THE BLOG

Cruel And Usual Punishment In Canada

01/03/2017 07:47 EST | Updated 01/03/2017 07:48 EST
Ted S. Warren/AP
In this Aug. 31, 2015 photo, a room used for recreation by inmates in solitary confinement at the Washington Corrections Center, in Shelton, Wash. is shown. A new program that may soon be extended to dozens of maximum custody solitary confinement prisoners at the facility will give inmates the option of using their recreation hour outside of their cells to watch sunsets, mountains and underwater seascapes on video, with the hope that they will be calmer, and guards will have to deal with fewer outbursts or violent interactions. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

In Canada, life in prison rarely means life in prison. Except for a few notorious cases such as Clifford Olson, Paul Bernardo and Russell Williams, if you are sent to prison in Canada, there is a nearly one hundred per cent chance that you will one day see the light of day.

We can say 'lock them up and throw away the key' and 'get tough on crime' all we want but in reality, that's just not how it works here. I urge you to keep in mind that nearly every single person who is sent to solitary confinement in Canada could one day be living in the next house to yours.

Let's pretend your neighbour has two large dogs. Dog number one stays in his crate for eight hours a night and the rest of the time can move around the yard and socialize with other dogs. Dog number two stays in his crate 23 hours a day, gets one hour outside of his crate (also alone, just in a bigger crate) per day and gets all his meals dropped into the crate without any human contact or contact with other dogs.

One day both the dogs escape from their crate as you are walking past the house. Which dog are you more afraid of?

The United Nations has stated that solitary confinement over 15 days amounts to a form of torture. Yet the Toronto Star uncovered that in 2014 six female inmates at the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre had been held in solitary for more than 30 days and two female inmates were held for more than 60 days. Having always been under the impression that Canada is against torture, these statistics are quite alarming.

In a separate and particularly shocking revelation, The Toronto Star has also shown that one inmate was held in solitary confinement for four years in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Research has proven time and time again that solitary confinement leads to a worsening of mental health symptoms, can lead to visual and auditory hallucinations, anger, self-harm, aggression and paranoia. You don't even need to read the research to understand this to be true; if you lock someone in a cage and keep them isolated from other humans, they're going to get angry. It's obvious and self-evident. But seemingly not so for prison administrators and federal and provincial governments.

We love to pat ourselves on the back up here in Canada and tell the world how progressive are we, but can we even claim to be progressive when we are, by definition of the United Nations, torturing our own citizens?

And we're not only torturing our own citizens. We're largely torturing some of our most vulnerable citizens; the mentally ill. It is no secret that Canadian prisons and provincial institutions have become warehouses for the mentally ill. So if we wouldn't allow solitary confinement in a mental health facility, why are we allowing it in prisons?

I believe that the complete elimination of solitary confinement is something that will happen in my lifetime. But for now, I would like to call on the Liberal Government of Canada to introduce legislation that would outlaw any situation of solitary confinement lasting longer than 15 days.

It's the moral, ethical and humane thing to do.

And after all, it is 2017.

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