Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta Grants Reduced Sentence to Ryan Prystay After More than a Year in Administrative Segregation

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Ryan Prystay was arrested in 2016 after police found meth-amphetamine and a loaded weapon in his car, following a “meth-fueled”[1] car chase which injured a police dog. Since his arrest Ryan has remained at the Edmonton Remand Centre.

On March 30, 2017 Ryan was placed in administrative segregation (AS) following an assault on an inmate; he remained in AS until May of 2018. Administrative segregation is a tool used by remand centres to ensure the security of other inmates and staff; it is not intended to be used as a punishment. Unlike in disciplinary segregation (DS), inmates in AS have the same rights and privileges as other inmates, however, the operational realities of AS cause the experience to be drastically different from that of inmates in the general population.[2] Inmates in AS do not get to go outdoors or access communal areas, they are kept in a cell alone for 23hrs/day and are only allowed out into the “fresh air room.” The fresh air room provides the inmates only access to television, telephones, and exercise space; it does not contain the equipment available in the communal gyms and is a much smaller space. AS also severely limits human contact for inmates as they are separated from staff and other inmates, prohibited from participating in group activities, and only permitted contact with loved ones via CCTV.

Despite the claims that AS inmates have more rights than DS inmates, the practical differences are minor.[3] Unlike DS, AS is not strongly regulated. Inmates may only be held in DS for 14 days,[4] yet there is no time limit on AS.[5]

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association challenged the practice of AS in 2018[6] on the grounds that it violates the section 7, 9, 10, 12 and 15 rights under the Charter. This challenge is still under appeal. At trial the BC Civil Liberties Association tendered evidence showing an overuse of AS with average stays being 22 days and year long stays being “not unheard of.”[7]

The test for cruel and unusual treatment, originating in R v Smith[8] and recently affirmed in R v Boudreault,[9] holds that treatment must be grossly disproportionate such that it is abhorrent or intolerable as determined by weighing the effect on the complainant against the offence they committed. Ryan was arrested for a serious crime and assaulted another inmate, however, as a result of his year in solitary he suffered anxiety, sleeplessness, paranoia, and pain in his back and chest; not to mention the inherent punishment of being separated from nearly all human contact for over a year. Justice Pentelechuk weighed these two elements and concluded that the punishment applied to Ryan met the threshold for cruel and unusual treatment.

In making her decision to declare Ryan’s treatment cruel and unusual, and thus in violation of his section 12 Charter rights, Justice Dawn Pentelechuk cited the excessive length of the stay, the physical and psychological effects suffered by Ryan, and the lack of procedural fairness or ascertainable standards utilized in deciding to keep Ryan segregated. The remedy for this breach of Ryan’s section 12 rights was held to be 3.75 days off his sentence for each day served in AS, resulting in 77 days remaining in detention.

Although this case occurred at the Court of Queen’s Bench it adds to the body of evidence and judgements against the practice of AS in Canada’s penitentiaries. Hopefully this judgement will aid in the efforts of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and other human rights groups efforts towards judicial intervention and legislative reform surrounding AS.

 

[1] Jonny Wakefield “Inmate’s 13.5 months in solitary was ‘cruel and unusual,’ Alberta Judge rules”, Edmonton Journal (January 6, 2019) https://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/inmates-13-5-months-in-solitary-was-cruel-and-unusual-alberta-judge-rules

[2] R v Prystay, 2019 ABQB 8 at para 27

[3] Ibid at para 45

[4] Correctional Institute Regulation, Alta Reg 205/2001, s 46

[5] Note 3 at para 49

[6] British Columbia Civil Liberties Association v Canada (Attorney General), 2018 BCSC 62

[7] Note 3 at para 56

[8] R v Smith [1987] 1 SCR 1045, 5 WWR 1

[9] R v Boudreault 2018 SCC 58