Canada’s treatment of female inmates with mental health issues violates international law, a new report claims.
According to the report by the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program, the mental health strategy in Canadian prisons is under-resourced, poorly managed and uses excessive force.
Although the Conservative government introduced mandatory assessments for inmates within 90 days of their sentences, critics say what’s being ignored is what happens after that.
The research, compiled by Renu Mandhane, director of the U of T program, includes an example of a female inmate who was only able to meet with a psychiatrist twice a week for 10 minutes at a time.
“Many of them, 50 per cent, engage in self harm -- cutting, suicide attempts -- while they’re in prison,” Mandhane said.
Experts say this is in part because inmates have nowhere to turn.
The report cites the case of Ashley Smith, a 19-year-old woman who choked herself to death in a Kitchener, Ont., prison in October 2007.
Smith suffered from mental health problems and had been repeatedly moved through prisons and other facilities during her time in custody.
“Ms. Smith died due to the state’s conviction that solitary confinement is a legitimate response to mental illness, coupled with systemic discrimination against federally sentenced women who have inadequate mental health treatment and community support,” the report states.
The report, called “Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading? Canada's Treatment of Federally-Sentenced Women with Mental Health Issues,” finds that the Canadian corrections system violates its obligations under international law in several ways.
Among the violations the report cites are the violation of the right to health, discrimination, and the violation of the right to information.
The report calls for the mental health strategy to be improved because such violations have “wide-ranging implications for civil and political rights the world over.
“Canada is seen as a global leader in corrections and in our treatment of the disabled. We cannot allow other states to look to us to justify their similar failures,” it says.