Canadian Government Faces Lawsuit Over Abuse Of Mentally Ill Prisoners

 A new class action lawsuit being launched in Canada, is demanding at least $600 million be paid from the Canadian Government in damages to mentally ill prisoners over claims that they were mistreated in federal prisons over the last two decades. The lawsuit is the first of its kind and it accuses the federal government of failing to provide adequate health care for the inmates suffering from mental illness. The lawsuit also alleges that the government's excessive use of solitary confinement as punishment for prisoners, most often will worsen any existing mental health problems that the inmates might have, or create one where there wasn't before.


Prisons are frequently placed in solitary confinement throughout Canada, and this would mean that prisoners are isolated in a cell for 23 hours a day; sometimes they will be placed here for years at a time. In Canada, one out of four federal prisoners has spent time in solitary confinement. The government refers to this solitary confinement as “administrate segregation.” At any given time, there are as many as roughly 1800 people in solitary confinement in federal or provincial Canadian prisons. The excessive use of solitary confinement is still in play, according to this lawsuit, even though organizations like the UN Committee against Torture, have long ago concluded that prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement can amount to torture of an individual. Solitary confinement can create or worsen mental illness, promoting hallucinations, insomnia, confusion, psychosis, and it is a major risk factor for prison suicide. The prison system itself has even acknowledged that the use of this segregation, especially for those suffering from mental health issues and women offenders, “worsens overall mental health and psychological functioning.”

“Federal penitentiaries are becoming Canada's largest repositories for the mentally ill,” according to the statement of claim that was filed in Toronto last week. The lawyer in charge of the case is James Sayce, who says that he couldn't “just sit back and let the abuses continue.” If the court allows the case to move ahead, it could potentially compensate hundreds of mentally ill federal inmates dating back to 1992. However, it isn't clear just how many cases there would be and for now the only individual listed in the suit is 34-year-old Chris Brazeau who suffers from ADHD, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder; he is serving a 12-year sentence for armed robbery in Alberta.


Brazeau claims that while behind bars he has sometimes had to go without access to his prescribed medications, as well as medical treatment for his health issues. On one occasion, Brazeau allegedly spent one year in solitary confinement, which resulted in the worsening of his mental health problems. According to the lawsuit, Brazeau suffered with anxiety, depression, auditor hallucinations, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. They aren't the only ones bringing attention to this issue either, social justice and civil liberties advocates have been voicing their concerns about solitary confinement for many years now. Earlier this year, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) launched a separate lawsuit against the federal government, stating that the practice of solitary confinement was a constitutional violation and therefore amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. For now, the government has yet to respond to the claims made in the lawsuit naming Brazeau. Thus far, the Canadian government has been rather firm in asserting the notion that solitary confinement in federal prisons should be an accepted practice.




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