location: publications / books / Prisoners of Isolation: Solitary Confinement in Canada / Chapter 5 The Penitentiaries’ Response to the McCann Case: Canada’s New Prisons of Isolation / The Parliamentary Subcommittee and the Justice Model of Corrections


The Heald judgment in McCann and the Vantour Report should have provided a major impetus for change in the conditions and regime of segregation. As of the end of 1976 neither of them had had this desired effect. As I have already mentioned, major disturbances broke out in three of Canada’s maximum-security penitentiaries in the fall of 1976, leading to a parliamentary investigation. The report of the Parliamentary Subcommittee on the Penitentiary System in Canada was not specifically concerned with segregation, but sought to grapple with what it perceived to be the underlying problems and issues in the penitentiary system. One of those problems was ‘the fact that imprisonment -the ultimate product of our system of criminal justice -itself epitomizes injustice.’27 To correct this fundamental flaw in the system, the subcommittee endorsed two principles:

Principle 11
The Rule of Law must prevail inside Canadian penitentiaries.

Principle 12
Justice for inmates is a personal right and also an essential condition of their socialization and personal reformation. It implies both respect for their persons and property of others and fairness in treatment. Arbitrariness traditionally associated with prison life must be replaced by clear rules, fair disciplinary procedures and the providing of reasons for all decisions affecting inmates.28

The subcommittee, reporting after the decision in Martineau (No.1) but prior to the decision in Martineau (No.2), concluded that ‘a fundamental problem lies in the general restraint by the courts in exercising their power to ensure that Canadian law applies within as well as outside penitentiaries.’29 The subcommittee, while critical of the hands-off approach of the Canadian courts, felt that ensuring that the rule of law prevailed behind prison walls was at the outset a task requiring legislative and administrative initiative. The subcommittee recommended that the commissioner’s directives be consolidated into a consistent code of regulations having the force of law for both prisoners and staff;3O that independent chairpersons be appointed immediately in all institutions to preside over disciplinary hearings;31 that an inmate grievance procedure be established in which prisoners had a substantial role;32 and, specifically in relation to administrative segregation; which the report called a ‘euphemism for solitary confinement,’ that, in accordance with the Vantour Report, ‘there must be a Segregation Review Board and due notice in writing of the Board’s decisions.’33 The subcommittee noted that it had considered the question of independent chairpersons presiding over segregation review boards, but felt that the proposals of the Vantour Report should be tried and reconsidered after two years of experience.34

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