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Limits to solitary confinement: Letter to Yukon’s premier and justice minister

Hon. Tracy-Anne McPhee’s response can be read at the end of this letter. Please scroll to the end of the page to read the embedded letter (a PDF scan)

Hon. Sandy Silver, premier;
Hon. Tracy-Anne McPhee, Minister of Justice
2 November 2019

Dear Premier Silver and Ms McPhee
re: Limits to solitary confinement

The Campaign for the Abolition of Solitary Confinement was pleased to see your decision to put limits on the use of solitary as stated in the UN Convention. We seek full abolition, but recognize the end of prolonged solitary as an important step.

We urge you to add one further category to the list of complete exemptions (pregnant inmates, etc.), the under-25s. Medical evidence is that the harm done to young people from solitary is worse and more long lasting than for adults, as the brain is still developing. This point was raised by medical experts in the debate over the legalization of cannabis, that the harm done by its use was greater for the under-25s—a point not acted on for obvious practical reasons, but a point clearly relevant here.

We would also point out that the 15-day cap, recognized now in several courts in Canada, is not based on evidence. It was a compromise, an acceptable limit for societies not used to having any limit. Part of the “Mandela Rules,” it should also be noted that Mandela himself never stated that solitary was acceptable if kept under 15 days. He simply said how awful it was. Sadly, there have been numerous cases of suicide, and many of attempted suicide and self-harm among inmates in solitary less than 15 days.

We would, accordingly, encourage you to look at reducing the cap to 10 and 5 days as your next steps. Whether or not you do, your planned legislation should reduce the harm of solitary. We congratulate you on your leadership and look to seeing the results.

Yours sincerely

(co-signed by)

Harry Arthurs, OC, OONt, dean emeritus, Osgoode Hall, president emeritus, York University
Paul Copeland, CM, LLB, life bencher
Hon. John Godfrey, CM, DPhil, former federal Cabinet minister
Hon. Keith Hoilett, retired judge
Lynn McDonald, CM, PhD, LLD (hon), professor emerita
Very Rev. Lois Wilson, CC, retired senator, former moderator, United Church of Canada