Release: BC’s highest court affirms that Canada’s solitary confinement laws violate rights

VANCOUVER – Today, the BC Court of Appeal released its judgment in the challenge to Canada’s solitary confinement laws brought by the BC Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada. In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeal held that the law—which allows prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement—unjustifiably deprives prisoners of their rights to life, liberty, and security.

In January 2018, the BC Supreme Court struck down certain laws authorizing solitary confinement. The Court determined that these laws are unconstitutional because they harm prisoners, do not provide a meaningful review process, and discriminate against prisoners who are Indigenous and who have disabling mental health impairments. Canada appealed that decision, hoping to have the key findings about the harms of solitary confinement overturned. Today’s decision confirms the harms of solitary confinement.

West Coast LEAF intervened in the appeal jointly with the Native Women’s Association of Canada to highlight the disproportionate harms solitary confinement inflicts on Indigenous women and women with disabling mental health impairments, populations that have long been over-represented in solitary confinement.

“BC’s highest court has confirmed what we’ve long known: that Canada’s laws and practices of solitary confinement cause countless harms to some of the most marginalized people in our society,” said Raji Mangat, Director of Litigation at West Coast LEAF. “We welcome the Court’s recognition of these harms and of the long-standing discriminatory practices that the Correctional Service of Canada has imposed on people with disabling mental health impairments.”

She adds, “We are disappointed, however, that the Court did not make a declaration about the disproportionate and devastating impacts of solitary confinement on Indigenous people—especially Indigenous women—or order any concrete steps to address these.”

In its judgment, the Court of Appeal found that the government did not meet its obligation to consider the health needs of prisoners with mental health impairments, or to ensure access to a lawyer at review hearings of placements in solitary confinement.