Last Updated on January 24, 2019
Solitary confinement is defined as the physical and social isolation for more than 22 hours a day. Indefinite solitary confinement is considered prolonged if it exceeds 15 days. Not only does prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement result in serious psychological harm, it is regarded as cruel and unusual treatment amounting to torture when inflicted on adults.
In January 2016, Mohamed, a 16-year-old Syrian, arrived in Canada, alone. He had been sent to Canada by his parents in a bid to escape the brutal war currently raging in Syria. Mohamed’s parents had heard of Canada accepting 25000 Syrian refugees. Unfortunately, Mohamed was greeted at the airport by the Canada Border Services Agency, apprehended and sent to the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre, where he was placed in isolation for three weeks.
The unaccompanied minor was requesting asylum in Canada and instead found himself in a desolate situation. For minors, the effects of solitary confinement are amplified. The human brain undergoes significant changes in adolescence and continues to develop into early adulthood. Mohamed was allowed out for less than an hour each day to play basketball alone in the snow. For three weeks Mohamed lived in near-complete social isolation, with only a television for company.
Despite having merely asked for refuge, Mohamed was treated as a criminal and to make matters worse, rather than apologize for this abuse, the CBSA is now seeking to deport him.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has stated that solitary confinement should not be used for anyone under 18 years of age for any period of time. This prohibition applies regardless of circumstance; there is no disciplinary or administrative objective that can justify placing a child in solitary confinement. Last month, U.S. President Barack Obama banned solitary confinement for juveniles in U.S. federal prisons.
As an unaccompanied minor asylum seeker, this person should never have been imprisoned under these conditions. The lack of statutory prohibitions against the use of solitary confinement for juveniles allows its continual use in Canada. The policy, a holdover from the former Conservative government, must be abolished for juveniles.
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