News Release: Human rights complaint calls for end to solitary for prisoners with mental disabilities and independent health care in federal prisons

BURNABY, BC, June 20, 2018

Today, the West Coast Prison Justice Society (WCPJS) filed a human rights complaint against the Correctional Service of Canada on behalf of prisoners with mental disabilities.

“CSC is still using solitary confinement against prisoners engaged in life threatening self-harm, despite the overwhelming evidence that solitary confinement increases the risk of suicide” said Jennifer Metcalfe, Executive Director of Prisoners’ Legal Services (a project of WCPJS).

The human rights complaint identifies the use of observation cells as another way that CSC keeps vulnerable prisoners isolated in conditions worse than segregation. Prisoners under high observation watch, often because they are suicidal or at risk of self-harm, are denied everything but a suicide smock, mattress and blanket. They have nothing to occupy their time and are often provided as little as 10 minutes of meaningful human contact each day.

“While Canada is appealing the BC Supreme Court decision that found segregation is discriminatory against prisoners with mental disabilities and Indigenous prisoners, people continue to suffer what the UN says is torture or cruel treatment. Our clients are at risk of dying from living under these conditions. They cannot wait while the government fights to continue to use these practices through the appeal courts. It’s shameful,” said Ms. Metcalfe.

The complaint also identifies a lack of therapeutic treatment for the high percentage of prisoners who suffer from past trauma and addictions, and a lack of services for maximum-security prisoners who are often in the greatest need of help and are disproportionately Indigenous, as discriminatory under human rights law.

The complaint seeks health services, including trauma and addictions counselling, to be provided independently through agreements with the provincial ministries of health, so that prisoners can develop a trusting relationship with their caregivers.

Prisoners’ Legal Services is representing Indigenous prisoner Joey Toutsaint in a related human rights complaint against CSC for its use of solitary confinement, including observation cells and segregation, and for failing to provide therapeutic services to assist him with his trauma and self-harm.

“That’s not a suicide cell, that’s a torture chamber,” Mr. Toutsaint said in reference to being placed in an observation cell. “If I talk about my self-harm, they told me they aren’t going to negotiate – they’re going to gas me and throw me in an obs cell. I’m asking for help and no one wants to help me. Every day I have an anxiety attack. I can’t sleep at night. I can’t hold it in much longer. I don’t want to die”, he said.

Click here to see a copy of the representative complaint and here to see a copy of Mr. Toutsaint’s complaint.

Media contact:

Jennifer Metcalfe

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