Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut May 15, 2017 - 10:00 am

High use of segregation in Ontario jails bad news for Nunavut prisoners

Implications for Nunavummiut in remand custody such as Michael Cooper-Flaherty

STEVE DUCHARME
A recent report to the Ontario ministry that oversees provincial corrections notes an alarming use of solitary confinement. Because of overcrowding and other reasons, Nunavummiut are often sent to Ontario jails to serve sentences or remand custody prior to trial.
A recent report to the Ontario ministry that oversees provincial corrections notes an alarming use of solitary confinement. Because of overcrowding and other reasons, Nunavummiut are often sent to Ontario jails to serve sentences or remand custody prior to trial.
A peek inside a segregation unit at the Central East Correctional Centre, in Lindsay, Ont. Nunavut's Michael Cooper-Flaherty served some of his time awaiting trial at the CECC. (SEGREGATION IN ONTARIO REPORT)
A peek inside a segregation unit at the Central East Correctional Centre, in Lindsay, Ont. Nunavut's Michael Cooper-Flaherty served some of his time awaiting trial at the CECC. (SEGREGATION IN ONTARIO REPORT)
A segregation unit at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre where Nunavummiut are frequently sent for various reasons including overcrowding in Nunavut facilities. (SEGREGATION IN ONTARIO REPORT)
A segregation unit at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre where Nunavummiut are frequently sent for various reasons including overcrowding in Nunavut facilities. (SEGREGATION IN ONTARIO REPORT)

A recent independent report on Ontario prisons cites alarming numbers in the growing use of segregated confinement for prisoners yet to be found guilty of any crimes—a practice that threatens basic rights and may affect prisoners from Nunavut.

In 2016, seven out of 10 prisoners in segregation—or solitary confinement—across Ontario were on remand, according to a March 2017 report released by the Independent Review of Ontario, an arm’s-length body that provides advice and recommendations to the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

Whether the overuse of segregation is due to inadequate laws, poorly crafted policies, a lack of staff resources, insufficient training, crumbling physical infrastructure or simply a lack of space, the report said, “the result is the same: segregation has become the default response to a diverse range of correctional challenges.”

Many of those challenges involve isolating an individual for mental health reasons, but by doing so, they may place the prisoner at greater risk to do harm to themselves or others, the report found.

“A correctional system that has inadequate mental health supports and services is at risk of increasingly relying on segregation to manage its day-to-day operations,” the report said.

The effects of segregation: isolation, reduced environmental stimulation and “loss of control over almost all aspects of daily life,” is described by the World Health Organization as a “potent and toxic risk,” the report noted.

That risk plays out disproportionately greater among Indigenous prisoners, according to the report, which says slightly more than half of Indigenous men and women admitted to segregation in Ontario have a suicide risk alert.

Nunavut prisoners, serving long-term sentences or remand custody, have historically been sent to both the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, in the Ottawa area, and the Central East Correctional Centre, in Lindsay, Ont.

Reasons for that include overcrowding within Nunavut’s own detention centres or because Nunavut inmates require additional medical treatment from southern facilities.

The average number of inmates put in segregation at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre on any given day more than doubled from 31 people in 2015 to 65 in 2016, according to the report.

A spokesperson for the Independent Review of Ontario Corrections told Nunatsiaq News it did not track the specific impact of Ontario segregation on Nunavut prisoners.

And a snapshot of prisoners in custody, provided to Nunatsiaq News by Nunavut’s Department of Justice on May 8, reports only one inmate currently in remand in Ontario, out of 74 remanded Nunavummiut overall.

But at least one inmate awaiting sentencing in Nunavut court has raised the effects of alleged staff shortages, a lack of mental treatment and the use of isolation in Ontario prisons—mirroring some of the findings in the Ontario watchdog’s report.

Michael Cooper-Flaherty, 20, pleaded guilty in August 2016 to a string of Iqaluit robberies between 2014 and 2015.

During sentencing submissions in April, Cooper-Flaherty’s lawyer, Yoni Rahamim, asked Justice Paul Bychok for enhanced credit for time already served by Cooper-Flaherty on remand at the Central East Correctional Centre for conditions he alleges contributed to his client’s mental distress and two attempts at suicide.

“He has sought out the assistance of psychologists or psychiatrists, but for whatever reason he hasn’t received the treatment that he has requested,” Rahamim told the court, April 4.

At the time of his court appearance, Cooper-Flaherty had spent 726 days in remand custody. A full 265 of those days were spent at the Central East Correctional Centre.

“In January of 2016, there was almost a strike and there was a significant number of lockdowns and there were entire days where Mr. Cooper-Flaherty and the other inmates were not even fed,” Rahamim told the court.

In total, Cooper-Flaherty experienced 107 total instances of lockdown while in custody at the Baffin Correctional Centre, the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre and the Central East Correctional Centre.

“You’ll see a significant number of lockdowns are attributed to staff shortages,” Rahamim noted.

Lockdowns—while not the same as segregation—consist of cell confinement for prisoners, as well as the denial of food, showers, fresh air or recreation.

The Independent Review of Ontario attached more than 60 recommendations to its report, grouped into 10 larger categories to modernize segregation in the province.

The recommendations include prohibiting segregation for medical purposes, or for protective custody.

“Those in need of medical observation or seclusion for health reasons must be housed in medical units, infirmaries or sent to outside hospitals,” the report said.

A life history analysis, consistent with Gladue rights, established by the Supreme Court of Canada, is recommended for consideration by prison staff at the five-day mark of any Indigenous inmate’s segregation.

The report also calls for improved transparency for any decision to segregate a prisoner, enhanced mental health observation while in confinement, and that modern language defining segregation be drafted in provincial legislation.

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