CBC News · Posted: May 09, 2019 4:00 AM ET
An Ottawa MPP is introducing a private member’s bill designed to gradually eliminate the use of solitary confinement in Ontario’s correctional institutions.
Ottawa-Vanier MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers wants to create a five-year plan to gradually phase out the practice.
Before that happens, her bill, if passed, would also prohibit inmates from spending more than 60 days a year in solitary confinement, require medical staff to provide daily care to those inmates, and create an independent oversight body that would oversee the use of solitary confinement.
At a news conference Wednesday at Queen’s Park, Des Rosiers said prison inmates should pay their debt to society — but not at the expense of their potential for rehabilitation.
“This aspiration is fundamentally at odds with our continued unconstitutional use of prolonged solitary confinement,” Des Rosiers said.
“Far from the spirit of rehabilitation, solitary confinement needlessly damages people, makes reintegration difficult and has exacerbated the mental health crisis.”
‘Cruel and unusual’
The Liberal MPP’s bill comes approximately one month after the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that extended solitary confinement “outrages standards of decency and amounts to cruel and unusual treatment.”
In that ruling, the province’s top court prohibited inmates from spending more than 15 days in a row in solitary confinement.
Des Rosiers said Wednesday her bill was designed to reflect the spirit of that ruling, while also going “a bit further.”
“[Solitary confinement] has been proven over and over to cause serious psychological impact,” she told CBC Radio’s All In A Day.
“And the fact that the courts have ruled it as cruel and unusual punishment expresses the way in which it’s not a practice we should keep in our toolbox.”
Violence against guards a concern
However, OPSEU Local 411, the union representing guards at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, has linked the ongoing modernization of the rules around segregation in Ontario corrections facilities to a spike in violence against guards.
Des Rosiers acknowledged those were legitimate concerns, and told All In A Day that she’d like to see the union be part of the conversation around what would replace solitary confinement.
“There are lots of avenues to create some different spaces, some ways in which people can be supported … without being locked down for 22 hours [a day],” Des Rosiers said.
“It leads to no good outcomes for them — or for our society.”
The federal government has also introduced Bill C-83, which purports to eliminate solitary confinement, but some critics have called the bill merely a cosmetic rebranding of the current situation.
The bill was adopted by the House of Commons and is now before the Senate.