April 19, 2018
Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane comments
to the Standing Committee on Justice Policy regarding Bill 6, the Corrections Transformation Act.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission supports the proposed Correctional Services Transformation Act, which will create a strong foundation for Ontario to meet its human rights obligations.
OHRC involvement in corrections
The Commission has been actively involved in corrections for many years.
In 2012, we got involved in Christina Jahn’s case before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
Ms. Jahn, who had mental health disabilities, was held in solitary confinement at the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre for 210 days.
The Commission intervened in her case to address the systemic issues that lay at the heart of the case.
Since being appointed Chief Commissioner in 2015, I have personally visited jails and correctional centres across Ontario – in Ottawa, Brockville, Thunder Bay, Kenora, North Bay and Monteith.
I have met with management, front-line workers, union representatives and many prisoners, including Adam Capay.
Most recently, as a result of litigation initiated by the Commission, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario issued a wide-ranging Order related to the treatment of prisoners with mental health disabilities.
This Order requires Ontario to take specific steps, with detailed timelines, to keep people with mental illness out of segregation.
Support for the Correctional Services Transformation Act
Within this broader context, the Commission supports the proposed legislation as a positive next step in building human rights compliance within Ontario corrections.
The legislation recognizes the need to protect the rights of people protected under the Human Rights Code – particularly First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.
It also establishes minimum conditions of confinement for all prisoners, including access to…
- Religious and spiritual programs,
- Health care,
- Natural light and fresh air,
- And access to the library.
The Commission also welcomes the creation of an Inspector General and establishment of Community Advisory Boards – both which will provide additional oversight and accountability.
Concerns with segregation provisions
In terms of solitary confinement – or segregation – the legislation includes essential protections consistent with our submissions.
- Strict time limits,
- Prohibitions for especially vulnerable people, such as prisoners with mental health disabilities and pregnant women,
- And independent oversight of placements.
We recommend that protections be expanded to include placements in restrictive confinement, sometimes referred to as “segregation-lite.”
This would ensure that we don’t create new problems while solving others.
Cannot lose momentum
The Commission supports this legislation because it has the potential to position Ontario as a national and global leader in corrections.
But to do that, Ontario must show a sustained commitment to correctional reform.
It must effectively and expediently implement these protections in each of its 26 institutions.
That’s why we are concerned that key reforms related to segregation may not result in meaningful change on the ground for many years.
This is because the legislation allows the government to “prescribe” certain institutions that will not have to meet the new standards.
This raises serious concerns because vulnerable prisoners could be placed in segregation in a “prescribed institution” with no limit on, for example, the duration of placement.
The Commission is also deeply concerned that the legislation does not fully come into force for 10 years.
Thousands of prisoners will be admitted into custody during this time period, and there is a great risk that the government of the day will choose to delay much-needed investments due to the long timeframe afforded for compliance.
We strongly recommend that the government significantly shorten the horizon for implementation.
Five years – for example –would strike a more appropriate balance between making ambitious yet realistic commitments.
We also call on the government to provide a detailed plan to fully implement these protections, and to report on its progress on an annual basis.
Corrections just one piece of the puzzle
Introducing the Correctional Services Transformation Act is a major step forward in addressing serious human rights issues in Ontario’s correctional system.
Once implemented, this legislation has the potential to have a positive impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Loss of liberty should be a last resort, reserved for people who pose an identifiable risk to society.
So, there remains a pressing need to reduce reliance on incarceration, especially for the 60% of Ontario’s prisoners who are legally innocent and remanded into custody.
That’s why we also welcome the government’s recent announcement to enhance community mental health supports, and its broader reforms to policing and the administration of justice.
Consistent with this, we support the transfer of responsibilities for health care from Corrections to Health.