Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading? Canada’s Treatment of Federally-Sentenced Women with Mental Health Issues

The International Human Rights Program’s damning report, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading? Canada’s Treatment of Federally-Sentenced Women with Mental Health Issues concludes that the Correctional Service’s treatment of female prisoners with serious mental health issues is discriminatory, violates the rights to liberty and security of person, access to justice, and health, and in some circumstances constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The report, released during Canadian Mental Health Week and National Elizabeth Fry Week, May 7-13, concludes Canada is failing to uphold its international human rights obligations.
While several reports have analyzed Ashley Smith’s in-custody death at Ontario’s Grand Valley Institution for Women in 2007, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading? includes case studies of women with serious mental health issues who remain incarcerated and who cannot access essential mental health treatment and continue to face prolonged segregation, incarceration far away from their families and communities, and the use of force.
The report finds that Canada’s blatant and continued violation of the rights of federally-sentenced women with mental health issues has wide-ranging implications for civil and political rights around the world. “Canada is seen as a global leader in corrections and disability rights,” says Renu Mandhane, IHRP director. “When Canada fails to show leadership, we set the bar far too low.”
Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading? was researched and written by two second-year law students, Elizabeth Bingham and Rebecca Sutton, as part of their participation in the IHRP’s award winning legal clinic. “My work on this project has solidified my interest in protecting the rights of those with mental illness,” says Bingham, who will be working at the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction in Toronto this summer.  “Last year, I was doing human rights work in Darfur, and I was surprised at the serious human rights abuses occurring right here at home,” says Sutton.

The findings of the report were featured on the front page of Canada’s largest circulation newspaper, the Toronto Star today, here.
Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading? is available for download here.
A pdf of this press release is available for download here.
(From the news release)