Canada's government appeals court ruling on solitary confinement

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada’s ruling Liberal government said on Monday that it is appealing a decision from a British Columbia judge who determined that current prison practices on solitary confinement violate the constitution.

FILE PHOTO: A chain on a segregation cell is seen at the Kingston Penitentiary in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, October 11, 2013. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill/File Photo

British Columbia Supreme Court Judge Peter Leask last month found the use of solitary confinement for indefinite periods in federal prisons violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and disproportionately harms Indigenous women and people with mental illness. He gave authorities a year to make changes, including introducing an appeals process for prisoners put in extended solitary confinement.

The case is about a type of solitary confinement known as “administrative segregation,” which allows inmates to be confined indefinitely for non-disciplinary reasons, including protecting them from fellow prisoners.

The vast majority of Canadian prisoners in solitary confinement are under administrative segregation, according to data from Correctional Services Canada that was presented in the court case. Canadian law limits disciplinary solitary confinement to 30 days.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is appealing a separate ruling from December 2017, in which an Ontario judge found solitary confinement lacked oversight but which plaintiffs said did not go far enough.

“We now have two lower court rulings on administrative segregation from two jurisdictions,” Public Safety Ministry spokesman Scott Bardsley said in a statement emailed to Reuters on Monday. “Given the CCLA has filed a notice of appeal in Ontario it was only prudent for us to file a similar notice in BC as we begin to seek juridical clarity on the issue.”

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, or BCCLA, which filed the second lawsuit, said it was surprised that the government was appealing because the Liberals had promised criminal justice reform and restrictions on the use of solitary confinement.

Both lawsuits were filed before the Liberals came to power in late 2015.

The Liberal government has introduced legislation that would set an eventual 15-day time limit on solitary confinement.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture considers over 15 days of solitary confinement to be torture, and has called for its prohibition.

The Canadian government is also “improving conditions of confinement” and investing C$57.8 million ($46 million) to provide more effective mental healthcare to prisoners, Bardsley said.

Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Jim Finkle