The treatment of an inmate held in segregation for four years is "extremely disturbing," Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday, but she declined to call it torture.
Adam Capay has been in isolation for 52 months at a Thunder Bay, Ont., jail. Until recently he had been held in a Plexiglas cell with the lights on 24 hours a day, but after his case gained public attention, Capay was moved to a standard cell, with access to a day room, telephone and television, though is still being kept apart from the general population.
Correctional Services Minister David Orazietti said Monday he has asked ministry officials to confirm that no one else is being held in the conditions Capay faced for four years.
Critics have called the 23-year-old First Nations man's treatment torture, but Wynne would not, when asked Monday.
"I've said that it's extremely disturbing," she said. "I am not going to make a judgment on a particular word or characterization. It's disturbing. It shouldn't have happened. It's unacceptable. The status quo is unacceptable, which is why we've already changed the rules around segregation," she said.
The Liberal government recently ordered a second review of the use of segregation in jails after receiving the results of a previous review. In the meantime, Orazietti announced that segregation should only be used as a "means of last resort," and inmates could no longer be held in disciplinary segregation for more than 15 days, down from 30, and they can no longer have all of their privileges taken away during that time.
But inmates in administrative segregation — held in solitary confinement for reasons such as their own safety or that of other inmates — can still be held indefinitely.
NDP deputy leader Jagmeet Singh said the injustice must be named before serious action is taken.
"We have the human rights commissioner, we have other constitutional and human rights experts, all saying that the conditions Mr. Capay (has endured) meet the international definition of torture," he said.
"I trust their assessment. If they deem it to be torture the government actually needs to accept that and if they accept that, they accept the severity of what happened, then and only then will we see some justice."
Orazietti said it's his understanding that no inmate is being held in the conditions Capay faced, specifically 24-hour-a-day artificial light. Lights in segregation cells in all other provincial correctional facilities can be dimmed — though not turned completely off, as staff still need to be able to see the inmates, he said.
The situation in the Thunder Bay jail where Capay is held, awaiting trial on a murder charge in connection with the 2012 death of another inmate, was unique because of some infrastructure upgrades that needed to be made, Orazietti said.
"Segregation, as you know, has been a long-standing practice in Ontario institutions," he said. "What I find unacceptable are the specific conditions under which Mr. Capay was being held."
Catherine Latimer, the executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, said Capay may have been moved, but he is still in segregation after four years.
"Frankly, I don't think they address their problem by fixing their light problem," she said. "What makes segregation or solitary confinement so difficult for people over a long period of time is the absence of any meaningful human contact...That's what's damaging."