Rights groups fight Canada government's defense of solitary confinement

June 22, 2018
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Canadian law allows for prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement that hurts vulnerable people most and that is why it must be struck down, lawyers for civil liberties groups argued this week, as they accused the government of backing away from its avowed goal of pursuing prison reform.

Their court submission on Monday comes as the federal government tries to overturn a ruling that found the national correctional system's use of indefinite nondisciplinary solitary confinement - or "administrative segregation," as it is called - violates Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms and disproportionately harms indigenous women and people with mental illness.

Judge Peter Leask gave authorities a year to make changes, including introducing an appeals process for prisoners put in extended solitary confinement.

Now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government, which promised when it was elected to reform the correctional system, is fighting against a judgment forcing the government to reform.

The government argued in its submission last month that Canadian law on administrative segregation is constitutional and if people's rights were violated it is because the law was applied in an "improper" way. 

The government argues that putting people with mental illness in solitary is constitutional but does not contest the judge's finding that the current system discriminates against indigenous inmates, who are over-represented behind bars and especially in solitary confinement.

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