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Canada: Long-Term Segregation of Mentally Ill Prisoners Unconstitutional; $20 Million in Damages

by Kevin W. Bliss

Recently, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) violated the nation’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms by placing mentally ill prisoners in administrative segregation for extended periods of time, causing them to experience hallucinations, paranoia, self-inflicted abuse and suicidal tendencies.

Represented by attorney James Sayce, lead plaintiffs Christopher Brazeau and David Kift, both of whom suffer from mental health issues, filed a class-action suit against the CSC for practices that violated Section 7 of the Charter – protection from arbitrary state actions – and constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of Section 12. [See: PLN, Nov. 2016, p.48]. 

In March 2019, Superior Court Justice Paul Perell found in favor of Brazeau and Kift, and ordered the Canadian government to correct its solitary confinement practices by April 30 as well as pay $20 million in constitutional damages.

“For decades, academic research, commissions, inquiries, inquests, court cases, domestic and international organizations, and the correctional investigator have recommended that the Correctional Service change its policies and practices with respect to the treatment of seriously [mentally] ill inmates placed in administrative segregation. The vindication of the class members’ charter rights requires that the federal government be directed to do what it ought to have done for decades,” Perell wrote in his ruling.

“There’s been certain lip service paid to fixing problems that have been known to be systemic for decades,” Sayce said. “The CSC can no longer deny that treatment of mentally ill prisoners, and prisoners generally, has been unconstitutional.”

Judge Perell specified the $20 million in damages was earmarked for additional mental health programs for prisoners. Compensation for individual class members has yet to be determined, and damages will be considered for any prisoner with a mental health problem who has been placed in administrative segregation involuntarily for more than 30 days or voluntarily for over 60 days. 

“The funds [$20 million] are to remedy the harm caused to society which has suffered from the Correctional Service’s failure to comply with the Charter and also its failure to comply with the spirit of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and its purpose of rehabilitating mentally ill inmates to return to society rather than worsening their capacity to do so by the harm caused by prolonged solitary confinement,” Perell stated.

The Canadian government has proposed Bill C-83 to help alleviate some of the unconstitutional conditions of segregation, such as appointing a new oversight mechanism for prisoners held in solitary and allowing four hours a day of out-of-cell time. Civil liberties organizations have faulted the legislation, though, saying it does not go far enough to correct conditions in solitary confinement. See: Brazeau v. The Attorney General of Canada, Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Court File No. CV-15-53262500-CP. 



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Related legal case

Brazeau v. The Attorney General of Canada