As a developed western state, Canada likes to think itself above the barbaric practices of other, less democratic states. An important measure of a country’s democratic health is the way it treats marginalized groups. Perhaps the most fitting group to examine in the Canadian context is the aboriginal population who to this day face the implications of British colonialism and years of mistreatment from the federal government. It should come as no surprise, then, that aboriginal peoples make up a disproportionate segment of the prison population. MacLeans even went so far as to characterize prison as the new residential school, and given the story of Adam Capay, this should come as no surprise.
Prior to a change in accommodations last week, Adam Capay had been living in solitary confinement for more than 1500 days, under 24-hour artificial light, inside of a cell made of plexiglass. His ability to communicate as well as his memory have deteriorated. The difference between day and night has become blurred to Mr. Capay, much like the difference between right and wrong has become blurred to the Ontario liberals.
Mr. Capay is being held in a jail in North-Western Ontario. His treatment is an affront to human dignity and is inexcusable. Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that every month a prisoner spends in solitary, a report must be sent to relevant bureaucratic officials. This means that there are four years of reports that have been sent to the ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. Mr. Capay’s circumstances were not the outcome of a singular mistake, which isn’t excusable but could at least be understandable; instead, this was a mistake that was made over 50 times. It is incomprehensible that the Minister would not have noticed the same name appearing on solitary reports for four years.
Yet there are some benefits to come from the situation. Mr. Capay’s circumstances were brought to the attention of the Ontario Human Rights Commission during a tour of the prison. Attention was drawn to this, not by the Human Rights commissioner stumbling upon the solitary cell, or a tip-off from the government, but rather a complaint from a correctional officer (CO) working at the prison. This is important for two reasons: first, it encourages and inspires similar behavior. If COs all over the country act when they see malpractice and misconduct, then the government would be forced to deal with the aberrant conditions in many Canadian jails. And second, it dispels the notion that COs are perilously afflicted with group think. Looking to conversations in the aftermath of Capay’s treatment coming to light, COs rallied around the decision to keep Capay in solitary; a decision which they can hardly be blamed for given the limited options in pre-trial custody. Notwithstanding the reaction of the community, this shows that COs are capable of acting against their social order in the name of morality. All that it takes is one officer to step outside of the norm for someone’s suffering to be alleviated.
Outside of a change in accommodation for Mr. Capay, the outcome from this situation will bring no short-term benefit. Mr. Capay will almost certainly be pardoned for his alleged transgressions in light of his treatment over the past four years leaving victims without justice. Really, this is a lesson that the government needs to learn; there is a crisis in our corrections system. We don’t have the resources to move offenders through the justice system fast enough and, as a result, many people will wait for trial in inhumane conditions for years. This is heightened by the lack of a clear federal standard. It is true that Canada has a singular criminal code, and yet a courthouse in Ottawa will get through under five bail hearings a day, while one in Winnipeg will see over 50. Giving the system some uniformity, and productivity minimums will certainly help the process even though this is only half the battle. Canada needs to start looking at underlying problems causing crime while improving the efficiency of the criminal justice system.