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Solitary confinement bill passes in Senate with changes supported by 100 lawyers

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OTTAWA — A bill that aims to end solitary confinement has passed in the Senate with a number of amendments — changes a large group of lawyers and law societies say are necessary to ensure the bill stays on the right side of the law.

Senators passed Bill C-83 at third reading Wednesday, complete with a package of amendments including adding judicial oversight to decisions about isolating prisoners, more supports for inmates with mental illnesses and community-based options for rehabilitating Indigenous people and members of other vulnerable populations. 

Now, it will be up to the Liberal government to decide whether to accept the proposed changes. More than 100 legal experts say the bill would be unconstitutional if passed without the amendments.

“It has already been decided in two separate decisions (in B.C. and Ontario courts) that segregation without a cap and without independent oversight violates the Charter,” the lawyers wrote in a letter sent to senators this week.

“With respect, we submit that passing a bill while knowing full well that it is unconstitutional is not only a waste of taxpayers’ money, but it also raises questions regarding Canada’s commitment to the rule of law.”

Last October, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced Bill C-83 would end the practice of segregating federal prisoners who pose risks to security or to themselves.

Inmates who do pose risks would instead be moved to new “structured intervention units,” where they are supposed to get better programming and mental-health care, and more contact with other people.

In their letter, the lawyers say they believe these new units are solitary confinement under a different name — a concern that has been echoed by a number of human-rights organizations.

The lawyers and legal scholars who signed the letter are urging the government to pass the bill with the amendments made by the Senate committee that studied the issue.

“We believe that these amendments transform what was a meaningless bill into a document that has the potential to make some positive changes in the lives of prisoners and uphold Canada’s international human rights obligations.”

Sen. Kim Pate, who sponsored many of the changes and who has been a lifelong advocate for prisoners’ rights, said she remains optimistic the Liberal government will accept the revisions.

But if the changes that would have judges examine isolation decisions are not accepted, she said it will remain unconstitutional.

“I think the amendments will be recognized for what they are — that they actually strengthen the legislation, they help the government pursue their very laudable stated objectives of the bill and my hope is that they will be accepted.”

Goodale’s spokesperson, Scott Bardsley, said the minister will announce the government’s response to the Senate’s amendments within days.

But he also said the minister vigorously disagrees that Bill C-83 just preserves solitary confinement under a different name, and stressed the new intervention units will be qualitatively different: inmates will be legally entitled to meaningful human contact every day, and programs and rehabilitation will be provided.

As for judicial oversight, Bardsley said having isolation decisions reviewed by judges on a routine basis “would be a considerable and unnecessary burden on the court system.”

“C-83 not only creates a new way of managing inmates who need to be separated for safety reasons, it also creates meaningful external review of those placements,” Bardsley said.

Independent external decision-makers will be added to review cases if inmates don’t get their minimum hours out of their cells or minimum hours of meaningful human contact within a prescribed time period.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

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Crime

Ontario doctor alleged to have killed 4 people around same date in 2021: documents

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HAWKESBURY, Ont. — Court documents allege an eastern Ontario doctor killed four people around the same date in 2021.

Dr. Brian Nadler was initially charged with first-degree murder last year in the death of 89-year-old Albert Poidinger at the Hawkesbury and District General Hospital.

At the time, police said they were investigating the doctor in connection with several other deaths at the hospital.

Ontario Provincial Police laid three additional charges of first-degree murder against Nadler on Wednesday, in the deaths of 80-year-old Claire Briere, 79-year-old Lorraine Lalande and 93-year-old Judith Lungulescu. But they declined to provide details on the new charges, including when and where the three died.

Court documents allege Poidinger was killed on March 25, 2021, and the three others “on or about” that date.

The documents say Briere, Lalande and Lungulescu also died in Hawkesbury, Ont.

Nadler’s lawyers have said their client maintains his innocence.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Brian Greenspan, David Humphrey and Naomi Lutes said Nadler provided “excellent palliative care” to the four patients, who they said died from COVID-19.

The doctor was released on bail in July of last year, and his lawyers said he was released again under the same conditions after his arrest this week.

Those conditions include that Nadler remain in Canada, reside at an approved address and notify police of any address change. He is also forbidden from practising medicine and from communicating with employees, patients and relatives of patients at the Hawkesbury hospital.

The case is set to return to court on Sept. 7.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2022.

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Human Interest

Wolf missing from Vancouver zoo found safe, returned to pack

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ALDERGROVE, B.C. — A wolf missing from a British Columbia zoo has been found safe and returned to its pack.

The Greater Vancouver Zoo says in a statement the discovery of the one-year-old female canine known as Tempest puts an end to a three-day search and rescue operation.

It does not say where the wolf was found or elaborate on her condition, but it says the zoo in Aldergrove, B.C., will re-open Saturday.

Menita Prasad, the zoo’s deputy general manager, said Thursday that nine wolves escaped after a perimeter fence and their enclosure were deliberately “compromised.”

Workers and conservation officers began searching for the wolves after the escape was discovered Tuesday morning, while the RCMP is investigating the incident as a suspected case of unlawful entry and vandalism.

A three-year-old female wolf called Chia was found dead on a roadside, while all others have now been accounted for.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2022.

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