Skip to main content

Editorials The misuse of solitary confinement is torture. So why does it still happen in Canada?

Huge fences surround the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth services Roy McMurty Youth Centre in Brampton, Ont. on Wednesday, August 19, 2015. The centre's rate of solitary confinement has been rising despite a report recommending limits to the practice.

J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail

What does it take to get governments to pay attention to crises of their own making? In the case of the cruel overuse of solitary confinement in federal, provincial and territorial prisons, the answer would appear to be that there is nothing at all that can move authorities to action.

Not tragedy, as in the deaths of Ashley Smith and Edward Snowshoe, two federal inmates who committed suicide after enduring months in solitary.

Not international censure, as in the United Nations Committee Against Torture calling on Canada to abolish solitary confinement for prisoners with mental-health issues. The UN considers solitary a form of torture when it lasts more than 15 days or is applied to youths and the mentally ill.

Story continues below advertisement

Not the stinging critiques by their own watchdogs, as in multiple reports by the federal prisons ombudsman outlining the overuse of solitary confinement as a disciplinary tool and a routine way of handling mentally ill inmates. Or the call by the Ontario Human Rights Commissioner in February for that province to end solitary.

The litanies of abuse pile up, but nothing changes. New data analyzed by The Globe and Mail show that 40 per cent of Ontario inmates put in solitary confinement for more than 30 consecutive days in 2014 suffered from mental-health issues. This is a violation of provincial policy that states that segregation should never be used on mentally ill inmates.

For the 360 inmates in the data The Globe looked at, the average was 103 days. One prisoner with a mental illness was left to rot in solitary until he was "catatonic," the documents reveal.

Nine of the 10 provinces and all three territories don't have proper records of how many inmates are in solitary confinement for extended periods, The Globe found in March. The scale of the problem is largely unknown.

Meanwhile, only Ottawa has made a firm commitment of any kind – to ban long-term solitary confinement in federal prisons and stop using it altogether on the mentally ill. But so far the government has not followed up.

Solitary confinement, when misused the way it too often is in Canada, is torture. Only the 14 governments that oversee it can fix this. That only one has made a commitment to do so is shameful.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter