Ontario Human Rights Commission announces new legal action to further rights of prisoners

The OHRC filed a contravention application today with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario stating the Ontario government has breached a 2013 settlement ­ aimed at the treatment of mentally ill inmates, specifically those facing segregation in provincial prisons.

Ontario Human Rights Commission announces new legal action to further rights of prisoners
Paul Champ was the lawyer for Christina Jahn, the woman who spent more than 200 days in solitary confinement at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission filed a contravention application today with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario stating the Ontario government has breached a 2013 settlement ­ aimed at the treatment of mentally ill inmates, specifically those facing segregation in provincial prisons.

The announcement calling for accountability was made at the Ontario Legislature by Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner of the OHRC, Paul Champ, lawyer at Champ and Associates, Sen. Kim Pate and Yusuf Faqiri, brother of the late Soleiman Faqiri, a mentally ill victim of prison staff brutality.

“When the government signs on the dotted line, it should be held accountable for its promises. That is what the rule of law requires,” says Mandhane. “Through the application to the tribunal, we are once again calling on Ontario to meet its obligations under the Human Rights Code and to honour the commitments it made four years ago.”

Pate says that segregation creates and exacerbates mental illness. Often, inmates commit suicide while confined.

The 2013 settlement, in Jahn v. Ontario (Community Safety and Correctional Services), has been ignored by the Ontario government as rates of segregation continue to climb, says Champ, Christina Jahn’s lawyer, the woman who spent more than 200 days in solitary confinement at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. The main points of the settlement, for which the OHRC is still fighting, are policy changes prohibiting the use of confinement for inmates with mental illness (except in “exceptional” circumstances, although the overarching goal is to eliminate the practice entirely), providing mental health screenings for all inmates during admission, ongoing proper supports and documentation of the use of segregation to provide data, which, currently, is non-existent.

“In bringing this complaint forward, it was really shocking to learn how the province and the ministry really didn’t care about this population,” says Champ. “There was no data. We demanded data on how many people were being held in segregation, how long they’re being held in segregation and how many people with mental illness were being held.”

Last May, Ontario’s independent adviser on corrections reform, Howard Sapers, was part of a report on the province’s use of segregation for mentally ill and suicidal inmates, validating the overuse of segregation and that inmates’ human rights were being compromised.

Soleiman Faqiri’s story, told by his brother Yusuf at the press conference, illustrates why the mistreatment of mentally ill inmates continues to be a problem.

He says his brother, who had schizophrenia, was temporarily imprisoned in the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont. for 11 days before he was allegedly beaten to death, according to a corner’s report, last December by corrections officers. Apparently, it was well documented that Faqiri had schizophrenia and he was awaiting transfer to the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences for a medical evaluation.

“My brother needed a bed and a doctor and, instead, he got handcuffs and fists,” says Faqiri.

For nine-and-a-half months, nothing has been done legally nor has the family heard of any developments in the case.

“We need to have accountability for Soleiman’s needless death because we do not want to have another tragedy like Soleiman’s,” says Faqiri. “He’s not coming back, but there are other people who need to be saved.”

The United Nations says that anything more than 15 days in segregation is considered torture; however, in Canada, those days often reach the hundreds. Pate says that Canada, as a developed nation, should be paving the way to reduce or diminish this practice all together.

To go one step farther, Pate suggests Canada follow other countries’ models to stop investing in prisons and start addressing marginalized and mentally ill peoples’ needs from the root and invest in community programs and health-care initiatives before crime happens. “It’s time to call an end to abusive segregation,” says Pate.

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