June 2, 2021 Editor

Canada’s Solitary Confinement Deemed “Torture”:

Call For Commission of Inquiry

WN: Please consider signing the petition begun today.

After nearly fifty years of work in Canada’s Criminal Justice System, and seeing personally and professionally how prisons in general, solitary confinement in particular, often do irrevocable harm to their keep, it seemed appropriate to use this platform for the petition.

All statements are supported in the “Sources” below. Most were cited from the first source.

Whereas the Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled that more than 15 days of administrative segregation—the most prevalent form of solitary confinement—is a Charter of Rights and Freedoms violation.;

Whereas Rule 44 of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the ‘Mandela Rules’) defined solitary confinement as more than 22 hours of isolation without meaningful human contact and prohibited it after 15 days.  UN Special Rapporteur Mendez advised that such confinement beyond 15 days was a form of torture. Canada is a signatory.;

Whereas to align Canada’s practices with court requirements and treaty obligations, Bill C83 came into force in 2019. The Bill replaced the rights-violating administrative segregation provisions of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act with “Structured Intervention Units” (SIUs). Section 36 of this legislation mandates that prisoners be out of their cells for four hours daily, with a minimum of two hours of daily, meaningful human contact. But Section 34 of the CCRA also sets out a range of allowable exceptions.;

Whereas many correctional law advocates feared that Bill C83 would cause little change, the federal government appointed an oversight body, the ‘Structured Intervention Unit Implementation Advisory Panel,’ chaired by renowned emeritus criminologist Dr. Anthony Doob. After a very public battle over data access, the Panel’s just-released first report shows that, for most prisoners held in SIUs, it’s been torture as usual:they remain locked in for more than 20 hours per day, therefore Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) remains in ‘flagrant noncompliance’ of solitary confinement rules.;

 Whereas the SIUs are just the beginning. Federal prisoners are held in solitary in many different ways. Based on no clear legislative authority, prisoners are held in Special Handling Units, with too few programs and too little meaningful human contact. Lockdowns, where prisoners are confined to cells for 23 hours daily, are common. Millhaven Institution experienced eight such lockdowns in September 2019 alone.;

Whereas medical observation cells and dry cells also isolate prisoners in demeaning and degrading environments. And alongside this dismal post-C-83 normal stand the COVID19 prison lockdowns. For months, Correctional Services has kept hundreds of prisoners in extreme isolation. It looks like Canada continues to torture its citizens with impunity.;

Whereas even if federal prisons are subject to provincial states of emergency, which is contentious, Article 4(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Canada is a party, lists the right not to be tortured as absolute, in an emergency. Even if we call solitary confinement “by any other name,” ICCPR Article 4(1) makes clear, and Canadian emergency legislation echoes, that rights may be derogated in an emergency only “to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation.;”

Whereas at the start of the pandemic, the World Health Organization came out strongly against this mode of infection control. There are other, better ways to keep prisoners and prison workers safe;

Whereas Section 4 (c) of the CCRA, requires CSC to use the “least restrictive measures” for enforcing sentences. In contrast, under section 4 (d),offenders retain the rights of all members of society except those that are, as a consequence of the sentence, lawfully and necessarily removed or restricted.;”

Whereas if Canada wants to take a stand against human rights abuses abroad, it’s time Canadians took a stand against the torture of our own prisoners. C-83 has to be more than legislative sleight of hand.;

Whereas literary and statesmen giants as diverse as Fyodor Dostoyevsky and George Bernard Shaw, Sir Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela have all stated variously that the measure of the degree of “civilization” of any nation is the treatment of its prisoners.;

Whereas under the heading, “Prisons’ Function in the Annihilation of Humanity,” Canadian philosopher John McMurtry writes: “The primeval function of prisons from the inception has never [in Establishment society] been recognised. It is the brute right of established ascendant force to publicly defeat any perceived adversary by a victory of force so total that not a single dimension of autonomous human being remains. And the one overarching goal of prison is “to break human beings into subjugated animals.;”

Whereas in the 2011 leadership debate with Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff stated: “I worked in a prison when I was a younger graduate student. I worked with lifers. I’m utterly unsentimental about criminals, but one thing I know about prison: it’s that prison makes almost everybody worse who’s in there.”;

It is time for Canadians to take a good, hard look at the use of solitary confinement in our federal and provincial prisons. 

It is time for Canada to establish a Commission of Inquiry into solitary confinement in the nation’s prisons, with the aim of securing real accountability at both federal and provincial levels.

It is time for Canada to make the penal system truly restorative/rehabilitative; to stop making “almost everybody worse who’s in there.” 

It is time for Canada to fully implement the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the ‘Mandela Rules’).


Nomi Claire Lazar, Catherine Latimer and Murray Fallis , Centre for International Policy Studies (CIPS), University of Ottawa, Solitary Confinement in Canada’s Prisons: Time for Real Accountability, November 26, 2020.

Professor John McMurtry cited in Restorative Justice: Peacemaking Not Warmaking: Transformative Justice: Penal Abolitionism Not Prison Reform,The Kenarchy Journal (2021), Volume 2, 73-102.

Journalist SAMANTHA WRIGHT ALLEN in The Hill Times, November 4, 2020.

Journalist Justin Ling in Macleans Houses of hate: How Canada’s prison system is broken,” February 28, 2021.

To sign, please click on: Change.org Petition

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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.