New numbers show provinces in Canada put hundreds of inmates in solitary confinement
The practice of holding inmates in provincial jails in solitary confinement for months at a time happens routinely across Canada, according to new numbers obtained by VICE News that show the issue extends far beyond the problem-ridden correctional system in Ontario.
That province has faced immense scrutiny after it was revealed in October that Adam Capay, a 23-year-old Indigenous man, had been held alone in a windowless plexiglass jail cell in Thunder Bay for more than four years awaiting trial for a murder charge.
Figures obtained by VICE News show British Columbia, Nunavut, Newfoundland, and Alberta have routinely held inmates for months at a time, with Alberta reporting that four inmates have been in segregation for more than one year. Overall, there are at least 25 inmates that have been held in segregation for more than one year — something that would amount to torture under the UN’s definition.
However, getting a consistent picture of the situation across Canada is nearly impossible because of the different ways provinces and territories collect and divulge data. The data obtained also reveals a lack of consistency in terms of how segregation is defined, as well as the regulations regarding when and how long an offender can be held in this manner.
For instance, Saskatchewan would only provide a “snapshot” on the number of inmates held in segregation on one day this past June, but not on how long they had been held. And Manitoba said it doesn’t “aggregate” the details of inmates held in solitary.
In the wake of the news of Capay’s detention, Ontario appointed the federal correctional investigator known for his scathing critiques, to to review its use of solitary confinement, referred to by governments as “segregation.”
And while pressure has mounted on the federal government for years to end its use of solitary confinement, legal advocates say it’s difficult to apply the same pressure for all other jails in the country due to a lack of transparency and understanding of the scope of the problem.
VICE News reported earlier this month that 21 inmates in Ontario have been held in solitary confinement for more than one year.
In Alberta, as of November 7, there are 262 inmates in segregation for disciplinary and administrative purposes, out of a total population of 3,800 inmates. Of those, four inmates have been held in solitary confinement for more than one year. Their solitary confinement is reviewed twice a week, according to a ministry spokesperson. Administrative detention, according to the department, is when an inmate has behaved or intends to behave “in a manner that jeopardizes the security of the institution/facility or the safety of any person, including themselves.”
In Nunavut, one detainee has been held in solitary confinement for 199 days. The unnamed inmate is being kept in “protective custody due to safety concerns,” a department spokesperson said.
Territory-wide, seven inmates are being held in segregation. The territorial government reports that their length in solitary ranges from 10 to 47 days.
British Columbia reported that one inmate has been held in segregation for 125 days. Overall, 117 inmates are currently being held in segregation, out of a total of 2,690 inmates. A correctional ministry spokesperson said that an assistant deputy warden at the jail is required to “visit and examine all inmates in segregation” and that inmates “have the ability to request a meeting with the warden at any time.”
Saskatchewan corrections spokesperson Drew Wilby wouldn’t say how long inmates in segregation were being held, saying that information would have to be accessed through an access to information request because “with the way our current data management systems operate, it would take significant time and work to pull that together.”
The best they could do, said Wilby, was provide a “snapshot” of the number of inmates held on two different days this year and last year.
On June 8 of this year, there were 83 inmates being held in administrative segregation, and 25 held in disciplinary segregation. Wilby did not respond to repeated email requests for further information, despite having opened the emails.
A spokesperson for Manitoba’s corrections ministry reported that as of early November, there were 178 inmates being held in segregation, out of a general prison population of 2,503. However, the province is unique because it defines ‘segregation’ as different from ‘isolation.’
“About 60% of all segregated inmates in Manitoba are managed in a group setting and often access the same privileges and conditions as the rest of the population in the correctional facility,” the spokesperson wrote.
Like Saskatchewan, Manitoba does not keep (or does not make public) long-term statistics on how many provincial inmates are kept in solitary nor for how long.
East of Ontario, jails seem to have little trouble following their own guidelines on segregation, for the most part.
Quebec reported that over the last year, the maximum number of days an inmate spent in segregation was 35, and the average amount of time from 2.5 to 3.5 days. A spokesperson said that over the last year there were 2,895 instances of solitary confinement, but the department didn’t break those down by number of inmates.
In Nova Scotia, the maximum time an inmate is allowed to be held in segregation has been lowered from 15 to 10 days, and requires the director of corrections to sign off each time this happens. The department said that during the second week of November, there were 15 offenders kept in segregation out of a total of 466 offenders; the average length of stay was six days, and the maximum was 14 days. There has never been an offender in the provincial jails there held for more than one year in segregation.
Prince Edward Island is the only jurisdiction in Canada that claims it currently has zero inmates in segregation. Newfoundland says it currently is holding two inmates on administrative segregation. One for just under five months, and another for just over five months.
There are currently six inmates in the Northwest Territories held in segregation for both administrative and disciplinary reasons, and have been there for several days at most. A spokesperson for Yukon said the territory’s corrections department could not provide figures until the recently elected government was sworn in.
Cover: Photo by Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press