEMENT for more than a few days, or repeatedly putting that same man or woman into those barren bathroom-sized cells even for a few days at a time, is mentally corrosive, can cause permanent damage, and is torture, plain and simple.  This is as true today as it has been at any time in our history, and the United Nations Human Rights Council and its Committee Against Torture came to recognize it as such during the last half of twentieth century.

The Office of the Correctional Investigator, Canada’s prison watchdog, noted in its 2020-2021 Annual Report that its work during the previous year “has shown us just how vulnerable those in institutional settings are – from long-term care homes to prisons – and how we must ensure their protection to the highest extent possible.”

The report went on point out that, “Canada has been known as a world leader in protecting human rights and democratic values……Canada has also been a leader by joining many international human rights treaties and making a commitment to report to the United Nations on their implementation.”

As an example, Canada signed the Convention against Torture (CAT) in 1985 and ratified it in 1987.  “However,” the correctional investigator goes on, “merely reporting on how it meets its CAT obligations is not enough to ensure that the most vulnerable who are in places of detention are protected against mistreatment and torture behind closed doors.  There exists a gap in Canada’s human rights system in protecting those in detention.”

The UN’s Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) fills that gap.  Countries who ratify OPCAT must adhere to human rights obligations under international law for detention facilities, and replace the secrecy traditionally associated with prisons with openness, transparency, and accountability.

“The most effective way of preventing torture therefore is to expose all places of detention to public scrutiny,” says a conclusion adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on August 14, 2006.

Canada has not signed OPCAT.  Can you wonder why?

Administrative segregation is how Correctional Service of Canada labelled solitary confinement.  CSC is fully aware of its consequences to prisoners from the earliest days of the country’s prison system.  After all, it was the perpetrator, and outcomes were plainly visible.  And yet, even as late at 2012 Correctional Service of Canada refused to limit its use.  It would take another seven years before parliament adopted Bill C-83 to end solitary, or more correctly, to technically end solitary confinement.

In the meantime, Arlene Gallone had had enough.  She was a former federal inmate in Quebec who became the lead plaintiff in a class action against the government over the use of solitary confinement.  The suit was launched on February 24, 2013, and the Superior Court of Quebec authorized the class action on January 13, 2017.  In Ontario, two similar actions were underway with Christopher Brazeau and Jullian Reddock as the leads.  These were filed jointly with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on March 12, 2021.

Negotiations began.  There was no course where the government would allow this to be heard in open court, just as it is with any legal matter arising with Correctional Service of Canada.  In the end, the Brazeau, Reddock and Gallone (BRG) class actions were settled together, with $28 million in aggregate damages awarded to eligible claimants, and a further assumed undisclosed settlement for legal fees.  The judgement applied to all federal institutions across the country.  Canada was required by the court to turn over all relevant documentation and CSC was to assist inmates with the claims process.

That it did.  Lawyers began the interviews of class action members during 2022.  The claims administrator made disbursements in January of 2023.  All claimants received an equal share of the award, calculated at $5,469.85.  Class members whose solitary confinement experience was egregious were also able to proceed further on one of two different ‘tracks’ to claim up to $50,000 or more in addition to the base amount, dependant upon the severity of their confinements.  These payments are scheduled for later in the year, but participants have been told that the full value of the claims can’t be met with the funds available.  All the same, the amounts awarded will be relatively substantial.

These are your tax dollars going out the door.  And the BRG class actions represent only a portion of the outstanding lawsuits against our prison industry.

There’s one striking observation in what Correctional Service of Canada published on its website for assisting class members with their claims.  No doubt it is following the instructions agreed by the government, nothing more, nothing less.  It reads at one point, “Three separate class actions lawsuits have ended with the Courts finding that the rights of inmates were violated.”

Nowhere does CSC acknowledge wrongdoing.  Nowhere does it say, “I’m sorry.”


One thought on “The prison machine – can’t say “I’m sorry.”

  1. If Canada has committed to adhere to the UN Convention then I would think that’s the place to register violations by CSC. However I doubt, as with so many other UN policies, they have no teeth or the will to act on any inhumain activities.


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