New Report – Care In Custody: A Special Report on OC Spray and Segregation in Alberta’s Young Offender Centres

“The treatment of young people in custody should uphold their human rights, in alignment with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The current use of OC spray and segregation contradict the intention of the UNCRC and other United Nations rules and conventions. The Advocate urges the Young Offender Branch to review its policies and practices to ensure they align with the goals of its legislation and support the human rights of the young people they serve.”

Excerpt from the Executive Summary of the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta report, Care In Custody: A Special Report on OC Spray and Segregation in Alberta’s Young Offender Centres (September 2019).

The new report by the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta examines the use of oleoresin capsicum spray (OC spray) in the province’s two young offender centres, since its deployment by correctional staff was liberalized through a Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General policy change in May 2016. Alberta is currently one of only four provinces in Canada which permits the use of OC spray in young offender centres. Since its liberalization in 2016, the Child and Youth Advocate has found that “…OC spray use has increased significantly and continues to rise.” [12]

Care In Custody September 2019

The Child and Youth Advocate also investigated the use of segregation in young offender centres in the same report, highlighting various concerns. As a case in point, the office underscored: “It is alarming that segregation occurs in Alberta’s young offender centres without legislation to provide guidance and ensure accountability, transparency, and fairness.” [18] More specifically, the report stated the following:

“Alberta needs to reduce and regulate segregation in young offender centres. While recent legal changes, if implemented, will significantly restrict segregation in federal adult prisons, no comparable safeguards exist for Alberta’s young people. This discrepancy must be addressed because young people are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of segregation than adults; they require greater protection, not less. Alberta needs to strengthen policy, guidelines, and accountability measures to uphold the rights of young people in custody and to ensure that they receive the supports they need.” [24]

In the report the Child and Youth Advocate advances the following four recommendations:

1. OC spray should only be used in exceptional circumstances, if there is an imminent risk of serious physical harm to a young person or others.

2. The Young Offender Branch should review and update their policies and standards to reduce the number of hours a young person can be segregated, ensure that they receive appropriate programming and supports, and improve conditions within segregation.

3. The Young Offender Branch should develop an impartial complaints and review process for young people. An impartial multi-disciplinary committee that includes external stakeholders should hear complaints and reviews, and young people should have access to a supportive adult.

4. The Young Offender Branch should monitor and publicly report all incidents of OC spray use and segregation annually.

The detailed versions of these recommendations can be found in pages 29-31 of the report.

It is notable that the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta has not been the only detention oversight body to express such concerns. In March 2019 the Manitoba Ombudsman and Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth published the critical findings of a joint investigation into the use of pepper spray and solitary confinement in youth correctional facilities in the province, as highlighted on this website. Thus, the concerns of the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta concerning the use of OC spray and segregation appear to extend beyond the borders of the province.


Read the full report, Care In Custody: A Special Report on OC Spray and Segregation in Alberta’s Young Offender Centres.

Find out more about the work of the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta.

Read the reports of the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth and the Manitoba Ombudsman on the use of solitary confinement and pepper spray in youth detention.

Read the most recent ICPA External Prison Oversight Newsletter and its Focus on Solitary Confinement.

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