Solitary confinement is unconstitutional and its impacts are devastating. Today, the BC Supreme Court confirmed that isolating people in prison for up to 23 hours per day is against Canadian law.
We are pleased to see the values of equality, justice, and dignity upheld with this ruling. This historic ruling is a win for all Canadians.
West Coast LEAF intervened in the historic legal challenge to solitary confinement in federal prisons, which was brought by BC Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada and was heard over nine weeks last summer. We argued that solitary confinement harms women, particularly Indigenous women and women experiencing mental illness.
Justice Peter Leask found the prolonged and indefinite segregation of federal prisoners violates their rights to life, liberty, and security of the person (s. 7 of the Charter) and discriminates against mentally ill and Indigenous prisoners (s. 15 of the Charter).
West Coast LEAF described the discriminatory impact of solitary confinement on Indigenous people by highlighting the experiences of Indigenous women, who are the fastest growing segment of the prison population in Canada and are overrepresented both among incarcerated women and among women being held in solitary confinement.
While we had hoped the ruling would explicitly recognize the specific gendered and intersectional dimensions of solitary confinement’s human toll, the court accepted evidence about the ways in which women – Indigenous and/or women who experience mental illness – are uniquely harmed.
Women’s histories of trauma, violence, and abuse leave them particularly vulnerable.
We are elated that the cruel, inhumane, and discriminatory practice of solitary confinement has been found by the court to be what we’ve always known: a violation of human rights.
We’ll be following along to see how the government responds to this historic decision.