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PRISON ADMINISTRATION - Segregation of prisoners

Wednesday, May 26, 2021 @ 6:25 AM  

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Appeal by the defendant, Ontario, from a summary judgment in a class proceeding related to the administrative segregation of inmates in correctional institutions. The administrative segregation system in Ontario contemplated solitary confinement where, in the opinion of the superintendent, an inmate needed protection or segregation was required to protect institutional security or other inmates, or in cases of serious misconduct or at the request of the inmate. The representative plaintiff was held in remand for over two years awaiting trial on charges in connection with a bank robbery. He suffered from serious mental illness. He was placed in administrative segregation on two occasions due to refusal to take mental health medication. The class action sought declaratory relief and damages based on negligence and infringement of class members’ Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter) rights. Class members included inmates with serious mental illness, and inmates left in segregation for 15 or more days between 2015 and 2018. The motion judge found that Ontario owed a duty of care to class members, breached that duty of care, and that the administrative segregation system breached class members’ ss. 7 and 12 Charter rights. The judge awarded aggregate Charter damages against Ontario totalling $30 million. Ontario appealed.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. The motion judge did not err in finding that detaining inmates with serious mental illness in administrative segregation for any duration of time violated ss. 7 and 12 of the Charter. The finding was justified in law and reasonably available on the evidence. Based on the Brazeau and Reddock precedents, the motion judge did not err in finding that Charter damages were an appropriate and just remedy. State conduct showing a clear disregard for unconstitutional consequences was the antithesis of good governance. The information relied upon by the motion judge fully justified the conclusion that Ontario’s clear disregard for the Charter rights of the inmates precluded any reliance on good governance concerns, especially in the absence of any statutory provision mandating or directing the use of administrative segregation in Ontario jails. Although it was not technically necessary to consider the negligence claim given the Charter findings, the motion judge did not err in holding Ontario liable in negligence, or that any such claim was statute-barred by the Crown Liability and Proceedings Act as arising in relation to a matter of policy.

Francis v. Ontario, [2021] O.J. No. 1629, Ontario Court of Appeal, D.H. Doherty, I.V.B. Nordheimer and A.L. Harvison Young JJ.A., March 31, 2021. Digest No. TLD-May242021004