A coalition of groups including Canadian Friends Service Committee is renewing its call for an immediate end to indefinite, prolonged solitary confinement in Canada’s federal prisons.
The organizations were among dozens recently invited to a “consultation” convened by the Correctional Service of Canada (“CSC”) to discuss issues within Structured Intervention Units (“SIUs”) – highly restrictive prison units that continue to subject individuals to prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement. A number of the invited community organizations have signed an open letter (below) criticizing the “consultation” and calling on the federal government to take immediate action to end torture in Canada’s federal prisons.
“The federal government must cease playing games and calling groups to meaningless consultations,” said Abby Deshman, Criminal Justice Director for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “Correctional Services Canada appears more interested in convening one-sided discussion forums than doing the right thing and finally ending indefinite solitary confinement in Canadian prisons. And we must be clear: prolonged solitary confinement is torture.”
Emilie Coyle, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, said “We can no longer settle for prison reforms that seek only to rebrand and make palatable what is undeniably inhumane. The government must act immediately to stop the torturous practice of solitary confinement – a practice that disproportionately impacts and harms Indigenous women and prisoners with mental illness – as we continue to push for real transformation in our justice system and in our communities.”
“The United Nations defines solitary confinement as 22 or more hours of isolation per day without meaningful human contact. It considers solitary confinement to constitute torture or cruel treatment if it is used against people with existing mental health disabilities, or if it is used for more than 15 days against anyone. It is unacceptable for Canada to be engaging in torture,” said Jennifer Metcalfe, Executive Director of Prisoners’ Legal Services in British Columbia.
“People behind bars need supports. A ‘one-size fits all’ approach simply will not work. We are urging Correctional Services Canada and the Government of Canada to take concrete action now to live up to not only their international obligations, but their constitutional obligations under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said Catherine Latimer, Executive Director of John Howard Society Canada.
Open letter sent to the Correctional Service of Canada on Structured Intervention Units consultation
Commissioner Anne Kelly
340 Laurier Avenue West
On, June 17th and 18th 2021 dozens of community stakeholders were invited by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) to participate in a consultation on Structured Intervention Units (SIUs) in federal prisons in Canada.
Entering the consultation, CSC had a fixed agenda. None of the undersigned organizations were consulted regarding the topics to be discussed, and no community stakeholders were given the opportunity to add items for discussion.
Concerns about the narrow scope of the consultation were largely ignored, and well-documented failings of SIUs were not addressed. When stakeholders attempted to raise concerns, they were redirected by Commissioner Anne Kelly back to CSC’s pre-determined agenda.
Absent from this consultation, then, were fundamental and urgent matters requiring immediate action by CSC and the Federal Government, including:
- ending the practice of solitary confinement wherever feasible – and prohibiting prolonged use of solitary confinement in its entirety;
- provision of real alternatives to SIU other than return to maximum security, including transfers to lower security, healing lodges, and treatment centres;
- implementing effective, independent oversight for the SIUs;
- granting public access to information from CSC on the operation of SIUs;
- addressing the lack of access to SIU inmates by non-government service providers; and
- immediately re-establishing the Independent Advisory Panel, an SIU oversight body.
Without addressing these issues, these stakeholder engagements cannot be seen as anything more than a “check-box” – a mechanism to enable CSC to state publicly that they had consulted with stakeholders.
We urge the government (CSC) to turn its attention and efforts to open discussion of these matters and to resolving them without delay.
The John Howard Society of Canada
The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies
Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Prisoners’ Legal Services
Volunteers, Millhaven Lifers Liaison Group
Vicki Chartrand, Centre for Justice Exchange
Kim Beaudin, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples
Richard Sauve, St. Leonard’s Society
Lana Robinson, Clerk, Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers)
Kathy Ferreira, Queen’s Prison Law Clinic
Rev. Dr. Carol Finlay, Book Clubs for Inmates
Mary Campbell, Independent Expert
John T Clinton, (retired) Saint Leonard’s Society Hamilton