Release: Women’s equality experts intervene in lawsuit over solitary confinement

VANCOUVER – Today, an historic legal challenge to the use of solitary confinement in Canada’s federal prisons goes to trial at the BC Supreme Court. The equality rights organization West Coast LEAF (Women’s Legal Education & Action Fund) will be in Court to argue that solitary confinement causes specific and severe harms to women inmates.

The case is brought by the BC Civil Liberties Association and John Howard Society of Canada, who say that prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement is unconstitutional because it violates the right to life, liberty, and security of the person, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, and discriminates against mentally ill and Indigenous people.

As an intervenor in the case, West Coast LEAF will share its equality rights expertise with the Court to establish the gendered dimensions of these human rights violations.

“All too often, women inmates are survivors of sexual and physical violence, and solitary confinement can cause devastating re-traumatization,” says Raji Mangat, West Coast LEAF’s Director of Litigation. “Women are also more likely than men to engage in self-harming behaviour, which is sometimes used as a justification for placing them in solitary—this despite the fact that their self-harm often worsens under the stress of isolation and may even become life-threatening.”

Mangat adds, “Indigenous women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population in Canada and are overrepresented among women in solitary. So, the discriminatory impacts of solitary confinement for Indigenous people can’t be properly grasped without considering the experiences of Indigenous women specifically.”

“It is a dehumanizing violation of fundamental rights to isolate people in prison for up to 23 hours a day, sometimes for years on end, with no legal recourse to challenge their placement in solitary confinement,” says Kasari Govender, West Coast LEAF’s Executive Director. “West Coast LEAF became involved in this case because we believe that all women’s human rights must be recognized, defended, and enforced—inside and outside of prison.”

The BC Supreme Court hearing begins this morning and is scheduled to continue for nine weeks.