Youth segregation standards in Alberta need to be legislated, ombudsman says

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Guidelines for the use of segregation at youth correctional facilities in Edmonton and Calgary are not put into legislation which puts Alberta out of step with most other Canadian provinces.  (CBC - image credit)
Guidelines for the use of segregation at youth correctional facilities in Edmonton and Calgary are not put into legislation which puts Alberta out of step with most other Canadian provinces. (CBC - image credit)

Alberta needs to legislate how and when a youth in provincial correctional facilities can be moved into solitary confinement, the province's ombudsman says.

"This is a deviation in that most other Canadian provinces include reasons for segregation in their relevant provincial legislation," Marianne Ryan wrote in a report released this week.

"I believe it is in Alberta's best interest to develop legislation and put to paper laws defining and governing the use of segregation," Ryan said.

The report urges the provincial government to put guidelines into the Youth Justice Act governing when a youth can be segregated, how the practice is defined and tracked, and how the confinement can be reviewed or appealed.

The report recommends Alberta provide a youth in segregation two hours a day for "meaningful contact." The term must be defined within policy, with a focus on rehabilitation and reintegration, it said.

A review revealed Alberta was one of only a few Canadian provinces that did not legislature standards for youth segregation.

"Most other provinces do have something in legislation for young offenders when it comes to segregation," said Kamini Bernard, manager of investigations for the ombudsman's Calgary office.

"We are a bit of an outlier when it comes to that."

Segregation is a tactic correctional facilities use to separate an inmate at risk of harming others or themselves.

'Abitrary' detention

The lack of legislation has forced the province's correctional division and the two youth correctional facilities to come up with their own policies.

A provincial court ruling from 2018 highlighted the risk of such an approach.

A judge stayed an assault charge after ruling a 16-year-old youth was unlawfully placed in solitary confinement for two years.

Judge Geoffrey Ho found the teen was confined more than 22 hours a day, a violation of the United Nations Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, more commonly known as the Nelson Mandela Rules.

He said the boy was placed in a "prison within a prison" and had no access to appeal or review by an independent body.

"There was absolutely no legislation," the youth's lawyer Karen McGowan said in an interview with CBC News on Monday. "So that meant that my client's detention was arbitrary because there was no legislation."

The Alberta government is open to making changes.

A letter by Dennis Cooley, associate deputy minister in the ministry of Justice and Solicitor General, included with the ombudsman's report said the government accepts the report's recommendations.