The Regional Psychiatric Centre is a multi-level security facility that specializes in forensic psychiatry in Saskatoon. Inmates who reside there have been sentenced for two years or more. While this is a professional facility, the treatment of inmates under the care of the federal government would shock many Canadians.
The facility under scrutiny is located north of Preston Crossing, and is leased to Corrections Canada by the University of Saskatchewan. To emphasize the relationship, the U of S crest is on a sign by the entrance to the RPC.
In Canada, being placed in solitary confinement, or segregation, means a denial of any meaningful social interaction with other humans. An inmate will be locked in a small room for 23 hours a day. The remaining hour is meant for exercise time and maybe a shower. There may or may not be a window. There may or may not be a mattress. They do not interact with anyone other than the guards, and even that is limited.
Ashley Smith spent four years in prison for minor crimes, most of which time was in solitary confinement. When she entered prison, she had been cleared as having no mental illnesses, yet on her first day in custody she was put in segregation. She was initially supposed to have a short stay, but had many disciplinary issues and spent more time in prison than originally appointed. Sadly, Smith hung herself while in solitary confinement.
Juan Mendez, a United Nations expert on torture, has stated that there should be an “absolute prohibition” on solitary confinement that is in excess of 15 days as it can amount to torture. It’s been called cruel and inhumane and several studies, such as “Risky Business: An Investigation of the Treatment and Management of Chronic Self-injury Among Federally Sentenced Women” conducted by the office of the Correctional Investigator, have demonstrated that permanent mental damage can be done when segregation exceeds 15 days.
In Canada, there is no requirement for a review of the decision to place someone in solitary confinement unless 30 days in solitary have gone by. The average stay in segregation in Canadian facilities is 40 days.
At the RPC at least two women spent 18 months in seclusion. Several others have alleged similar treatments. While the use of solitary confinement is common enough in Canada that many assume it is not torture, the evidence clearly suggests that the way that it is used constitutes such a label.
What Ashley Smith went through isn’t necessarily the only mistreatment experienced by inmates at these types of facilities. The people at the RPC often have serious mental disorders which can result in acts of self-harm that the facility is unwilling or unable to address adequately.
One common way the RPC addresses acts of self-harm is through the use of a Pinel waist belt or a Broda Chair, devices that essentially restrain someone to a chair or bed and make them unable to move. There are inmates who have spent months in these devices for up to 23 hours a day.
At least one woman was reportedly tied down naked, menstruating and without a tampon or other product for it. These types of actions are often part of a “treatment plan” and aren’t recorded as a use of force. It is extremely difficult to see how this is useful for either the rehabilitation or treatment of the person being restrained or for Canadian society.
Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual punishment. The treatment provided through segregation and Pinel waist bands clearly disregards human dignity and causes direct physical, psychological and emotional harm to these mentally ill individuals.
The Correctional Investigator has also stated that there should be a prohibition from constructing padded cells in Canada. Commonly seen in pop culture, padded cells are rarely used in real life. This is partly because they are prone to being used in acts of abuse by guards and partly because they are used for chronic self-harmers who will likely only more significantly hurt themselves in a padded cell.
Despite this, there is a single padded cell remaining in Canada — cell E99 at the RPC.
All of this presents a dilemma which the administration of this university has completely and deliberately ignored. At the Oct. 20 senate meeting this year, university president Ilene Busch-Vishniac was asked about the current circumstances at the RPC. She replied only that Corrections Canada sets policy at the RPC. That is, there is no apparent plan in place to work toward the goal of respecting human rights at a psychiatric facility on U of S property.
It is difficult to imagine that these kinds of circumstances exist in Canada, but they do. They continue to function uninterrupted on land owned by our own university. Perhaps we should all ask our Chancellor, our Board of Governors, our President and our Vice-Presidents why this is.
This article was researched and written by law students Leif Jensen, Lindsey Cybulskie, Heather Franklin and Dan LeBlanc.
Photo: Jordan Dumba/Graphics Editor