Places of detention

Reduce Prison Overcrowding, Reduce The Spread of COVID-19

Desperate times require bold thinking and even bolder measures, it has sometimes been argued, and the Copenhagen-based NGO Dignity have being doing just that in recent weeks.

In the run up to the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture the NGO, Dignity – Danish Institute Against Torture, has issued yet another top-rate, highly practical publication which tackles head-on the urgent need to reduce prison populations during the on-going pandemic.

This stunningly good new publication, titled Guidance Document on Reducing Overcrowding in Pre-Trial Detention and Prison in the Context of COVID-19 – Increasing the Use of Non-Custodial Measures, has been penned by Dignity’s long-time Legal Director Therese Maria Rytter and Legal Advisor Kalliopi Kambanella, and it arrives at a time when more and more of us are allowing ourselves to believe that perhaps this troublesome COVID-19 will soon be licked? However, are we jumping to a much-wished-for conclusion too soon?

Just this week, leading Canadian academics Rosemary Ricciardelli and Sandra Bucerius published a highly thoughtful, superbly argued article as part of the Royal Society of Canada’s COVID-19 Series, which, among its numerous excellent points, questioned whether the Canadian prison estate might be in for a second COVID-19 wave?

In the opinion piece, titled ‘Canadian prisons in the time of COVID-19: Recommendations for the pandemic and beyond’, which was also featured in the Globe and Mail on 23 June 2020, the authors wrote:

While the spread of COVID-19 has mostly been kept at bay in Canadian prisons (with some institutions having had concerning outbreaks, such as Mission Institution in British Columbia and the Multi-level Federal Training Centre in Quebec), we are not suggesting that fear of contagion has dissipated for staff, prisoners, and those who care for said persons. As Canada prepares for a potential second wave of COVID-19, CSC and the provincial/territorial governments must continue to undertake structured and informed decarceration efforts (i.e. efforts directed at reducing the number of people housed in Canadian prisons). While undoubtable not a simple undertaking, such actions would be in line with recommendations made by the UN and by a working group of the Council for Penological Co-operation (PC-CP) of the Council of Europe (who released a “COVID-19 related statement” in April 2020).

Simply put, for those Canadians who think they may have made it through the worst of it – prison administrators included – then please think again. Fortuitously, in this very same connection, Dignity’s newly launched Guidance Document gives us much to reflect on.

Reduce, reduce, reduce…

The accompanying press-release outlines the publication’s overall purpose:

The world is facing an unprecedented public health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic comes at a time when the global prison population is record high with 11 million prisoners worldwide and with over 124 states reporting prison overcrowding. Globally, the pandemic has exposed and accelerated the detrimental consequences of chronic overcrowding in places of detention.

The pandemic warrants resolute action by states to reduce the prison population as an imperative for preventing an outbreak within the prison and, in turn, within society. Without compromising public safety, states must limit new admissions to prison and accelerate the release of certain categories of prisoners. To this end, states should consider increased use of non-custodial alternatives to detention and imprisonment.

Juvenile Detention Centre – Stuart McAlpine (2011).

Dignity’s two authors explain in 25 or so pages of useful, practical detail how such a reduction in a country’s prison population might be achieved in reality. The publication examines non-custodial measures at three main stages of the criminal justice process, namely (1) the pre-trial stage, (2) trial and sentencing stage, and (3) post-trial stage. In doing so, the authors draw on positive penal practice from across the globe in the context of the current global health emergency.

At the pre-trial stage, for example, non-custodial measures might include home arrest, reporting obligations, restrictions on leaving or entering a specific space without authorization, retention of travel documents, bail or bond, supervision by specific agency, and electronic monitoring. Country examples from India, Jordan and The Netherlands are cited.

At the trial and sentencing stage non-custodial measures might comprise fines, suspended or deferred sentences, probation or judicial supervision, community service, diversion to treatment, restrictions on movement, and electronic monitoring, with brief country examples offered from Thailand, Malaysia, USA and Norway.

Finally, at the post-trial stage non-custodial measures envelop an array of country examples in relation to non-custodial measures. These include parole or early conditional release, temporary release, compassionate release, pardon or amnesty, and electronic monitoring. In this section of the publication there are too many country examples to enumerate in these short pages – so just see for yourself.

Regrettably, Canada is not cited as an example in any of these three stages, despite there having emerged certain positive examples of non-custodial measures being employed at the provincial level, Ontario in particular. Even so, Dignity’s excellent publication warrants a much closer inspection.

And if those home-schooled children and maddeningly annoying bosses of yours have – once again – worn you down to the bone and you are even more time-poor than usual, you can always read the publication’s Executive Summary or overview of non-custodial measures. Busy parents of the world rejoice!

Finally, on a personal note, as we approach yet another International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June, the Canada OPCAT Project salutes and thanks you for your unflagging commitment to the cause. As our motley collection of posters remind us, a better torture-free world is one day possible.


Read Reducing Overcrowding in Pre-Trial Detention and Prison in the Context of COVID19 (23 June 2020) and the related press release.

Explore Dignity’s Legal Fact-sheets.

Read Rosemary Ricciardelli and Sandra Bucerius’ Royal Society of Canada COVID-19 Series article, ‘Canadian prisons in the time of COVID-19: Recommendations for the pandemic and beyond’.

Explore UNODC’s and the Thailand Institute of Justice’s highly rated Toolkit on Gender-Responsive Non-Custodial Measures.

Posted by mp in COVID-19, Places of detention, Prisons

Public Health Emergencies & Arbitrary Detention

Shudder to think that Canada might ever be plagued by anything worse than the current Covid-19 public health emergency. Yet the reality is that more than just a few unlucky countries are often beset by outbreaks of disease, sometimes both frequently and severely.

Whether the outbreaks are global, regional or national in scope, Cholera, Influenza, Plague, Smallpox, Ebola, Rift Valley Fever, Meningitis, Yellow Fever, Zika, SARS, Monkeypox and numerous other frighteningly sounding maladies typically afflict the inhabitants of such far less fortunate countries.

As someone who lived in West Africa during the 2014-2015 Ebola crisis, Covid-19 is one of just a number of dreadful blights out there, believe you me.

Yet even when such epidemics do visit upon a society, it is clear that those entities wielding power must not deprive persons of their liberty in an arbitrary manner, whether they be persons perceived to be suffering from a given health condition or otherwise.

Recently the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) issued an excellent new thematic position paper (known as a ‘Deliberation’) on ‘the prevention of arbitrary deprivation of liberty in the context of public health emergencies‘. From the title of the document, it is axiomatic that the principles contained therein would apply to an array of public health emergencies, and not just the present Covid-19 crisis.

In the accompanying press release, the UN Working Group recalled that:

…the prohibition of arbitrary detention is absolute even during times of public emergencies and urged governments worldwide to prevent arbitrary deprivation of liberty in the context of the measures currently adopted for controlling the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The statement continued:

In its newly adopted Deliberation No. 11, the expert group establishes a set of guidelines to prevent arbitrary deprivation of liberty during public health emergencies, stressing that any control measures “must be publicly declared, be strictly proportionate to the threat, be the least intrusive means to protect public health and imposed only while the emergency lasts”.

The Storm Breaks – Tim Sackton (2012)

What has any of the above to do with Canada, you might reasonably ask? In a word, the risk of arbitrary detention exists anywhere, more so during times of national crisis when emergency powers are resorted to or are legislated in quick measure.

What is more, a closer glance at the UN Working Group position paper reveals a wealth of advice and guidance of direct relevance to the Canadian context. In particular, paragraphs 12 to 16 literally jump off the page. For instance:

The Working Group … calls upon all States to pay particular attention to the requirements of necessity and proportionality of deprivation of liberty in the context of public health emergencies, such as the newly emerging emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic. (12)

In particular, States should urgently review existing cases of deprivation of liberty in all detention settings to determine whether the detention is still justified as necessary and proportionate in the prevailing context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, States should consider all alternative measures to custody. (13)

In view of the hotly-debated point of discussion whether the federal, provincial and territorial authorities have taken sufficiently swift steps to address existing levels of incarceration during the current public health emergency, the above excerpts are highly relevant. One need only peruse the multiple daily news articles on this topic, as featured on this website, to see why.

Arbitrary Limitations – Marcin Wichary (2008).

Similarly, paragraph 15 of the Working Group’s Deliberation echoes current calls to ensure that certain categories of detainees are released from detention in Canada, as follows:

The Working Group is aware that COVID-19 mostly affects persons older than 60 years of age, pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding, persons with underlying health conditions, and persons with disabilities. It therefore recommends that States treat all such individuals as vulnerable. States should also refrain from holding such individuals in places of deprivation of liberty where the risk to their physical and mental integrity and life is heightened.

And not forgetting Deliberation paragraph 16, which states the following:

Lastly, noting that overcrowding and poor hygiene pose a particular risk of spreading COVID-19, States should seek to reduce prison populations and other detention populations wherever possible by implementing schemes of early, provisional or temporary release for those detainees for whom it is safe to do so … Noting the obligation arising from the Convention on the Rights of the Child of not detaining children, particular consideration should be given to releasing children and women with children, and also those serving sentences for non-violent crimes.

Readers can make their own minds up whether the guidance in the above paragraphs has been followed across-the-board in Canada in the light of current day conditions. Clearly, certain provinces have acted more quickly than others, while federal prison decarceration has to date been limited.

Finally, as regards Canada’s severe, on-going case of OPCAT stupor, Deliberation No. 11 offers a much-needed tonic:

The Working Group encourages States to ratify the Optional Protocol to the
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and States that are a party thereto to adhere to the advice of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture to States parties and national preventive mechanisms relating to the coronavirus pandemic.
(30)

The Working Group has also underscored a key point previously advanced by other influential actors:

The Working Group acknowledges the particular challenges that the prevailing public health emergency poses to such independent oversight as those involved in human rights monitoring seek to uphold the principle of “do no harm”. However, the prevailing public health emergency cannot be used as a blanket justification to prevent all such independent oversight. The Working Group calls upon all States to allow visits of independent oversight mechanisms to all places of deprivation of liberty during the COVID-19 pandemic and other public health emergencies. Due consideration should be given to such practical measures as staggering the visits of oversight bodies, allowing for extra telephone and internet contact and establishing hotlines and the use of personal protection equipment. (29)

In this respect the Working Group echoes other United Nations and Council of Europe advice, a conundrum recently discussed in-depth on this website.

In addition to the overall goldmine of human rights guidance and instruction contained in the paper, Deliberation No. 11 also lays down how any returning refusenik Snowbirds, or anyone else reluctant to self-quarantine for that matter, should be dealt with by the authorities. But readers will have to turn to paragraphs 8 and 19 of this first-class contribution to find out more.


Read UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Deliberation No. 11 on prevention of arbitrary deprivation of liberty in the context of public health emergencies. Read the accompanying press release.

Find out more about the work of the WGAD.

Explore the WGAD’s other Deliberations.

Will the WGAD ever undertake a fact-finding visit to Canada? Read more.

Posted by mp in Arbitrary detention, COVID-19, OPCAT, Oversight bodies, Places of detention

Plugging The Gap in Nova Scotia & Elsewhere

Canada has unquestionably no shortage of ombudsperson-type institutions. While not NPMs in the truest sense of the word, their annual reports can offer some important insights into the scope of deprivation of liberty in the country and the challenges often encountered in such contexts.

As highlighted on this website just a few short weeks ago, conditions of detention in Québec’s provincial prisons once again formed a core focus of the Québec Ombudsperson’s Annual Report 2018-2019, launched in late September 2019.

The Annual Reports of the Office of the Correctional Investigator always make for highly interesting reading, offering multiple deep insights into the treatment of prisoners in the federal prison estate.

The Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman is another very recent case in point. Tabled before the province’s House of Assembly in October 2019, its 2018-2019 Annual Report outlines the various roles and oversight mandates of the office, based on some 2,800 complaints, inquiries, and youth contacts in the 2018-2019 fiscal year. It also includes an illuminating focus on different forms of deprivation of liberty in the province.

Almost all provinces (bar Prince Edward Island) and one of the three territories, namely Yukon, have broad mandate ombudsperson-type institutions. The primary functions of these bodies are to receive and process grievances against public maladministration and to initiate investigations into wider systematic concerns. Consequently, all have some form of oversight of places of detention by dint of such functions.

The recently published Annual Report of the Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman is an illuminating example of an entity which is striving to exercise this oversight function over several detention domains. These include adult and youth correctional detention facilities as well as youth and senior care facilities.

On the basis of numbers alone, in 2018-2019 some 238 new complaints were handled by the Ombudsman from the province’s four main adult prison facilities, notwithstanding the additional 38 complaints which were filed concerning healthcare provision. It was noted that the four facilities were visited on at least a quarterly basis with other visits undertaken as required.

The Nova Scotia institution also exercises an oversight function over youth detention facilities, a responsibility which arose out of a key recommendation from the 1995 Stratton Report into alleged abuse in youth facilities in the province.

The most recent Annual Report goes into some detail concerning both its handling of complaints and outreach activities in relation to youth detention, noting the numbers of complaints handled by the mechanism (201 in the current reporting period) and the frequency of such visits to the different types of youth custodial facilities, some on a monthly basis, resulting in visit reports being prepared irrespective of whether a complaint is filed.

It is also notable that, in addition to youth detention, the institution also exercises a key oversight function over the provision of senior services in Nova Scotia, undertaking on-site visits to different social care facilities for older members of society. In the Annual Report the following crucial point is highlighted:

While youth and seniors may be at the opposite ends of the age spectrum, they share some things in common. For instance, youth and seniors, including those in care and custody, are some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

While Ombudsman Representatives encourage those in care and custody to address basic concerns with staff first and to take advantage of internal complaint resolution processes, Representatives do not hesitate to investigate allegations of mistreatment or abuse.” (36)

The above emphasis on elderly persons in care is even more resonant in the light of the latest report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, which was presented to the UN General Assembly Third Committee in late October 2019. In her report the UN Special Rapporteur states:

Older persons with disabilities face significant risks of violence, abuse and neglect. Several studies have shown that physical, cognitive and mental impairments are a strong risk factor for elder abuse … These abuses occur both in the community and in institutionalized settings, including hospitals, nursing homes and other residential settings, and include physical, psychological and sexual abuse, caregiver neglect and financial exploitation.” (§36)

In the report the UN Special Rapporteur recommends that NPMs, NHRIs and other mechanisms should be expressly mandated to carry out regular monitoring of facilities, as undertaken by the Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman.

stuck record
Catalina Aguilar Devandas, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities – UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré.

If the reader harbours any doubts whether care homes for the elderly would fall within the scope of OPCAT Article 4 then this question was robustly addressed in a recent academic article by Australian academic Laura Grenfell titled Aged care, detention and OPCAT, which was published in the Australian Journal of Human Rights earlier this summer. The author advances compelling reasons why such an all-encompassing approach to the notion of deprivation of liberty is required by NPMs.

Even though the Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman remains in essence a complaints-handling body (as opposed to an NPM), its broader approach to the concept of deprivation of liberty can only be welcomed. In view of the reality that OPCAT ratification appears a long way off in Canada, institutions like the Nova Scotia mechanism and its Quebec counter-part continue to fill an important gap in ensuring that at least some degree of independent oversight of places of detention is exercised at the provincial level.


Read the 2018-2019 Annual Report of the Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman in English and French.

Explore more about the activities of the institution in English and French.

See the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities on the rights of older persons with disabilities or read the related press release.

See the UN Special Rapporteur’s 2019 report on the right to security and liberty of person.

Download Laura Grenfell’s excellent journal article, Aged care, detention and OPCAT, in 25(2) Australian Journal of Human Rights (2019).

Posted by mp in Independent detention monitors, OPCAT, Oversight bodies, Places of detention, Young offenders

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

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

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

COPCAT Shorts – New Online Course on CPT Detention Monitoring Standards

A new free online course on the standards developed by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) is now available. The course aims to familiarize human rights actors with the CPT’s key standards concerning the five most important places of deprivation of liberty – police stations, prisons, immigration detention facilities, psychiatric establishments and social care homes.

As a highly respected regional detention monitoring body with 30 years’ experience monitoring places of detention and developing a wealth of standards based on best practice, the CPT has a huge amount to offer Canadian human rights actors and detention oversight mechanisms.

HELP CPT Standards promotional image – copyright Council of Europe (2019).

The official press release launching the online course, describes its content as follows:

The course consists of 6 modules:

Introduction (what is the CPT and how does it work?; CPT visits; interaction between the CPT and other Council of Europe bodies; the CPT and other preventive mechanisms; how to use CPT resources);

Law enforcement (apprehension; arrival at a police station; legal safeguards; police interviews; conditions of detention; appearance before a judge);

Prisons and other penal institutions (admissions procedure; ill-treatment; conditions of detention; health care in prisons; special categories of prisoners; other issues);

Immigration detention (detention as a last resort; legal safeguards during detention; conditions of detention; children; staff; health care; removal of foreign nationals);

Psychiatric establishments (ill-treatment; patient’s living conditions; psychiatric treatment; staff; means of restraint; legal safeguards);

Social care homes (de-institutionalisation; ill-treatment; resident’s living conditions; care; staff; means of restraint; legal safeguards).

The topics are explored in a practical way, through presentations, interactive screens, knowledge tests and reflective exercises.

The course is primarily intended for legal professionals, staff from places of deprivation of liberty, national preventive mechanisms (NPMs) and policy makers, but can be also used by national human rights institutions, civil society organisations, university lecturers and students, etc.”

The course was developed by the Council of Europe HELP Programme (Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals) in close cooperation with the CPT Secretariat. Details of how to access the course can be found in the CPT press release in English and French.


Visit the CPT website for more information about this free online course.

Find out more about the CPT in English and French.

Other CPT detention monitoring documents can be found under Other Resources.

Consider becoming a CPT expert. Deadline closes soon!

Read more about the CPT’s concerns about corruption and human rights.

Posted by mp

New Publication – Preventing and Addressing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Places of Deprivation of Liberty

Fresh off their Warsaw printing presses OSCE-ODIHR has published yet another very welcome practical resource, this time on the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence in places of detention.

On 9 August 2019 the inter-governmental organization released the publication, Preventing and Addressing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Places of Deprivation of Liberty: Standards, Approaches and Examples from the OSCE Region, which – at 170 pages or so in length – tackles this highly topical issue in considerable detail. More importantly, the publication is highly practical and usable too.

As one of the OSCE’s 57 participating States (although this fact is sometimes seemingly forgotten in Canada) the publication has direct relevance in the Canadian context.

The official OSCE-ODIHR description accompanying this new resource reads as follows:

The purpose of this publication is to improve the understanding of sexual and gender-based violence on the part of state actors and civil society, including an understanding of how such violence manifests in places of deprivation of liberty. It also identifies many of the factors that increase the vulnerability of persons deprived of their liberty and aims to contribute to the reduction and eventual elimination of sexual and gender-based violence in places of deprivation of liberty. The publication is primarily intended for policymakers, lawmakers and practitioners from criminal justice systems, including lawyers, prosecutors, judges and anyone else involved in arresting, investigating, interrogating or detaining suspects, those accused of a crime and prisoners or detainees.”

In this respect, the new publication complements very well a number of existing detention related guides currently available to detention monitors, human rights activists and criminal justice practitioners. The APT’s 2018 publication Towards the Effective Protection of LGBTI Persons Deprived of Liberty: A Monitoring Guide springs immediately to mind, which was also featured on this website.

OSCE-ODIHR’s brand-new contribution to the wider literature comprises some seven individual sections, as follows:

  • Introduction
  • Core concepts
  • Background: What do we know about sexual and gender-based violence in places of deprivation of liberty?
  • Risk and needs assessments
  • Reducing risk in specific situations
  • Other measures to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence
  • Conclusion

Three annexes complement the main body of text, highlighting key recommendations drawn from the publication as well as providing a very useful checklist for monitoring visits on sexual and gender-based violence in places of deprivation of liberty.

Solitary confinement
Solitary Confinement by garshna (2013).

The many specific country examples and ECtHR case-law excerpts also very much bring the document alive, adding colour to it and making it highly accessible to the reader. In short, the numerous country examples give the reader much to think about and draw on in their own national contexts.

The publication concludes as follows:

Sexual and gender-based violence in places of deprivation of liberty is preventable and should never be tolerated. This publication has sought to dig deep into this human rights violation and has demonstrated the need to raise awareness of its pervasiveness, enhance research and implement measures for its prevention

The recommendations in this publication serve as guidance for actions to be undertaken to step up OSCE participating States’ monitoring and reporting efforts in relation to SGBV. They should also help them to develop comprehensive methods for upholding human rights by creating appropriate safeguards.

This publication serves as a first step towards more detailed guidance and tools on the topic for practitioners, including both state authorities and non-governmental organizations. ODIHR will continue to raise awareness of this topic, in line with its mandate, and provide support to OSCE participating States willing to eradicate sexual and gender-based violence in places of deprivation of liberty.”

In a word, once again OSCE-ODIHR has made an invaluable contribution to the wider human rights literature on the topic of deprivation of liberty, providing a highly practical guide on what can be done on the ground to counter sexual and gender-based violence in detention.


Download Preventing and Addressing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Places of Deprivation of Liberty: Standards, Approaches and Examples from the OSCE Region in English.

Explore the APT’s Towards the Effective Protection of LGBTI Persons Deprived of Liberty: A Monitoring Guide.

Read other detention related resources here.

Read an overview of two recent UN publications on women in detention, including in Canada.

Posted by mp in Places of detention, Publication, Torture prevention, Women prisoners

COPCAT Shorts – Help Wanted: The CPT seeks Experts

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) is looking to expand its pool of independent experts. This eminent Council of Europe detention monitoring body, comprising representatives of its 47 Member States, is seeking to bolster its internal expertise by drawing on external knowledge and skills in the form of independent experts.

CPT Open Call for Expressions of Interest for Experts press release image – copyright Council of Europe (2019).
European anti-torture

In a press release from 26 July 2019 the CPT stated the following:

The CPT is looking for Experts with recognised competence in one or more of the following fields of activities, preferably with proven experience in visiting places of deprivation of liberty:

Police matters: law enforcement official, specialised judge, prosecutor or other professional with proven experience in the investigation of cases of police ill-treatment/misconduct, academic specialised in police matters, etc.;

Prison issues: academic specialised in prison matters, prison governor, prison officer, specialised judge, prosecutor or other professional supervising prisons, etc.;

Immigration detention: academic or specialised judge or other legal professional dealing with asylum/immigration issues, head of an immigration detention centre, etc.;

Juvenile detention: academic or specialised judge or other legal professional in child-related issues, director or staff member of a juvenile institution, etc.;

Health-care issues: health-care professional (such as a general practitioner, prison doctor, forensic doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist or nurse) with extensive experience in providing health care to persons held in police custody, immigration detention, prisons, psychiatric hospitals or social care institutions, etc.

Human rights experts with experience in working with a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) established under the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture (OPCAT).

Interested experts are invited to submit applications by 16 September 2019. An application file can be obtained by e-mail from: DGI-CPT@coe.int

Canada, clearly not a Member State of the Council of Europe, is, however, one of six states which have ‘observer’ status before the organization.

Articles 7(2), 13 and 14 of the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment outline the roles and functions of such independent experts.

There is no stipulation in the Convention that the independent experts should bear the nationality of a Member State of the Council of Europe. Moreover, no mention of nationality is made in the CPT’s Rules of Procedure.

In a word, there does not seem to be any provision in these texts barring Canadians from applying to the above call for expressions of interest.

In a nutshell, good luck Canadians! And Australians, Armenians, Georgians, Ivorians…


Find out more about the CPT here in English and French.

Learn more about key CPT resources.

Read the full call for expressions of interest in English.

Read the full call for expressions of interest in French.

Posted by mp in Oversight bodies, Places of detention