To Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety: 30 January 2018

Outdoor yard at Edmonton Institution. New rules say inmates will be given two hours rather than one hour of yard time. {photo: Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada}

Hon Ralph Goodale, MP
Minister of Public Safety
30 January 2018

re: Abolition of solitary confinement

You and your staff, no doubt, as we, are studying the two recent decisions on solitary confinement (segregation). You will presumably redraft Bill C-56 before proceeding with it in the House, unless an appeal is planned.

The Marrocco decision (December 18, 2017), under appeal by CCLA, was inconsistent and unsatisfactory in many respects, but it was clear that the damage of solitary begins as early as 48 hours. The evidence for this is strong, and even acknowledged in the UN Special Rapporteur’s landmark statement of 2011. Yet the federal government is still fighting it. Justice Marrocco was not persuaded by much of its evidence, and we are appalled that such shabby material should be advanced by your department.

We, like the CCLA, are disappointed that the decision did not specify a limit, but would rely on the heretofore-undemonstrated ability of CSC officials to release an inmate from solitary before serious damage (suicide, self-harm, mental deterioration or the onset of mental illness) occurs. We suspect that there will be more litigation on this matter, if it is not addressed by better legislation.

We note, again, that reduction in the periods of use of solitary by CSC 2014-16 did not result in increased danger to correctional staff.

Justice Leask, on the BC Civil Liberties Association case (January 16, 2018), ruled that prolonged and indefinite solitary/segregation is unconstitutional. He did not specify a number of days, but considered that 15 was “sensible,” the compromise measure in the Mandela Rules. That would certainly reduce the harm of current solitary measures, but we continue to note the obvious: that the harm starts at 48 hours.

Some specifics:

  1. That solitary confinement is punitive is demonstrated by its continued use as a punishment for offences in prison; that it is limited to 30 days as a sanction (total 45 for multiple offences), while administrative segregation is (for the present) not limited, is an anomaly that should be ended. Disciplinary segregation should be abandoned, in favour of criminal proceedings in the case of serious offences and loss of privileges for lesser offences.
  2. On administrative segregation for an inmate’s self-protection, we recognize the need for physical separation for some inmates, but this should NEVER entail sensory deprivation. Sensory deprivation is cruel and inhumane, and amounts to torture –the only question being how soon it constitutes torture. It is harmful to all so treated and counter-productive to rehabilitation, the stated goal of Canada’s correctional system, at every level.
  3. Improvements such as two hours out of cell instead of one are not sufficient to avoid harm. Exercise in cages is not an alternative. Pending the abolition of solitary, we urge that CSC look to intermediate measures, such as substantial out-of-cell time and meaningful human contact.
  4. On the use of administrative segregation to protect prison staff, other inmates and the prison, we urge that CSC examine positive alternatives to segregation. Other jurisdictions have moved away from solitary, and European countries that incarcerate less have also been better in curbing solitary. In North America, Colorado is well in advance of Canada. Why not send officials there to see it, and/or invite officials from Colorado here to discuss their alternatives? New York banned the use of solitary for inmates under 18 and for pregnant women, and instituted other restrictions. Mississippi reduced its use of solitary by 75%. There are plenty of good examples.
  5. Programs for inmates in solitary/segregation: we urge that CSC do the necessary work to ensure that education and rehabilitation programs in fact happen; for First Nations inmates, access to elders and indigenous spiritual assistance as well.
  6. CSC is known to be set in its ways, its culture hostile to change, a problem we urge be addressed as a priority. Training workshops are used in other jurisdictions to bring in new programs, why not at CSC? The routine use of treatment plans for inmates and measures for de-escalating conflicts both require staff preparation and support.

Yours sincerely

[members of the Campaign for the Abolition of Solitary Confinement]


Send us an email to add your name to the letter: info@abolishsolitary.ca