location: news

June 11, 2010


A judgment released this week by Justice McEwen of the British Columbia Supreme Court demonstrates the critical role of the courts in upholding respect for the rule of law and the human rights of prisoners, at a time when this respect is being eroded by both federal and provincial governments. In ruling on a habeas corpus petition brought by James Bacon challenging the conditions of solitary confinement at the Surrey Pretrial Centre, Justice McEwan criticized both the correctional administration and the provincial Attorney General for their disregard of fundamental human rights. In the course of a lengthy judgment reciting the relevant international human rights norms and their reflection in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, he stated: “The petitioner is kept in physical circumstances that have been condemned internationally. … These conditions would be deplorable in any civilized society, and are certainly unworthy of ours. They reflect a distressing level of neglect. On top of this, the petitioner is only allowed out at random times. He is denied almost all human contact. His treatment by the administration and the guards is highly arbitrary and further accentuates his powerlessness.” (para 292) “The undoubtedly correct proposition that incarcerated persons retain their rights other than those taken away for reasons that are clearly justified, has atrophied into the operational use of “privileges” to describe such rights (see s. 2 of the Correction Act Regulation). This shift reflects and abets a mentality, obvious throughout the respondent’s treatment of the petitioner, that all is denied that is not granted in the discretion of the prison administration. This is a fundamental affront to the concept of human dignity.” (para 351) To read the full judgment go to: http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/SC/10/08/2010BCSC0805.htm

Michael Jackson