Canada's government is facing challenges on two fronts from groups claiming its use of solitary confinement in prisons is unconstitutional.
On Tuesday, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) filed a petition in the Ontario Superior Court seeking to challenge the constitutionality of isolation, which the groups call cruel and inhumane.
"The link between torture, cruel treatment and solitary confinement is too important for Canadians to remain silent," said Sukanya Pillay, general counsel and executive director of CCLA. "We cannot equivocate about measures that result in torture. We must protect the prison population’s most vulnerable members, which includes people with mental health issues."
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Just last week, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada launched a similar lawsuit against the federal government, alleging that "the use of solitary confinement—where prisoners are isolated for up to 23 hours a day, sometimes for months and years at a time—amounts to cruel and unusual punishment," according to a press release. "The lawsuit argues that the solitary confinement regime leads to prisoner suffering and deaths, deprives prisoners of fundamental procedural protections and is discriminatory against both mentally ill and Aboriginal prisoners."
Carmen Cheung, senior counsel at the BCCLA, declared: "Prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement is internationally regarded as torture. At a time when the rest of the world is scaling back the use of solitary confinement, Canada remains steadfast in its reliance on a broken and dangerous system. From the Correctional Investigator of Canada to the United Nations Committee Against Torture, the message to our government has been the same: Canada must change the way it uses solitary confinement in its prisons. Canada hasn’t acted to put an end to this abuse, so we hope that our lawsuit will."