A federal B.C. prison has cancelled legal clinics for segregated inmates despite a recent court order to provide inmates in solitary confinement with greater access to lawyers.
On Jan. 15, Kent Institution informed Prisoners’ Legal Services (PLS), a Vancouver-based legal advocacy group for inmates, that it could no longer hold bi-weekly clinics for segregated inmates, but provided no rationale.
The Correctional Service Canada (CSC) later told The Globe and Mail the clinics had been terminated to accommodate a recent decision from the B.C. Court of Appeal that compels federal prisons to grant extra time outdoors to segregated inmates and open new units for prisoners who need to be moved from segregation for legal reasons.
“Due to the number of activities that must now occur on a daily basis and the existing space allocation for certain of those activities, Kent Institution is no longer able to accommodate the group clinics in the same manner as we have in the past,” CSC spokeswoman Avely Serin said in an e-mailed statement.
That same Jan. 7 ruling also ordered the CSC to let lawyers attend segregation review hearings, the recurrent proceedings held within prisons to determine whether an inmate should be released from solitary.
“The spirit of the recent court order was to increase access to legal counsel for people in segregation, not decrease it," said Jennifer Metcalfe, executive director of PLS. “It’s frustrating.”
The full court order was the most recent ruling in a long-running lawsuit launched by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada in 2015 targeting the use of solitary confinement in the federal prison system. A 2018 lower court ruling found the law authorizing solitary confinement to be unconstitutional and gave the government one year to implement a solution. Late last year, the federal government asked for more time as it appealed the lower court ruling.
The appeal court said the CSC could have an additional six months as long as it followed 12 terms set out by the court, including the attendance of lawyers at segregation review hearings.
Ms. Metcalfe said that despite the court order, PLS has been stymied in attempts to provide legal representation for a client currently being segregated at Kent Institution, a maximum-security institution 100 kilometres east of Vancouver. Despite repeated calls and e-mails, the prison has yet to provide a time or documentation for the hearing, she said.
The court order also directed the Correctional Service to increase access to elders and spiritual practices for Indigenous inmates in segregation, allow daily visits from health care staff and give segregated inmates an additional half-hour outside. One of the more complex provisions compels prisons to open new units for segregated inmates who don’t want to be placed in general population units but don’t meet the legal criteria to be kept in isolation. There are 104 such inmates countrywide, according to a CSC progress report filed to the court on Feb. 27.
“Convincing them to move is often a slow and challenging process,” the report states.
The CSC has opened units at three facilities, including Kent, that comply with the court order. It has another six coming online over the next four months, the report states.
PLS has had reports from inmates at Kent saying the new unit provides less recreational yard time and lacks some amenities they had in the segregation unit.
The progress report says the CSC has yet to comply with the court’s order to have an external senior official review segregation placements every 15 days. But the CSC has plans to roll out a 15-day review procedure in its Pacific Region by next month.
PLS had been holding the clinics since February, 2015, when it recognized that inmates with severe mental health inmates were ending up in segregation with little access to legal services.
“We were only there four hours a month,” Ms. Metcalfe said. “It seems unlikely they wouldn’t be able to facilitate that.”