Conducting important research regarding the regulation of solitary confinement

The Pro Bono Cause

Solitary confinement is used in prisons around the world, affecting hundreds of thousands of prisoners, including prisoners in Canada. In the past year, it has been the subject of attention by The Globe and Mail and other media outlets, and new legislation overhauling the rules for solitary confinement in federal prisons will come into force in November 2019. As the Ontario Court of Appeal recently noted [PDF], the distinguishing feature of solitary confinement is the elimination of meaningful social interaction or stimulus, and it has the potential to cause serious harm which could be permanent.1

The Anti-Torture Initiative, led by Juan E. Mendez, WCL Professor of Human Rights Law in Residence, at the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at the American University Washington College of Law and the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice (Vance Center) recently commissioned a special study of the regulation of solitary confinement [PDF] in certain United Nations member states. This study, co-authored by U.S.-based law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP (Weil), was presented at the United Nations in 2016 and provided a much-needed comparative analysis of the regulation of solitary confinement for policymakers and practitioners.

The study was expanded in 2018/2019, and Weil and the Vance Center required support from law firms in various jurisdictions, including Osler, to complete the second phase.

The Osler Pro Bono Connection

On Weil’s request, Osler provided pro bono research and analysis for the Canadian component of the second phase of the study, which builds on the initial report, including answering a questionnaire consisting of 31 questions pertaining to the regulation of solitary confinement in Canada. The following lawyers contributed a combined total of more than a hundred hours of pro bono work: Mary Paterson, Sonja Pavic, Louis Tsilivis, Kathryn Hart, Adam Schoenborn, Tim Mitchell and Mark Graham and were supported by articling students Tina Saban and Jake Schmidt.

Volunteer Reflections

“Our team was grateful for the opportunity to play a part in the international effort to improve the practices of prolonged solitary confinement. The current regime governing solitary confinement in Canada is broken and requires significant reform — which our courts recently acknowledged. Our hope is that the research and analysis we contributed will be used to advocate for more humane treatment of inmates both worldwide and in Canada.” Sonja Pavic

John Macfarlane

Sonja Pavic: Litigation Associate

1 Canadian Civil Liberties Association v. Canada (Attorney General), 2019 ONCA 243 at para 1.