B.C. Supreme Court Justice Peter Leask on Friday issued a ruling dismissing Canada’s request for an adjournment the landmark lawsuit by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and its co-plaintiff the John Howard Society of Canada (JHSC) to end indefinite solitary confinement in federal prisons.
The Attorney General of Canada sought the adjournment of the upcoming July 4 trial the day after legislation was proposed making amendments to certain aspects of the solitary confinement regime. The BCCLA and JHSC strongly opposed the adjournment, arguing that the proposed law still does not comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that its mere introduction should not derail a trial that has been years in the making.
Caily DiPuma, Acting Litigation Director of the BCCLA, responded: “This adjournment application is just the latest in a long series of delay tactics on the issue of solitary confinement. Real reforms have been recommended by Canadian legal experts for decades. Ashley Smith died in a segregation cell 10 years ago. Our lawsuit was two and a half years ago, and Canada has already had one adjournment. Now, with our trial date looming, Canada has tried to prevent those who have suffered under the current law for the last 25 years from having their day in court.”
Further, the proposed Bill C-56 – if passed – permits exactly the kind of indefinite, prolonged, arbitrary confinement that the current law allows. DiPuma added: “What happened to Ashley Smith is still possible under the proposed law. Under both Bill C-56 and the current unconstitutional law, all of the decision-making power remains with correctional officials. There are no time limits or caps on the amount of time a person can spend in solitary. All the bill does is create more paperwork to keep a person in a solitary cell.”
DiPuma said: “We are extremely pleased with today’s decision. The Court recognized that the concerns we raise in our lawsuit deserve to be heard. The government has repeatedly failed to address the problems with solitary confinement and now a court will have the opportunity to weigh in on the constitutionality of the current regime. We are looking forward to the first day of trial on July 4.”