Make Your Mark – The Spotlight On Solitary Petition

A civil society initiative launched this week throws a much-needed spotlight on solitary confinement in Canadian prisons. Comprising a whole series of webinars and a related petition, the aptly titled Spotlight on Solitary action brings into focus frequent resort to the use of solitary confinement in prisons in Canada in all its different shapes and forms.

Co-sponsored by the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, John Howard Society of Canada, Prisoners’ Legal Services, and the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, the 15-day series of events will examine in detail the ongoing practice of solitary confinement in Canada. An accompanying press release outlines the motivation behind the initiative, as follows:

“While the federal government may have announced that solitary confinement has been abolished in Canada, this 15-day spotlight … will bring to light all of the ways in which the practice of solitary confinement continues to persist in Canada, just by any other name: SIUs, Restrictive Movement Routines, Mental Health Monitoring, Medical Isolation, Lockdowns, and Dry Celling.” 

Dr. Adelina Iftene of Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University is quoted in the press release as stating:

“Solitary confinement is a practice not a place. Regardless of the unit or the reason, when one is locked up for long stretches of time without meaningful human contact, one is experiencing solitary confinement. Irrespective of the name we give it, solitary confinement has devastating effects on the mental and physical wellbeing of individuals, undermines one’s chances of successful reintegration into community, and raises serious legal and ethical questions – this spotlight will make that clear to the public and to policy makers.”

The 15-day webinar series is also complemented by an online petition with a very welcome focus on the OPCAT. The petition calls on the Federal Government to undertake five measures, namely:

1. Establish a Commission of Inquiry into the federal prison service to examine the use of solitary confinement in all forms and to make recommendations to ensure the rights and well-being of prisoners are being safeguarded;

2. Amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act immediately to define solitary confinement  and to prohibit all forms of prolonged solitary confinement consistent with the United Nations Nelson Mandela Rules;

3. Develop and implement alternatives so that solitary confinement can be abolished;

4. Provide legal aid so that federal prisoners have access to counsel to protect their Charter and statutory rights;

5. Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.

While Canada’s ratification of the OPCAT is long overdue, the Canadian government appears no closer to putting pen to paper, as highlighted in the communiqué of the FPT meeting of ministers responsible for human rights held on 9-10 November 2020.

If you are unable to sign the petition, then why not watch a webinar or two on the use of solitary in Canadian prisons? Launched on Monday 16 November 2020, there are numerous events to watch live this and next week and at least a couple of past webinars to watch on demand. Please visit the Spotlight on Solitary YouTube page for both live and past events.

Spotlight on Solitary webinars.

The 17 November event titled By Any Other Name: Segregation in the Maritimes, for example, comprised a highly instructive and stimulating discussion on the use of segregation, medical isolation, suicide watch, dry celling, and COVID-19 quarantine in prisons in the Maritime provinces. Key speakers Sheila Wildeman, Harry Critchley, Claire McNeil, and Emma Halpern, and Moderator Adelina Iftene conveyed a highly interesting, albeit disturbing picture of the use of such practices in prisons on Canada’s east coast. Better still, if you missed the webinar, you can watch the exchange on demand here.

Please support this highly welcome initiative by consulting the Spotlight on Solitary event page for information about the many other interesting webinars running until 30 November 2020. If you can, please also take a closer look at the petition, which urges Canada to – dare we say – finally ratify the OPCAT and join the other 90 states which have done so worldwide.


Read the Spotlight on Solitary initiative press release.

Please consider signing the petition and please view the list of webinars.

Visit the initiative’s YouTube page to watch both live and past webinars.