Madam Speaker, tomorrow is the 11th anniversary of the death of Ashley Smith. This is a tragic story that was broadcast across the entire country. Having been moved from one stage of the criminal justice system and Canada's jail system, Ashley died alone in solitary confinement without the protections that Canada offered her. This happened 11 years ago and here we are still.
As of June 2017, 399 federal inmates were in administrative segregation, including 94 who have been in isolation for more than 90 consecutive days. Between April 2011 and March 2014, 14 inmates died by suicide in solitary confinement.
The 2014-15 report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator reported the overuse of solitary confinement as a tool for managing the inmate population. Twenty-seven per cent of the inmate population experienced at least one stay in solitary confinement.
This overly affects some incarcerated groups more than others, including women with mental health issues, aboriginal inmates and black inmates.
Aboriginal inmates continue to have the longest average stay in segregation compared to any other group and represent approximately 46% of inmates in segregation.
The average segregation period is 24 days according to Correctional Services Canada.
Why does this matter? How does it harm?
In the spring, the status of women committee of which I am vice-chair studied the over-incarceration rates of indigenous women in prison, their experience in the justice system and their experience in jail.
Here are a few quotes and stats from that report.
The 2006 report of Correctional Services Canada, which is called “Ten-Year Status Report on Women’s Corrections” said:
Segregation tends to have a significant impact on women offenders. Generally speaking, women are linked to each other through relationships and the isolation of segregation, combined with the crisis or stress the woman is experiencing, can take its toll.
We heard testimony on February 1 from Ms. Virginia Lomax, legal counsel for the Native Women's Association of Canada, who said:
Segregation is a particularly cruel practice for women with histories of trauma and abuse, another area in which indigenous women are overrepresented. Their specific lived experiences of colonial patriarchy, intergenerational trauma, and state violence makes them particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of isolation.
...Prohibiting the use of segregation for prisoners who are actively self-harming is an acknowledgement that the practice should not be used to manage mental health crises, but does nothing to address the fact that segregation itself is often the cause of escalating self-harm behaviours.
For these reasons and many others, the Native Women's Association of Canada calls for a complete end to the practice of solitary confinement by any name and for any duration.
Dr. Ivan Zinger of the Office of the Correctional Investigator said in testimony at committee on February 2 of this year:
The impact of segregation is also something that we've identified. The great majority of the women incarcerated in secure units have experienced segregation. There's also a gender-based classification system, which requires that some inmates who are seen as higher risk are handcuffed and sometimes shackled to go off the unit, which creates all sorts of problems for those women.
In response to a question I asked him about how Correctional Services Canada treats women prisoners in need of emergency health care in the Pacific region, he said:
The practice of taking a woman with acute mental illness and putting her into an all-male institution, completely isolated, all alone in a unit, is shameful and a violation of human rights. I think there is no room for this in Canada.
It has to be said that these women were tried and are in jail for a reason that the justice system identified. We certainly heard a lot of testimony. They said that they were themselves usually victims of crime before they entered the criminal justice system.
We absolutely do need to protect victims and we need to see justice be done in cases of violent crime.
Many times we heard from witnesses that they want these people to end up on the other side of the criminal justice system better than they started and some of the practices described tell us otherwise.
This is an important debate about solitary confinement.
This is what the NDP recommended. In our final report to the government, tabled here in June, we quoted Ivan Zinger, the correctional investigator of Canada. He said:
I sincerely believe that in a women's facility, you could de facto abolish the practice altogether, if you used those secure units with the same sort of rigour in making it a last resort and using those secure units to separate, and not isolate, the few cases that you need to deal with for a short period of time.
The United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women, who monitors Canada to see whether it is upholding its commitments to the United Nations, said:
... I would like to call for an absolute ban on solitary confinement, segregation, intensive psychiatric care, medical observation and all other related forms of isolation of incarcerated young women and women with mental health issues.
The NDP said, in its final report to the government:
It is shocking that instead of moving forward with reform, the Liberal government appealed the BC Supreme Court ruling against solitary confinement, choosing to spend taxpayers' money fighting the BC Civil Liberties Association in court instead of implementing reforms to help indigenous women in prison.
What did we get? The government tabled on Monday, Bill C-83. It tweaks administrative segregation, or solitary confinement, and rebrands it with different wording. It retains much of the same language and the framework that is used for administrative segregation. It ignores the rulings from the B.C. Supreme Court and the Ontario Superior Court that ruled that administrative segregation was unconstitutional. It failed to give an option for independent oversight for decisions to further restrict liberties of inmates by transferring them into the renamed segregation units. Instead of spending 22 to 23 hours a day in segregation in the current system, the new scheme proposes up to 20 hours a day for an indefinite period of time. The Ontario Superior Court had already found that the harmful effects of sensory deprivation can manifest in as little as 48 hours.
Finally, in a critique, the Supreme Court ruled that the indefinite nature of isolation is again unconstitutional, although the federal government, as I said earlier, is currently trying to appeal that decision.
This morning, at the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund breakfast in honour of Persons Day, we heard a presentation from Senator Kim Pate, who flagged that, in addition, sections 21, 81 and 84 are all interfered with in Bill C-83. These were all mechanisms, enshrined in law, that allowed prisoners to be moved to different levels of care to carry out parts of their sentence, whether that was in the community or it was a healing lodge. There were three different tools. All of them had been underutilized, hardly used at all. Senator Pate, in her previous role with Elizabeth Fry and now as a senator, had been drawing attention to them. Both the public security committee of this Parliament and also the status of women committee had studied those three provisions and made recommendations on them and, strangely, they are now gutted in this bill. It is a funny coincidence.
The representative of the Elizabeth Fry Society said, “While we have advocated for decades for the abolition of administrative segregation, Bill C-83 leaves much to be desired.”
I say, with sadness, New Democrats wanted to see real reform. We have made specific proposals on what that would look like. The government has rebranded this unconstitutional practice instead of doing what the court ordered.
I will leave with a reminder. More than one in three women in federal prisons is indigenous; 91% have histories of abuse; and many also experience debilitating mental illnesses. We have to end the use of segregation and solitary confinement. We will oppose this bill.