A committee of senators has approved a number of changes to a bill that aims to end solitary confinement in Canadian prisons — including one key change that would place a 48-hour maximum on the amount of time an inmate can be kept in isolation. Kim Pate, centre, stands with Senators Peter Harder and Senator Lillian Eva Dyck before being sworn in during a ceremony in the Senate, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

A committee of senators has approved a number of changes to a bill that aims to end solitary confinement in Canadian prisons — including one key change that would place a 48-hour maximum on the amount of time an inmate can be kept in isolation. Kim Pate, centre, stands with Senators Peter Harder and Senator Lillian Eva Dyck before being sworn in during a ceremony in the Senate, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Family of woman who died after 1,000 days in solitary furious with Trudeau over bill

Under the proposed new law, inmates who do pose risks would be moved to new ‘structured intervention units’

Ashley Smith’s mother and sister say they are furious with the Trudeau government for invoking her name in the rollout of a bill that purports to end solitary confinement in Canada’s prisons — a bill they say is highly flawed.

Coralee Smith and Dawna Ward were in Ottawa Thursday and visited the Senate, where amendments to Bill C-83 are being considered.

“We absolutely do not endorse it and especially did not endorse invoking Ashley’s name to put forward this new bill. Absolutely not,” Ward said.

Ashley Smith died in 2007 by self-strangulation at Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont. She was 19 and had spent more than 1,000 days in segregation, moved from institution to institution. Her death continues to spark anger and grief in the eyes and words of her mother and sister.

But their anger is no longer aimed only at the prison guards who videotaped Ashley’s death and did not intervene.

The two women are now also upset with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale for pledging to implement recommendations from the inquest that followed Smith’s death.

That inquest produced 104 recommendations, including a call to end “indefinite solitary confinement.”

“We’re absolutely furious that he invoked Ashley’s name and tried to push forward this ridiculous agenda that has had no significant impact on segregation in Canada,” Ward said Thursday, speaking of Goodale’s announcement of Bill C-83 last year.

Last October, Goodale said Bill C-83 would end the practice of segregating prisoners who pose risks to security or themselves, changes he told reporters were a direct result of the recommendations from the coroner’s inquest.

Under the proposed new law, inmates who do pose risks would be moved to new “structured intervention units,” where they are supposed to get better access to programming and mental-health care than people in solitary do now.

But a number of human-rights organizations say Bill C-83 offers only a cosmetic rebranding of solitary confinement with no hard time limits on isolation or separation of inmates. The current law has such restrictions on the use of segregation when it’s used a disciplinary measure.

ALSO READ: Solitary-confinement veto a chance to address mental health: advocate

ALSO READ: Goodale disputes charge that bill maintains solitary confinement by another name

Ashley’s mother says re-naming segregation cells into structured intervention units does little to address concerns about the devastating mental-health impacts of confining prisoners in isolation. Mental illness is often behind the behaviour that makes a prisoner difficult in the first place.

“Segregation by any other name is segregation,” Smith said. “Segregation is a hellhole. It is inhumane treatment and we really feel it has to have judicial oversight.”

A committee of senators has approved several changes to the bill — including a key amendment to require a judge’s approval to keep an inmate in isolation for more than 48 hours.

Sen. Kim Pate, who says she’d prefer the bill be scrapped entirely, sponsored many of the amendments, including adding judicial oversight to decisions about isolation.

“The Correctional Service of Canada is the last branch of the administration of justice to have the Charter (of Rights and Freedoms) applied to it,” Pate told senators during the committee meeting on Monday. “We have it in bail provisions. We have it in search warrants. We have it in right to counsel. We don’t have it yet in the provision for jailing or isolating within the jail, which is segregation.”

Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, says adding judicial approval to keep an inmate in a structured intervention unit after 48 hours is a “huge step toward trying to ensure this bill is constitutional.”

His organization is among several experts and groups saying they do not believe the bill as originally written would withstand a constitutional challenge.

Both the B.C. Supreme Court and the Ontario Superior Court have delivered decisions saying administrative solitary confinement is inhumane and, in the Ontario decision, unconstitutional if it lasts longer than five days. Both of these decisions are under appeal.

“It’s clear from the Ontario Court of Appeal decision and the B.C. decision that there has got to be a hard time limit on placements in isolation,” Paterson said Wednesday.

Another amendment passed by the committee would allow the correctional service to have Indigenous groups and community organizations provide more support services to help prisoners from vulnerable populations reintegrate into the community when they are released.

Sen. Josee Forest-Niesing tried to introduce a change that would have, in essence, repealed the entire section of the bill that introduces structured intervention units in place of segregation.

Several senators on the committee balked, calling it a gutting of the bill. The amendment was withdrawn on the understanding it would instead be debated by the whole of the Senate at third reading.

Pate says she intends to support it.

“It would be my hope that we would go much further and work to actually put an end now to practices of isolation, particularly for women, that have been found to inflict irreparable harm and that can amount to torture,” Pate said Wednesday.

“At the very least, however, we must meet the bare minimum requirements that courts have set out as constitutional imperatives. To do otherwise would be to abdicate our duty as senators.”

The committee plans to include some additional observations as part of its report back to the Senate including concerns that C-83 does not prescribe any training for correctional staff to help them identify and support inmates with mental illnesses. The senators also have concerns about a lack of detail on what kind of therapeutic programming will be offered to inmates who are placed in structured intervention units.

The committee’s amendments must be accepted by the Senate and then by the House of Commons if they are to become part of the law.

Both Ward and Smith are urging legislators to adopt the amendments. Without them, more women will die in Canadian jails, Ward said.

“It’s not about Ashley now. Ashley’s been gone almost 12 years. It is about the fact that what happened to Ashley is still going on,” Smith said.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Forestry Ink columnist Jim Hilton. (File Photo)
FORESTRY INK: Responsible use of herbicides

Columnist Jim Hilton writes about the issue of spraying herbicides like glyphosate

This screenshot from the City of Quesnel website shows where paving took place during the 2020 season. (City of Quesnel website)
City of Quesnel completed overlay paving at five sites in 2020

The season’s work was completed within a budget of $375,000

Correlieu Secondary School students Hanna Fitchett, Justin Pugh and Jaeana Dumais (missing from photo) were recently recognized by the Quesnel and District Arts Council for their poetry submissions to the community writing contest. The students’ work was inspired by the novel Wenjack and the film The Secret Path. (Photo Submitted)
LETTER: Quesnel high school students’ poetry recognized

CSS thanks the Quesnel and District Arts Council and its community writing contest partners

The director of the Wells Snowmobile Club, Dexter Knorr, shared what is in his safety kit when sledding. Included are spare parts for his machine, like sparkplugs, and specially-designed tow ropes. (Submitted Photo)
Wells Snowmobile Club director shares tips for safe sledding

Two Prince George men were recently stranded on Yanks Peak, one overnight

In this file photo from 2019, Tammy Burrows of the Wild Women of the North Society organizes the donations before the group of volunteers begins assembling Christmas hampers Dec. 22 at the Quesnel Tillicum Society Native Friendship Centre. The society is collecting food hamper items again this winter, along with winter clothing and warm gear. (Quesnel Cariboo Observer File Photo)
There are many ways to help fill Christmas hampers in and around Quesnel

Many businesses, volunteers and the RCMP are collecting hamper items over the next few weeks

(Dave Landine/Facebook)
VIDEO: Dashcam captures head-on crash between snowplow and truck on northern B.C. highway

Driver posted to social media that he walked away largely unscathed

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Top doctor urges Canadians to limit gatherings as ‘deeply concerning’ outbreaks continue

Canada’s active cases currently stand at 63,835, compared to 53,907 a week prior

A Canadian Pacific freight train travels around Morant’s Curve near Lake Louise, Alta., on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths along the railway tracks in Banff and Yoho national parks in Alberta and British Columbia has found that train speed is one of the biggest factors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

Research concludes effective mitigation could address train speed and ability of wildlife to see trains

A airport worker is pictured at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C. Wednesday, March 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada extends COVID restrictions for non-U.S. travellers until Jan. 21 amid second wave

This ban is separate from the one restricting non-essential U.S. travel

Menno Place. (Google Street View image.)
B.C. care home looks to hire residents’ family members amid COVID-19-related staff shortage

Family would get paid as temporary workers, while having chance to see loved ones while wearing PPE

A man walks by a COVID-19 test pod at the Vancouver airport in this undated handout photo. A study has launched to investigate the safest and most efficient way to rapidly test for COVID-19 in people taking off from the Vancouver airport. The airport authority says the study that got underway Friday at WestJet’s domestic check-in area is the first of its kind in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Vancouver Airport Authority *MANDATORY CREDIT*
COVID-19 rapid test study launches at Vancouver airport for departing passengers

Airport authority says that a positive rapid test result does not constitute a medical diagnosis for COVID-19

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

More than 60 cm of snow has fallen at Ulkatcho First Nation near Anahim Lake in the Chilcotin since a snowfall warning went into effect Thursday, Nov. 26. (Graham West photo)
VIDEO: More than 60 cm of snowfall in Chilcotin since Thursday, Nov. 26

Graham West of Ulkatcho First Nation captures the scene on video

Most Read