Canada & OPCAT Ratification – Does This Sound Vaguely Familiar?

“The OPCAT has now been ratified by 90 countries from all regions of the world, with Iceland and South Africa joining the OPCAT system so far this year. This is an impressive number but there are still a considerable number of states parties to the Convention against Torture which have not yet done so. All States Parties to the Convention against Torture are already bound to take preventive measures by virtue of article 2 of that Convention, and it has been the longstanding position of the SPT that that obligation is best fulfilled through ratification of the OPCAT, which is entirely focussed on effective prevention. Numerous states have undertaken to do so during the course of their Universal Periodic Reviews by the Human Rights Council: but these commitments sometimes seem to be swiftly made, but slowly fulfilled. The SPT hopes that the rate of growth in participation will quicken in the coming months as more states seek to honour their commitments to ratify.”

Statement by Sir Professor Malcolm Evans, Chairperson of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, to the 74th session of the General Assembly Third Committee in New York on 14 October 2019.

Sir Professor Malcolm Evans, Chairperson of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, presents to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, 14 October 2019, in New York. Image copyright of UN Web TV.

If one reflects that over the years – many years – there have been repeated past high-profile statements (like the above) by Canada purporting to commit to the country’s potential ratification of OPCAT, then the overall lack of progress of the North American state to make good on such pledges (both to the UN Human Rights Council as well as other key UN bodies) is unquestionably disappointing.

Astonishingly, Canada first used the pledge of OPCAT ratification during its candidacy for membership of the UN Human Rights Council as far back as 2006, a pledge unfulfilled to the present day.

During its first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the Human Rights Council in February 2009 Canada accepted the recommendation to possibly ratify the OPCAT. During its second UPR cycle in April 2013 Canada once again accepted in principle the recommendation to do so, even though it stated that at the time it had no plan to ratify the instrument. Nonetheless, Canada did not reject the recommendation outright at that time.

As recently as May 2018, during Canada’s third-cycle UPR by the UN Human Rights Council, some 27 countries urged Canada to either ratify the OPCAT or consider the ratification of the instrument. During this review Canada repeated its position that it was “… considering becoming a party to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, as well as options to implement that instrument.”

Immigration detention
Palais des Nations, Geneva by UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferre.

Canada reported back to the Human Rights Council during its 39th Session on 21 September 2018, stating that it had indeed accepted the recommendation to consider ratification of the OPCAT. Again.

Since 2018, no shortage of UN experts have urged Canada to advance and expedite the OPCAT ratification process, as highlighted on this website. Yet, disappointingly, little tangible progress has seemingly been made in practice to do so. The complete lack of transparency and publicly available information about any domestic process has further obfuscated the issue. Simply put, Canadian civil society remains well and truly in the dark about what is and what is not being done by Canada to make good on its UPR pledges.

In view of Canada’s (to put it kindly) patchy OPCAT track-record one cannot escape the distinct feeling that – to paraphrase Sir Professor Malcolm Evans above – OPCAT commitments have been swiftly made, but slowly fulfilled. Very, very slowly…

Sir Professor Malcolm Evans was joined by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, and the Chairperson of the UN Committee against Torture, Jens Modvig, during the UN Third Committee session.

You can read Professor Evans’ full written statement to the UN Third Committee here or watch it on demand at around the 38-minute mark.

Watch the three torture prevention experts present their respective reports to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly on 14 October 2019.

In addition, readers might wish to watch the ‘Prevention of Torture Press Conference’ from 15 October 2019.

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Ratification, SPT, UN Subcommittee, 0 comments

COPCAT Shorts – UN Prevention of Torture Press Conference

“Of course, none of this is possible [torture prevention efforts at the national level] if it is not properly supported, and so it is a matter of great concern to us that the current financial problems that are affecting the UN system that … our final visits of this year have had to be called off for financial reasons. This has never happened to us before and we hope that it never happens again, because we, like my colleagues, are working to secure the interests of some of the most vulnerable in our societies and it is absolutely imperative that that work should continue.”

Screenshot from the Prevention of Torture Press Conference – copyright UN Web TV.

Sir Professor Malcolm Evans, Chairperson of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, speaking at the UN Prevention of Torture Press Conference, New York, 15 October 2019.

Watch the full Prevention of Torture Press Conference here.

The above quotation excerpt begins at around the 15-minute mark.

Sir Professor Malcolm Evans was joined by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, and the Chairperson of the UN Committee against Torture, Jens Modvig, at the UN Prevention of Torture Press Conference.

Watch the three torture prevention experts present their respective reports to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly on 14 October 2019.

Listen to an audio interview with Sir Professor Malcolm Evans on what routinely happens during a UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture visit to a country.

Watch a short video about the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture.

The Canada OPCAT Project signs up to a CSO petition against UN cuts to the treaty bodies.

Posted by mp in SPT, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, UN Subcommittee, UNCAT, 0 comments

UN Independent Expert Manfred Nowak Urges OPCAT Ratification

“Data collected for the study and well-grounded scientific approximations indicate that, altogether, a minimum of between 1.3 and 1.5 million children are deprived of liberty per year. Of those, the largest number are in institutions (430,000–680,000), followed by those in the administration of justice (410,000), migration-related detention (330,000), in armed conflict situations (35,000) and for national security reasons (1,500). An additional 19,000 children are living with their primary caregivers in prisons. The Independent Expert wishes to stress that those figures are arrived at on the basis of scientifically sound methodologies, yet remain highly conservative owing to the scarcity of official and reliable disaggregated data. In particular, the figures do not include the approximately 1 million children in police custody and an even higher number of children deprived of liberty de facto in institutions.”

Professor Manfred Nowak – Independent Expert leading the global study on children deprived of liberty (UN Doc. A/74/136, 11 July 2019) §86.

On 8 October 2019 the Independent Expert leading the global study on children deprived of liberty, Professor Manfred Nowak, submitted his final report on the ‘Global study on children deprived of liberty’ to the Third Committee of the General Assembly during its 74th session in New York.

As noted in the summary of the report, in its resolution 69/157 of 18 December 2014, the General Assembly invited the Secretary-General to commission an in-depth study on children deprived of liberty.

Professor Manfred Nowak was appointed as Independent Expert leading the study in October 2016, which is the first scientific attempt, on the basis of global data, to comprehend the magnitude of the situation of children deprived of liberty, its possible justifications and root causes, as well as conditions of detention and their harmful impact on the health and development of children. The above quotation highlights the enormous scale of the global phenomenon.

Prison 4040 by Sylvia Westenbroek (2006)

In the study Professor Nowak examines six situations of children deprived of their liberty, including in the administration of justice, children living in prisons with their primary caregivers, migration-related detention, institutions, armed conflict and national security contexts. In Canada children and young persons are deprived of their liberty in various such settings, including young offenders institutions, immigration detention centres, mental health and social care facilities, not to mention police detention facilities.

Among his numerous concerns and recommendations Professor Manfred Nowak noted with some alarm that:

“The absence of independent monitoring bodies with the mandate of carrying out unannounced visits to all places of detention contributes to the continuation of … conditions, which can amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.” (§97)

In this same connection the Independent Expert advanced the following key recommendation:

“States are strongly encouraged to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and to establish independent and effective national preventive mechanisms with a particular expertise, to conduct visits to places where children are, or may be, deprived of liberty.” (§104)

Manfred Nowak by Phil Strahl (2007)

To date, 90 out of 193 United Nations Member States have ratified the OPCAT. Canada, like the neighbouring USA, is not one of these countries, despite making repeated assertions that it would ratify this key UN instrument. In stark contrast, most countries in the Central and Southern parts of the Americas are States Parties to the instrument, begging the very good question why Canada is lagging so far behind the rest of the hemisphere? If Argentina, Mexico and Brazil can ratify the OPCAT (all federal states to boot), why not Canada?

Find out more about Children Deprived of Liberty – The United Nations Global Study.

Read the report in English or in French.

Examine recent reports about the treatment of young offenders in Alberta and Manitoba.

See which countries have ratified the OPCAT.

Learn more about how Canada might ratify and implement the OPCAT.

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Places of detention, Ratification

Available at all Good Newsstands! The Expert Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights Newsletter No. 3.

In anticipation of the International Corrections & Prisons Association’s (ICPA) 21st Annual Conference set to take place in Buenos Aires at the end of October 2019, the organization’s Expert Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights has published its Newsletter No.3.

Launched in 2018, the Expert Network has, to date, unleashed on the human rights community a short series of highly informative newsletters covering issues as topical as the OPCAT and solitary confinement, while focusing on Canada and Australia as its country jurisdictions.

World Headlines (photographer unknown) – Britt Fuller (1941)

A short account of the establishment of the Expert Network and the key role played in its creation by the Canadian Correctional Investigator, Ivan Zinger, as well as an overview of its first two newsletters were featured on the Canada OPCAT Project website. Both newsletters are well worth a second, let alone a first read.

The current issue of the newsletter takes in the ICPA Annual Conference host-nation for 2019, Argentina, as its country focus, while the theme of the Annual Conference forms its topic of discussion, namely ‘Strengthening Correctional Cornerstones: Rights, Dignity, Safety and Support’.

For reasons of brevity, readers should click on the button below to directly consult the current issue. However, for this writer the highlights include its two articles throwing a spotlight on the OPCAT in Argentina (like Canada, another one of those tricky federal states) as well as Professor Rosemary Ricciardelli’s article on the on-going struggle to reform the overly frequent use of solitary confinement in Canada. The latter is very aptly titled ‘Reforming Segregation: Best Intentions within Complicated Realities’.

The ICRC Prison System Advisor, Paul Geurts, offers an interesting account of the organization’s activities aimed at supporting national prison services in developing internal prison inspection systems. The latter was also the theme of a fairly recent UNODC publication, as briefly highlighted in these pages.

Very kindly the Canada OPCAT Project even gets a name-check in the newsletter as a useful information source, which is particularly heartening. We remain humbly grateful, of course.

As for the ICPA’s 2019 Annual Conference in Buenos Aires, the Expert Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights has two events planned this year, namely on the topics of ‘External Prison Oversight, Dignity and Human Rights’ and ‘Dignity, Human Rights and Solitary Confinement’. An array of leading Canadian human rights figures will present during these gatherings.

In addition, two working meetings of the Expert Network will be held, more information about which can be found in Ivan Zinger’s Welcome Message from the Chair in the current newsletter.

In a word, take a closer look – there is much to catch up on in Newsletter No.3!

Read newly published Expert Newsletter No.3.

Read Expert Network Newsletter No.1.

Read Expert Network Newsletter No.2.

Find out more about the establishment of the Expert Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights.

Visit the ICPA 2019 Annual Conference website.

Read why the Canadian Correctional Investigator supports Canada’s ratification of the OPCAT.

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Oversight bodies, Tools

Joint Open Letter on Concerns about the Global Increase in Hate Speech

We are alarmed by the recent increase in hateful messages and incitement to discrimination and hatred against migrants, minority groups and various ethnic groups, as well as the defenders of their rights, in numerous countries. Hate speech, both online and offline, has exacerbated societal and racial tensions, inciting attacks with deadly consequences around the world. It has become mainstream in political systems worldwide and threatens democratic values, social stability and peace. Hate-fuelled ideas and advocacy coarsen public discourse and weaken the social fabric of countries.

“We are gravely concerned that leaders, senior government officials, politicians and other prominent figures spread fear among the public against migrants or those seen as “the others”, for their own political gain. The demonization of entire groups of people as dangerous or inferior is not new to human history; it has led to catastrophic tragedies in the past. Around the world, we observe that public figures are attempting to stoke ethnic tensions and violence by spreading hate speech targeting the vulnerable. Such rhetoric aims to dehumanise minority groups and other targeted people, and, in the case of migrants, fosters discriminatory discourse about who “deserves” to be part of a community. Furthermore, hateful calls for the suppression of non-normative sexual orientations and gender identities and a limitation of the human rights of LGBT people limit progress towards the eradication of violence and discrimination against LGBT persons in various countries around the world, and a number of discriminatory legal and policy initiatives have been put forward.”

“The rhetoric of hatred must be countered, as it has real-life consequences. Studies have established a correlation between exposure to hate speech and the number of hate crimes committed. To curb xenophobic attacks on migrants and prevent incitement to discrimination, hatred, hostility and violence against other marginalised groups, we call on public officials and politicians, as well as the media, to assume their collective responsibility to promote societies that are tolerant and inclusive. To achieve this, they must refrain from any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. They should also denounce swiftly those who incite hatred against migrants, minorities, or other vulnerable groups. “

Excerpts from ‘Joint open letter on concerns about the global increase in hate speech‘, signed by 26 United Nations mandate-holders, 23 September 2019.

Read the Joint open letter.

Lire le Lettre ouverte commune sur les inquiétudes suscitées par la multiplication des discours de haine dans le monde.

Has there been a backsliding on human rights? Read what the UN Special Rapporteur on torture has to say.

Read the recent Joint UN Statement on Child Immigration Detention.

Posted by mp in Acts of abuse, Civil society, hate speech, UN Special Rapporteur

COPCAT Shorts – Québec Ombudsperson’s Prison Focus 2018-2019

Conditions of detention in Québec’s provincial prisons have once again formed a core focus of the Québec Ombudsperson’s Annual Report 2018-2019, launched this past week.

During the period under review over 5600 complaints concerning prisons were processed by the institution, representing a sizeable increase over the previous year.

According to the Annual Report 2018-2019, the three most common grounds for complaint related to lengthy wait times, a failure of the authorities to respect the rights of persons deprived of their liberty, and the material conditions of detention. Once again, the institution focused on the extensive and prolonged use of solitary confinement.

A summary of the key concerns included the following:

  • The rules governing the use of physical restraints (handcuffs and chains) in correctional facilities go back more than 20 years. They must be updated so that there is better oversight of this practice in keeping with detainees’ rights.
  • Too often, correctional facilities resort to solitary confinement for extended periods and without any specific instructions to follow. The Québec Ombudsperson recommended that solitary confinement be limited to 15 days pending a new provincial instruction in this regard.
  • During its visits, the Québec Ombudsperson witnessed the dilapidated conditions at Leclerc de Laval and Baie-Comeau correctional facilities.
  • In the past three years, a large number of complaints from detainees to the Québec Ombudsperson have concerned health services in correctional facilities.

A more in-depth account of these concerns is available in the related chapter of the Annual Report.

Read the Québec Ombudsperson’s Annual Report 2018-2019. Read the report in French.

Consult the overview of prison-related concerns. Consult the French version.

Read the Québec Ombudsperson’s Annual Report 2017-2018. A French version is also available.

Find out who is the Québec Ombudsperson, including in French.

Could Canada’s many ombuds-type institutions play a role in the context of the OPCAT? Read on.

Posted by mp in Oversight bodies, Prisons

UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to Visit Canada?

The devil, as many a good human rights lawyer will tell you, is often to be found in the detail.

At first blush, the recently published Annual Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention conveys to the reader the exceptionally busy comings-and-goings of a typical under-resourced, over-worked UN special procedure. And to think all this heroic human rights work is done for free.

Yet a deeper dive into the above report, which was presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 13 September 2019, reveals that Canada was one of 18 countries which the Working Group requested to visit in the course of 2018. The prospect of such a country visit was floated with the Canadian authorities in a communication dated 11 May 2018.

Barring Freedom by meesh (2012)

So, what happened? When did the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention arrive on our Canadian shores, which detention facilities did it visit, and what were this expert body’s key findings?

After all, Canada has proven to be quite a popular destination for the UN’s special procedures over the past couple of years, with visits undertaken by the UN Special Rapporteurs on the rights of persons with disabilities, violence against women and the right to health, to name just a few.

Alas, paragraph 51 of the Working Group’s 2019 report reveals the following:

On 22 October 2018, the Permanent Mission of Canada stated that the Government is unable to accommodate a visit within the requested time frame, and indicated that it would propose different dates.”

Regrettably, no information is provided in the Working Group’s Annual Report, indicating if Canada has subsequently proposed different dates and/or whether a visit is in the pipeline for late 2019 or 2020.

It was notable that the governments of other countries offered similar apologies in this respect. Guatemala stated that it had other commitments in the area of human rights in 2018, proposing a visit at the end of 2019. The Colombian government stated that, given the electoral period, it would need to identify a more convenient time. Similarly, Indonesia informed the Working Group that it had a number of prior commitments to receive special procedures in 2018 and it would consult the capital on an appropriate time for the visit. Kazakhstan proposed discussing the dates of such a visit at a subsequent time.

Happily, the governments of Australia, Hungary, Qatar and Greece agreed to visits by the Working Group and/or proposed specific dates for such missions to their countries.

Down Under
Light in the Darkness by Drew Douglas (2007).

Regardless, a visit to Canada by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention would still be opportune. After all, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture is not going to visit the country anytime soon!

Canadian readers with somewhat more elephantine memories may recall that the expert body previously visited Canada in June 2005. The related report called for change in several different spheres, as follows:

On the basis of its findings, the Working Group makes recommendations to the Government in the areas of the overrepresentation of Aboriginals in the prisons, the excessive use of pretrial detention with regard to accused belonging to vulnerable social groups, and unmet needs for legal aid. As far as detention under immigration law is concerned, the Working Group recommends some changes to law and/or policy. Finally, the Working Group recommends that terrorism suspects be detained in the criminal process, with the attached safeguards, and not under immigration laws.” (page 3)

Unquestionably, several of the above concerns from 2005 still hold true in 2019. For example, Penal Reform International’s flagship report, Global Prison Trends 2019, revealed a fairly damning picture of the continuing high incarceration rates of Indigenous men and women in the country’s prisons, as featured in these pages. The UN Committee against Torture voiced various criticisms less than a year ago during its examination of Canada in Geneva in November 2018, including in relation to immigration detention as well as resort to security certificates.

All of which makes one wonder even more whether an alternative date has as yet been proposed by the Canadian authorities and whether a visit to Canada by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention can be expected anytime soon?

For the answers to these questions, dear readers, stay tuned to the Canada OPCAT Project.

Read the Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention report to the UN Human Rights Council (UN Doc. A/HRC/42/39, 16 July 2019).

Read the report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s mission to Canada in 2005 (UN Doc. E/CN.4/2006/7/Add.2, 5 December 2005).

Visit the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s homepage.

Posted by mp in Places of detention, UN Special Rapporteur, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

COPCAT Shorts – Joint UN Statement on Child Immigration Detention

Child Immigration Detention is Not Only Wrong, It Is Ineffective 

“Today, the United Nations Network on Migration strongly reiterates its position that child immigration detention must be ended in every region of the world. Detention of children for immigration purposes – whether they are traveling alone or with their families – has been recognized as a child rights violation and can be highly damaging to their physical and psychological health and wellbeing.  Detention of children based on their migratory status is thus never in their best interests.  Community-based programmes, case management and other human rights-based alternatives have proven highly effective and all governments should work to replace immigration detention for children and families with appropriate reception and care arrangements.”  

“Many governments that are implementing appropriate reception and care arrangements as alternatives to detention for children and families have found them to be more cost-effective and to result in low rates of absconding and high rates of compliance with status determination processes, including removal orders. Keeping families together over the course of immigration proceedings does not necessitate detention. This is a false choice.  Detention is expensive and burdensome to administer, and there is no evidence that it deters individuals from migrating or claiming asylum.”

Excerpts from the Joint Statement by the United Nations Network on Migration on Child Immigration Detention, published 16 September 2019.

Read the full statement here.

Read the Canadian Red Cross’ 2017-2018 Annual Report on immigration detention in Canada.

Find out what the UN Committee against Torture observed about immigration detention in Canada.

Read the Global Detention Project reportHarm Reduction in Immigration Detention (2018), which outlines key measures which states can implement to lessen the harmful impact of immigration detention on detainees.

Read the University of Oxford’s Faculty of Law Border Criminologies publication, HMIP Detention Monitoring Methodology: A Briefing Paper (2018), which offers illuminating insights into how the task of independent monitoring of immigration detention is being approached in one jurisdiction. 

Posted by mp in Immigration detention, Places of detention

Paving the Way for OPCAT in Australia: A Model for Canada?

Children and young people in Victorian prisons and youth justice systems are being damaged rather than rehabilitated through excessive use of isolation and separation, the Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass has concluded in a new report.

During the institution’s inspections of three Victorian facilities for young offenders earlier in 2019, the Victorian Ombudsman found practices that were incompatible with domestic and international human rights law. Her critical findings on the use of solitary confinement in the three facilities are presented in the following video presentation.

The thematic focus of the Victorian Ombudsman report is highly relevant to the Canadian context at a time when domestic oversight bodies have expressed increasing concern about similar isolationary practices relating to young offenders in several provinces. Just this past week the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta issued a critical report on such questionable practices in the province.

This important thematic focus aside, it was also highly significant for Canadian actors that the Victorian Ombudsman conducted her inspection against the rigorous standards of the OPCAT and thus with the requirements of the OPCAT clearly in mind.

Hot off the presses – the new Victorian Ombudsman OPCAT inspired report.

What is more, the aforementioned investigation and related report are the second occasion on which the institution has assumed an OPCAT approach to a detention monitoring inquiry without being formally designated as an NPM. Could Canadian detention monitors adopt a similar model? There is no reason why not.

Regular visitors to these pages will recall that Australia ratified the OPCAT in December 2017, albeit postponing the domestic implementation of the instrument for three-years, as permitted under OPCAT Article 24. Currently discussions are on-going as regards to the composition of the country’s future NPM, as explored in multiple past academic articles highlighted on the Canada OPCAT Project website.

Nonetheless, the Victorian Ombudsman has proactively grasped the challenge of conducting monitoring visits in light of new OPCAT conditions. Regrettably, certain Ombudsperson-like institutions designated as NPMs have adopted a ‘business as usual’ approach to their preventive work, treating their existing organizational structure and complaints-handling focus as being virtually synonymous with their OPCAT focused responsibilities and activities. This unfortunate reality was highlighted in a Canada OPCAT Project paper from earlier this year.

In stark contrast, the Victorian Ombudsman has seemingly reflected long and hard on what is required to be an effective NPM. The 50-or-so-page first part of this impressive report is devoted to this singular challenge, suitably titled ‘Implementing OPCAT in Victoria’. In doing so, it examines the key NPM principles as well as the different centralized (single entity NPMs) and de-centralized (multi-entity NPMs) structures which could feasibly be adopted in the state of Victoria.

In this analysis the report draws on NPM country examples from elsewhere, including Norway, Georgia, Denmark, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, highlighting the national processes leading to NPM designation, the legislative footings of the respective mechanisms as well as, crucially, their resourcing. Canadian readers perhaps less familiar with other national NPM designation processes may find this section of the Victorian Ombudsman report especially illuminating.

The same section of the report also examines in greater detail which NPM arrangement might be implemented in the state of Victoria, employing a ‘pro and con’ tick-box analysis of each model, as depicted below.

The report then explores how a centralized and de-centralized NPM model might look in practice, particularly in view of the six existing monitoring bodies in the state of Victoria. Various recommendations are made in this connection, including that:

Under a ‘unified’ model, and to avoid unnecessary duplication, a single independent body should be designated NPM for Victoria, to operate with a legislatively mandated Advisory Group as described in the following paragraphs. The NPM mandate should be distinct from existing functions, fully comply with the principles and requirements of OPCAT, and be enshrined in legislation.” [§269]

The shape and structure of the legislatively mandated Advisory Group is outlined in the report. Taking into account the length, frequency and number of potential inspections of the future mechanism the study presents a consideration of the size and cost of the Ombudsman’s vision of an NPM for Victoria. Impressively, highly detailed charts are presented of the costs associated with visiting different categories of detention facilities in the state, including prisons, police station, mental health centres, and child and youth facilities. In this regard the report concludes as follows:

An NPM conducting regular inspection of all primary places of detention in Victoria should comprise approximately 12 Full Time Equivalent staff and have an operating budget of approximately $2.5 million.

There are further efficiencies in designating a single NPM, as the inspection function can be subject to a single budget bid taking into account the full range of work required, and the NPM can provide resources to other agencies as necessary within the overall allocation.” [§304-305]

The remainder of the report titled Inspection Report consists of several sections, including a discussion on the rationale for looking at the topic of solitary detention of young persons and the methodology employed by the mechanism. It is notable that in the outset of part 2 of the report the Victorian Ombudsman emphasizes the key, sometimes forgotten point (in bold below):

Following her 2017 report about OPCAT, the Ombudsman decided to conduct a second own motion investigation, in light of her investigative human rights function and to further contribute to discussions about OPCAT’s implementation in Victoria.

In deciding to conduct this investigation, the Ombudsman noted the ratification of OPCAT is an important symbol of Australia’s commitment to human rights and community safety, and its implementation in Victoria is equally important in ensuring that commitment is not merely symbolic.” [§307-308]

In terms of the OPCAT-inspired monitoring methodology of the thematic investigation into solitary confinement, a so-called OPCAT Advisory Group was established, comprising 14 representatives of various Victorian oversight bodies and civil society organizations. In advance of the visits to the three youth detention facilities pre-inspection training was given and various inspection tools were developed. In some detail the report outlines the methodology of the visits to the different facilities.

The remaining chapters of the report detail the inspections of the detention facilities under scrutiny, namely Port Phillip Prison, Malmsbury Youth Justice Precinct and the Secure Welfare Services at Ascot Vale and Maribyrnong, concluding with some 27 related recommendations. Readers wishing to learn more about the detailed findings of the report should consult it directly or watch the video presentation of the report above.

As for Canada, there is no reason why a similar OPCAT-inspired approach could not be emulated by domestic detention monitoring bodies. This year already, several government arms-length oversight bodies have published thematic reports, highlighting various concerns about different places of detention. Despite the fact that OPCAT ratification by Canada appears a long way off and next to no consultation has to date taken place with Canadian civil society on possible implementation of the instrument, the same highly welcome OPCAT-inspired tack of the Victorian Ombudsman could be followed in the country.

Once again, we see that Australia has potentially much to offer Canada in terms of its overall approach to preparing the way for the implementation of the OPCAT in the country. Thus, a loud, resonating round of applause must be extended to the Victorian Ombudsman in pushing along the OPCAT process with this highly thoughtful, if not striking report.

Canadians – get ready (for OPCAT), set, go?

Read the Victorian Ombudsman report, OPCAT in Victoria: A thematic investigation of practices related to solitary confinement of children and young people.

Read the related press release.

Examine the Victorian Ombudsman’s first OPCAT inspired report on women in prison, Implementing OPCAT in Victoria: report and inspection of the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre.

Learn more about how the OPCAT is being implemented in Australia and the related challenges.

Interested in OPCAT visuals? Watch other imaginative ways in which different oversight mechanisms are highlighting their work.

Posted by mp in Australia, NPMs, OPCAT, Oversight bodies, Solitary confinement, Young offenders

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.

Posted by mp in Oversight bodies, Places of detention, Solitary confinement, Young offenders