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Solitary constitutional fight

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association says the federal government has announced it will appeal a B.C. court decision that finds indefinite solitary confinement is unconstitutional.

The ruling was handed down last month following a challenge by the association and the John Howard Society of Canada.

Association executive director Josh Paterson says he's shocked by the appeal because the federal Liberals pledged during the election campaign to end so-called administrative segregation.

He says the appeal shows they intend to fight to save a system that breaks the law and makes society less safe.

In his Jan. 17 decision, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Peter Leask found indefinite segregation undermines the safety and security of inmates, staff and the public.

The Crown argued the practice was reasonable and necessary, but the judge accepted the association's position that solitary confinement is cruel, inhumane and can lead to severe psychological trauma.

The ruling was suspended for 12 months to give the federal government time to draft new legislation, which Leask said must include strict time limits on segregation.

Following the decision, Paterson said the civil liberties association wrote to the federal ministers of Justice and Public Safety, seeking an end to further court action.

"Having won in court, we extended a hand to the government to work together to fix this problem to no avail. Despite us reaching out, to date, the federal government has given us no response other than filing this appeal," Paterson said in a news release.

At the time of the January judgement, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the federal government was reviewing it and "is committed to addressing the needs of the most vulnerable in the federal correctional system."

Caily DiPuma, the acting litigation director for the civil liberties association said prisoners continue to spend weeks, months and even years in small cells without human contact, and she called the federal appeal "another example of justice deferred" for the vulnerable and marginalized.

"We will not turn our backs to them, nor will Canadians. We will fight this appeal," she said in the association's statement.



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