Last week a BC court denied an adjournment of the case raised by the BCCLA and the John Howard’s Society regarding the constitutionality of solitary confinement. The federal government wanted to adjourn the case because they had tabled Bill C-56 which would set new rules for the use of solitary confinement. The BC judge held the trial should continue.
The BCCLA and the John Howard’s Society had launched a lawsuit against the federal government in 2015 over the use of administrative segregation, commonly called solitary confinement. The judge had allowed an initial postponement of the trial while the government was drafting the new bill, and once the bill was tabled the government wanted a further adjournment of the trial. The government argued that the trial should be adjourned because the bill may still have constitutional kinks to work out, so the trial should wait till that had taken place.
The BCCLA and John Howard’s Society argued that the trial should not be adjourned because prisoners would be left languishing in the interim, and their challenge is to the current legislation, not the new bill. The thrust of the BCCLA’s argument against the way Canada currently uses administrative segregation is that it is prolonged and indefinite, lacks independent judicial oversight, and unfairly targets mentally ill and Indigenous offenders. On its face, the new bill appears to remedy the issue with prolonged and indefinite use of administrative segregation, because it adheres to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. The new law would limit the amount of days a prisoner could be kept in administrative segregation to 21 days, and then after eighteen months the cap would drop to 15 days. However, there remains the ability for a warden to command a prisoner stay in administrative segregation if they determine it necessary. A warden could therefore continue the administrative segregation of a prisoner longer than 15 days, and defeat the objective of the new rules. The new bill would remedy the issue of independent oversight by instituting an independent reviewer to look at the cases that remain in administrative segregation longer than 15 days, but the reviewer has no power to release them.
In the end, the BC judge held that the Charter issues in the case would make it improper to adjourn the case. The trial begins today in Vancouver.
This blog post was written by a CCLA summer law student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA.