Class action to compensate Manitoba inmates in segregation

The class action lawsuit seeks compensation for damages from the Government of Manitoba for former and current inmates who have been in solitary confinement for at least 15 consecutive days in a provincial jail since December 1992.

A dungeon inside a prison

Solitary confinement is a dungeon inside a prison, according to the statement filed May 21 in the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench in Winnipeg.

Segregation cells are often smaller than parking spaces and often windowless. Detainees often sleep on mats on the floor. Cells are often covered with gunk, blood and feces, indicates the complaint.

The class action lawsuit defines solitary confinement as segregation in a room or area without any significant human contact for at least 22 hours a day.

The complaint alleges that after only a short period of isolation, the physical and mental health of any prisoner deteriorates. This damage is often irreversible and will have a substantial and lasting effect..

Call for reform

Young prisoners and people with serious mental illness are particularly vulnerable due to their disability and age, indicates the court document. Persons belonging to these two categories are included in the prosecution if they have been placed in segregation for any period in a provincial prison.

Toronto lawyer James Sayce says thousands of people have potentially suffered harm as a result of their isolation in Manitoba prisons since 1992

Photo : Shelagh Howard Photography

Hopefully this case will push the province to reform its practices said James Sayce, a Toronto lawyer in charge of the case, noting that other provinces and the federal government have made changes.

Allegations never brought before the Manitoba court

A spokesperson for the Manitoba justice minister released a statement saying he would not comment because this case is before the courts.

Class actions regarding the use of solitary confinement have already been filed in other provinces, such as Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia, as well as for cases involving inmates in federal prisons.

In April 2020, an Ontario case resulted in the award of $ 30 million in damages to detainees.

Serious and lasting damage according to the complaint

One of the complainants, Virgil Charles Gamblin, 32, is described in the complaint as an Indigenous man born in Norway House and held at The Pas Correctional Center. The document indicates that he was placed in segregation, 22 hours a day in December 2020, and that he was still there when the lawsuit was filed, in May 2021.

Manitoba lawsuit seeks declaration that the use of solitary confinement violated inmates’ rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual treatment .

Photo: The Canadian Press

The other representative of the plaintiffs, a 17-year-old man locked up in the Manitoba Youth Centre, was placed in segregation for the first time at the age of 15, according to the complaint.

There it is alleged that he was held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day for almost 40 days between March 2 and April 8 of this year.

The document mentions that the adolescent’s experiences in isolation had devastating emotional and psychological consequences .

They are showing real courage in putting their name on this application and representing thousands of other people who are in the same situation.said Toronto lawyer James Sayce, who filed the class action suit.

The lawsuit cites 11 reports published in Canada and internationally that find solitary confinement causes detainees harm which cannot be justified and which this practice should cease.

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