Ontario has failed to follow segregation rules, human rights commission says

A sign of the Ontario Human Rights Commission is seen at a news conference in Vaughan, Ont., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel

TORONTO – Ontario has failed to keep inmates with mental health disabilities out of segregation, the province’s human rights commission alleges.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission filed a motion with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario seeking an order to hold the province accountable for violating a two-year-old agreement on the use of solitary confinement in the province’s jails for the mentally disabled.

The commission alleges the provincial government has breached its legal obligations to inmates in the process.

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“The OHRC is taking this legal step to make sure that no prisoner is subjected to the unconstitutional harms caused by solitary confinement, that prisoners with mental health disabilities receive the care they require,” the commission said in a statement.

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Kristy Denette, a spokeswoman with the Ministry of the Solicitor General, said the government “is working with our front-line correctional staff and justice partners to make correctional services in Ontario safer for staff and those in our care and custody.”

In its filings, the commission said 46 per cent of the 12,000 people placed in segregation between July 2018 and June 2019 had mental health alerts on their files.

In an agreement reached in 2018, the government agreed to use segregation on the mentally disabled only as a last resort.

The commission is seeking an order for a prohibition on segregation for anyone with a mental health disability.

It is also seeking a limit on any segregation beyond 15 continuous days and 60 days total in a year. The commission also wants an independent monitor to provide oversight of the provincial correctional system.

In its motion, the commission alleges a litany of problems in jails. It says the province has failed to conduct adequate mental health screenings to properly identify mental health disabilities and failed to develop individualized mental health care plans.

The province has also not implemented a system to accurately track segregation placements and has not complied with requirements to conduct internal segregation reviews, the commission alleges.

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They are the same problems highlighted in an April report by Justice David Cole who performed an independent review of the province’s compliance with segregation.

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The government pointed to the same review that said it had met deadlines on 31 “deliverables” in the 2018 agreement.

Denette said it met deadlines for enhanced mental health screening for inmates and formalizing timelines for screening and assessments, revising operational policies on segregation and establishing methods to track conditions of confinement for inmates.

Denette said the government will be hiring 500 more correctional officers and will modernize some of its infrastructure.

“More staff will also help ensure the safety and security of our institutions and ensure government is in compliance with its obligations regarding the use of segregation within correctional facilities,” Denette said.

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