Thank you for the invitation to appear before your committee. It is a pleasure to be here.
I present to you Marie-France Kingsley, executive director of the office. She worked for many years as director of investigations and has a lot of expertise in operations.
As correctional investigator, I welcome the intent of Bill C-83, which proposes to eliminate the use of solitary confinement as defined by the United Nations in the newly revised Nelson Mandela rules—that is, less than 22 hours in cell. I am concerned, however, that this bill as it stands may not lead to the intended and laudable outcome and may even result in an increase in the use of restrictive confinement. lndeed, the structured intervention units, or SIUs, which would replace administrative and disciplinary segregation as we know it may simply become “segregation lite”.
I am specifically concerned that the bill fails to provide for independent or external oversight of SIU placements and eschews the need for procedural safeguards of any kind. Eliminating solitary confinement is one thing, but replacing it with a regime that imposes restrictions on retained rights and liberties with little regard for due process and administrative principles is inconsistent with the Corrections and Conditional Release Act as well as the charter.
Whenever rights and liberties are deprived, there is a corresponding obligation to provide safeguards proportionate to the degree of the deprivation. SIUs are, by design and intent, restrictive confinement environments, even if they allow for more out-of-cell time than current administrative segregation. The simple fact of the matter is that an inmate housed in an SIU would have not the same rights as other inmates or be able to exercise those rights, due to what the bill itself concedes are “limitations specific to the structured intervention unit or security requirements”. ln effect, Bill C-83 proposes a softer version of segregation without any of the constitutional protections. The bill is uniformly short on specifics and places too much discretion and trust in correctional authorities to replace segregation with an unproven and not well-conceived correctional model.
Before I go further into these concerns, I would like to first acknowledge some progressive and positive aspects of the proposed legislation.
I am pleased to see that Bill C-83 would entrench in legislation the clinical independence and autonomy of prison health care professionals. This measure would effectively mean that clinical decisions could not be overruled or ignored by non-medical prison staff.
The bill also proposes to enshrine access to patient advocacy services in federal corrections. Such a measure would help ensure inmate patients understand the implications of their health care decisions and fully exercise their right to free and informed consent. These measures are consistent with evolving international standards in the care and treatment of people in custody, including the revised Mandela rules, and are responsive to addressing outstanding recommendations from the coroner's inquest into the preventable death of Ashley Smith.
I am also pleased that the bill would obligate the service to consider systemic and background factors that contribute to the overrepresentation of indigenous persons in the criminal justice system. This provision reaffirms and codifies the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Gladue, which already requires CSC decision-makers to take into consideration the unique circumstances of indigenous offenders whenever their rights and liberties are at stake.
Returning to the bill's intent, it is instructive to note that the grounds for SIU placement would remain virtually identical to current segregation law. ln other words, an inmate could be placed in an SIU if the warden believes, on reasonable grounds, that he or she jeopardizes their own safety or that of any other person, or the security of the institution.
It's important to note that these are the two most-used grounds for placement in administrative segregation. Today, there are 380 segregated inmates in CSC facilities. Just under half of the segregated population is held there voluntarily, meaning they seek out or request to be placed in segregation out of fear for their own safety and well-being.
The proposed legislation has nothing to say about how an SIU, program or intervention would deal with a population that voluntarily requests segregation, a situation which effectively represents a failure of the Correctional Service of Canada to provide safe, secure and humane custody for inmates regardless of one's crimes or vulnerability. It is also not clear how the proposed legislation would deal with the disproportionate number of indigenous people, who currently make up 43% of the segregation population.
It's been said that SIUs are different from solitary confinement because inmates would have four hours out of cell each day, which is twice as much as current segregation practice allows. While four hours minimum out-of-cell time is an improvement, 20 hours maximum inside a cell is still a lot of time to be locked up.
I commend the effort to comply with the Mandela rules in this regard; however, it's important to be reminded that these are minimum standards for the preservation of human dignity and sanity behind bars. Surely Canada is not resigned to simply meeting minimum standards. As a recognized world leader, we have to get this legislation right, and for the right reason.
Simply increasing the out-of-cell hours that inmates could avail themselves of does not mean that Canada will have eliminated all the harm associated with restrictive confinement. Any potential gain in time out of cell is potentially compromised by a requirement that allows CSC to conduct a routine strip search without individualized suspicion whenever an inmate is entering or leaving the SIU. In effect, this means that an inmate residing in an SIU could be strip-searched multiple times in a day, which could prove a major disincentive to participating in out-of-cell activities.
The bill intends to provide inmates placed in SIUs with meaningful human contact. That is the same wording and intent behind the revised Mandela rules for reforming the solitary confinement regime worldwide. Forgive my skepticism, but it is not clear how the objectives will be met by this particular piece of legislation. Since we can only assume that SIU environments will be physically similar to existing segregation units—because we have not been provided with information that would suggest otherwise—we have to ask whether these environments will be conducive to meeting the test of meaningful human contact, much less the effective delivery of programs and services.
We know that current segregation units are not conducive to group learning. Indeed, segregation interventions, insofar as they can be called that, are typically delivered in-cell, behind a door, through a food slot or in small common spaces located in or near segregation ranges. Needless to say, these spaces are hardly conducive to effective delivery of therapeutic interventions.
It is important to note that the bill proposes to eliminate both administrative and disciplinary segregation. I have previously pointed out that disciplinary segregation is rarely used in federal corrections, largely because it is considered too much of an administrative burden. Because of the liberties at stake, disciplinary segregation provides for significant procedural safeguards, including sharing information with offenders, providing access to legal representation, holding a hearing before an external independent chairperson and meeting the high burden of proof.
Over time, administrative segregation became the default option, used to circumvent the due process requirement of a formal disciplinary system. Administrative segregation placements are simply easier, quicker and more responsive in serving the same population management ends: removing an individual who poses a risk to oneself or others or who jeopardizes the security of an institution.
Let me just conclude.
In terms of how I see this bill moving forward, I would say that at the very least, adequate procedural safeguards and some kind of independent monitoring and oversight of SIU placement need to be incorporated. Otherwise, the commendable intention of this bill cannot be met.
I will be happy to answer any of your questions, and I would ask if the chair could enter the complete text of these remarks into the record, if that's possible.