Last September, Christopher Trotchie used wet paper to cover up the camera in his B.C. jail cell. Then he slashed his forearms.
Mr. Trotchie, who suffers from mental-health issues and has a history of self-harm, lost a significant amount of blood, but survived.
His next week was not spent in hospital. He was placed in solitary confinement that same day. A lawsuit filed against the provincial government on Tuesday says a jail staff member adjudicated the case and ruled that Mr. Trotchie knew slashing himself would require a large number of emergency responders to come to his cell, and that this was a punishable offence.
The lawsuit, which includes Mr. Trotchie and two other men, alleges the BC Corrections disciplinary system is unfair. It comes amid heightened concerns over solitary confinement across the country. The Globe and Mail has reported extensively on problems caused by the practice, including the suicide of Eddie Snowshoe in prison after 162 straight days in segregation. Mr. Snowshoe's story prompted opposition parties and Canada's correctional investigator to urge the federal government to limit use of solitary confinement, as jurisdictions around the world have done.
Jennifer Metcalfe, executive director of Prisoners' Legal Services, part of the West Coast Prison Justice Society, said B.C.'s disciplinary appeal process is so slow that, by the time inmates get through it, many have already served most, if not all, of their time in solitary.
Ms. Metcalfe said Mr. Trotchie is not the only prisoner who has been disciplined after an incident of self-harm.
"We've seen it before," she said in an interview. The society is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
A spokeswoman for B.C.'s Ministry of Justice said in a statement that the province had not received the notice of civil claim as of Tuesday afternoon. When it reviews the document, she said, it will "respond through the appropriate court process."
The lawsuit says Mr. Trotchie, who has been convicted of several offences including assault, was an inmate at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam in September. It says he is currently at the Surrey Pretrial Services Centre.
The notice of civil claim says the Investigation and Standards Office, which hears B.C. prisoners' appeals, overturned North Fraser Pretrial's decision in Mr. Trotchie's case. It says the office found insufficient evidence that by harming himself he had jeopardized the management of the centre, that there was an apprehension of bias, and that the disciplinary hearing was held in a "procedurally unfair manner."
The office's decision came nine days after the September incident. Mr. Trotchie got out of solitary confinement two days earlier, according to the lawsuit.
The court document says 52 per cent of appeals to the Investigation and Standards Office between 2005 and 2008 succeeded, but the process can be too slow.
The lawsuit says BC Corrections should be required to appoint independent decision makers in all disciplinary proceedings, as is the case in Alberta and Yukon, and at the federal level.
"This lawsuit challenges the lack of independence in a system where the offended party is the judge," Tonia Grace, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, wrote in a statement.
Travis Kelly, who has served time in several B.C. jails but is currently at a federal prison, and Travis Bara, who is at the Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre, are also plaintiffs.
The notice of civil claim says Mr. Kelly has won several disciplinary appeals. It says he has served at least 55 days in solitary confinement for offences on which the office ultimately cleared him.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada sued the federal government in January, arguing that use of solitary confinement is unconstitutional.
Carmen Cheung, senior counsel at the association, welcomed Tuesday's lawsuit. She said some of the issues in the cases, such as the need for independent review, are similar.