After courts in Ontario and BC found in 2018 that solitary confinement was "unconstitutional" and amounted to "pyschological torture" because it was "cruel and unusual punishment,", the Trudeau Liberal government passed a law in 2019 forbidding it. However, Correctional Services Canada initially refused to turn over data for one year to an independent panel of prison experts headed by Anthony Doob, professor emeritus of criminology at the University of Toronto, for a year causing the panel to disband in protest in August 2020. Doob said many people had advised him that the Liberal government had set him up in order to give the government a veneer of legitimacy. Only the resulting disbanding of the panel forced the government to turn over the data.
A member of an independent panel of prison experts tasked by the federal government to oversee its solitary confinement reforms says the panel was "powerless" to do its job because Correctional Service Canada (CSC) failed to provide the data it needed.
Anthony Doob, professor emeritus of criminology at the University of Toronto, said the advisory panel of which he was a member is now completing its one-year term. It was unable to properly evaluate the new program because repeated attempts to obtain information by the eight-person panel were rebuffed, he said. "This panel is powerless to accomplish the job that it was set up to do without cooperation from CSC. Furthermore, the issues raised by CSC's apparent inability to monitor and evaluate its own operation are not issues solely about its cooperation and support for this panel of unpaid volunteers," he wrote in a memo attached to the group's report. "Much more important is the fact that CSC is telling us that it does not have systematic information on the operation of its Structured Intervention Units and apparently never made the gathering of this information a priority." ...
In an interview with CBC, Doob said he was warned by many people before he accepted the voluntary position that he was being "set up" to give the government's plan legitimacy. He said he now thinks they were right. "I was used," he said.
Facing lawsuits over what many human rights experts called "inhumane" segregation practices that amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment," the federal government announced a plan in September 2018 to end segregation and to establish special penitentiary units called Structured Intervention Units. The SIUs were designed to house inmates separately while giving them improved access to rehabilitation, mental health care and other programs.
Under the new SIU model, inmates who couldn't be managed safely in the mainstream population were to receive programs tailored to their needs and given more time outside their cells, along with "meaningful human contact." ...
The government appointed the expert panel to oversee the implementation of the reforms.
Doob said that a CSC truly interested in knowing how the SIUs work would want access to the data the panel was seeking. "We don't know whether things were good, bad, indifferent or awful, because they don't want anybody to know, and you can draw your own inferences about what that means," he said.
Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, said the panel's existence gave advocates "comfort" that CSC would deliver on its promises. "I find that both alarming and discouraging, and disappointing," she said in an interview. "I think it's very important that there be external eyes on the implementation of the structural intervention units and the panel not getting adequate data to be able to do a fair assessment within the mandate of their panel is very upsetting."
Latimer visited the SIU at Ontario's Millhaven Institution in January. She said she found that CSC was not providing the four hours outside a cell and the two hours of "meaningful human contact" required under the new regime.
Calls for tighter restrictions on solitary confinement grew louder with the high-profile inquest into Ashley Smith's death behind bars. The teen died in a segregated prison cell at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont., in 2007. A coroner's jury ruled that her self-inflicted choking death was a homicide and made 104 recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.