Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has conceded the treatment of Adam Capay is "extremely disturbing" and never should have happened.
Mr. Capay has been in solitary confinement for four years awaiting trial after he was accused of killing another jail inmate in a fight, and was held in a windowless room in 24-hour artificial light.
"I'm very troubled by it," Ms. Wynne told reporters at an unrelated announcement in Toronto. "It is very disturbing and shouldn't happen."
Asked if her government will find out whether others are being held in similar circumstances and remedy the situation, Ms. Wynne replied: "Yes. I think that is absolutely what should be happening, and I'm sure that is happening."
People in the highest ranks of Ms. Wynne's government – including a top cabinet minister and high-ranking civil servants – knew about Mr. Capay's situation but did not intervene. The conditions of Mr. Capay's confinement at the Thunder Bay Jail were made public in October by the province's human-rights commissioner, reigniting the debate over the use of segregation in Canada.
Last week, Mr. Capay was moved to a different cell with lights that can be dimmed and access to a day room with a television.
Ms. Wynne would not say if anyone will be held accountable for what happened to Mr. Capay. Asked whether anyone in government had committed a crime by allowing him to remain in that cell, the Premier repeated an earlier promise that her government would conduct a second review of solitary confinement.
An assistant deputy minister received at least 50 reports that Mr. Capay was in solitary. And a prison guard told The Globe and Mail last week that he informed Attorney-General Yasir Naqvi about Mr. Capay nine months ago, when Mr. Naqvi, then correctional services minister, toured the jail.
Ms. Wynne also would not say if she agreed with the United Nations that more than 15 days in solitary constitutes torture.
"I'm 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," Ms. Wynne said.
Correctional Services Minister David Orazietti said he has ordered his officials to make sure no other inmates in the province are being held under 24-hour light and that all have daily access to a nurse.
"What I find unacceptable are the specific conditions under which Mr. Capay was being held. When I hear about 24-hour lighting issues, those types of things obviously cause me concern," he said. "I've already asked the ministry to confirm for me that anyone in segregation doesn't have those types of circumstances … and that they be resolved immediately."
Mr. Orazietti said Mr. Capay's lighting conditions were "unique to Thunder Bay." He said every solitary inmate "sees a nurse each day" and is "provided with the supports that are necessary."
Mr. Orazietti also dodged questions on whether anyone would be held accountable for allowing Mr. Capay to languish in those circumstances.
NDP Deputy Leader Jagmeet Singh said the government is trying to shirk responsibility, pointing to the numerous reports on Mr. Capay's situation that apparently did not trigger a response: "Do they review those? Do they look at the conditions of the inmates? Do they look at the conditions of their solitary? These are some serious questions that we don't have an answer to."
Federal correctional investigator Howard Sapers also called Mr. Capay's case "troubling" but added his knowledge of the situation comes only from media reports. The prison ombudsman said he has never heard of a federal offender in Mr. Capay's circumstances.
"Segregation should be rare. It should be a last resort and the goal should always be to move the person back to general population or if need be, to a therapeutic environment if their health requires it," Mr. Sapers said on Monday.
Mr. Sapers said the federal government must ban long-term solitary confinement.
"Until we have a legislated cap, I'm very concerned that long-term segregation – segregation that could go on almost indefinitely – is still possible. Right now in Canadian law, in the federal penitentiary service, there is no absolute upper limit allowed by law," he said.
While Mr. Capay's exact circumstances may have been unique, generally, a handful of inmates have spent more than one year in solitary confinement in Ontario at any one time.
A Globe analysis of segregation review forms obtained by access to information legislation found that in December, 2014, nine inmates in segregation had been there for at least a year.
Among that group, three were held for medical reasons, four were considered too dangerous for general population units and two had requested it.
The names were redacted from the forms, but their locations and durations in segregation are clear.
A Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre prisoner had logged 565 days in solitary confinement at his own request. A prisoner at Toronto East Detention Centre had been held for 556 days because "Inmate is 'Special Needs' and is unable to function on a regular living unit."
Shortly after Mr. Capay landed in indefinite segregation at Thunder Bay Jay, another inmate was sent there for an unspecified "serious medical condition" and kept for at least 482 days, according to the forms.