A bill claiming to eliminate the practice of inmate segregation in federal prisons, Bill C-83, was tabled on Tuesday in Ottawa by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
The introduction of this bill comes one month before the appeal hearings in Ontario and British Columbia of challenges to the federal administrative segregation regime, filed by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada.
Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, director of the equality program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, says the morning the bill was introduced was the first time the groups had ever seen it or heard of it, but they will be conducting a review of what it entails.
“What we are doing now is conducting an in-depth review to see whether, in fact, it is eliminating [the use of administrative and disciplinary segregation] or whether it is keeping some of the horrific practices of solitary confinement by a different name,” says Aviv.
According to Corporation of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association v. Her Majesty the Queen (2017), inmate segregation was introduced in the United States in the 1820s as a means of replacing harsh practices such as the death penalty. It was thought segregation would help to rehabilitate the inmate by giving them time to reflect. Today, numerous bodies of research disprove this.
Aviv says segregation leads to mental health issues and exacerbates already existing mental illnesses in inmates.
“There are concerns that people have a fairly large and devastating array of effects as a result of being placed in solitary confinement including depression, anxiety, including aggressiveness and suicidal ideation,” she says.
Before conducting the in-depth review on Bill C-83, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada said in a joint statement that “the bill shows that this government knows that the current system of confinement cannot continue.”
They also say that the “question is whether this bill meets the constitutional standard.”
The groups previously launched separate challenges and will be appearing in their respective appeal courts next month to challenge solitary confinement laws.
The BCCLA and JHSC will be appearing before the B.C. Court of Appeal Nov. 13 and 14, while the CCLA will be appearing before the Ontario Court of Appeal Nov. 20 and 21.
Aviv says that although the cases were successful in court as Chief Justice Frank Marrocco of the Ontario Superior Court struck down the solitary confinement regime, appeals were still filed in order for the imposition of further, more robust safeguards for inmates.
It’s not confirmed whether Bill C-83 has been tabled as a result of these challenges.
“You have a statement in the bill saying that they are eliminating the use of administrative segregation, disciplinary segregation, and what we're going to be looking at very closely is whether, in fact, that's the case or whether they are going to be bringing back some of the horrific practices of solitary confinement under a different name, and whether this addresses the constitutional defects in the solitary confinement regime,” says Aviv.