Prison isolation needed in some cases: government

VANCOUVER — A lawyer for the Canadian government is urging a judge not to strike down the country’s solitary confinement law, saying the practice can be necessary to protect the safety of people and the institution.

Mitchell Taylor delivered closing arguments Wednesday at a trial for a constitutional challenge of indefinite segregation filed by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada.

Prisoners need to be isolated at times, Taylor argued, including when they pose a threat to others or are in danger of being harmed in the general population.

“Administrative segregation is, in our submission, a reasonable, necessary tool for the safety and security of people — inmates and staff — and for the institution,” he said in B.C. Supreme Court.

The current regime limits the practice to certain situations, for the shortest possible amount of time and as a last resort after all other alternatives have been ruled out, he said.

Taylor said if Justice Peter Leask finds problems with the law, he should not strike it down, but rather identify the issues with it and allow Parliament to address them.

The federal government introduced a bill in June that would set an initial time limit for segregation of 21 days, with a reduction to 15 days once the legislation is law for 18 months.

It attempted to stop the trial, saying the bill addressed the concerns raised by the lawsuit, but the judge rejected the argument. Therefore the trial has focused on the current system, not the proposed law.

Joe Arvay, a lawyer for the civil liberties association and the John Howard Society, has asked Leask to strike down the current law and instruct the government to set a 15-day limit and establish external oversight.

Arvay said the law violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and there are many inmates in Canada that have been in solitary confinement for months or years, including one who has been segregated for 18 years.

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