Remarks to the Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on Bill C-83 An Act to Amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another Act

Speaking Notes

Marie-Claude Landry, Ad. E.
Chief Commissioner
Canadian Human Rights Commission

Remarks to the Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on Bill C-83 An Act to Amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another Act

Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Ottawa, Ontario

5:15 p.m.

5 minutes

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Good afternoon,

Thank you for inviting the Canadian Human Rights Commission to participate in your study of Bill C-83. 

The Commission has been encouraged by the spirit and intention of this bill.

We have been public in our concerns about solitary confinement for years now. 

And so we acknowledge this government’s efforts to address this human rights issue.

Upon close review, we have serious concerns about this bill in its current form. We believe that with some amendments, this bill could better protect the health, lives and human rights of inmates in federal custody.

We will provide a written submission that outlines our proposed amendments. They fall into three main categories:

  • One. Legislated exceptions — some inmates should not be placed in structured intervention units. 
  • Two. Closer internal monitoring of conditions of confinement in structured intervention units. 
  • And three. Judicial oversight at key points. 


I’ll speak first about the need for exceptions.

Time and again, research has shown the long-term damage that isolation can do, particularly for vulnerable individuals. 

Courts in British Columbia and Ontario have held that inmates with mental illness and those who self-harm should not be isolated.  

I am concerned that more and more human rights complaints are being filed by inmates with mental illness or histories of chronic self- harm who end up in isolation. In fact, the number of those complaints has increased steadily over recent years.
That is why our proposed amendments include making clear exceptions for people who should not be put in the structured intervention units. 

Specifically, we urge that this bill recognize exceptions for: 

  • inmates with mental disabilities; 
  • young offenders, whose brains are still developing; 
  • and women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or have just given birth.

 

Secondly, we call for this bill to include additional concrete measures for internal monitoring, and fewer levels of internal review. 

We believe this is essential.

The current provisions of the bill that provide for additional reviews by CSC are complex and cumbersome. 

Legislative protections in this area should be simple and direct. 

Clear rules are needed to make compliance possible and to better protect the human rights of an inmate who is isolated. It will prevent people from falling through the cracks — which tends to happen in complex administrative schemes. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly…we call for this bill to ensure that judicial oversight is prompted at specific points during confinement to a secure intervention unit. 

It is clear. There are too many human rights issues at stake to not have judicial oversight.
We are therefore calling for judicial oversight at the following key points: 

  • That an automatic notice of confinement be filed with the Federal Court when a person is confined to a structured intervention unit;
  • Review by a judge when conditions of confinement are akin to solitary confinement for more than 5 days; 
  • Review by a judge when Correctional Services does not follow the recommendation of a registered health care professional to remove an inmate from a structured intervention unit;
  • Review by a judge when an inmate is confined to a structured intervention unit for more than 15 days; and,
  • Review by a judge when an inmate is confined to a structured intervention unit for more than a total of sixty days in the same year. 


To conclude, we acknowledge the intention of this bill. 

And while we have concerns with the bill in its current form, we do believe that accepting our proposed amendments will help ensure that it strikes the necessary balance between ensuring safety and respecting the human rights of the individual.

Thank you.

My colleague, Fiona Keith and I look forward to your questions.