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In Ontario, the solitary confinement abuses just keep coming

The more one learns about Ontario's irresponsible use of solitary confinement, the more it feels as if that irresponsibility has veered into criminal neglect.

We already knew that Adam Capay, a young indigenous man, has spent more than four years in solitary confinement in a decrepit Thunder Bay jail while awaiting trial on a charge of murder.

This shocking human rights violation has been made even more appalling by revelations that, until recently, Mr. Capay was kept in a cell lined with thick acrylic sheeting, that his lights were left on 24 hours a day, and that various ministers of Correctional Services ignored monthly reports about his prolonged mistreatment.

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Now we learn that another inmate died in the same acrylic-lined cell that was Mr. Capay's home for 52 months. Christopher Coaster, a Native Canadian, was found lifeless on August 3, 2008. He had been placed in solitary four days earlier for violating a bail condition that prohibited him from drinking.

That judges in Ontario still order alcoholics and other addicts to quit cold turkey under pain of sanction is in itself cruel and stupid. But that Mr. Coaster, as a consequence of just such an order, was forced to suffer through grave withdrawal symptoms – while locked in an airless plastic box in the August heat – elevates his case into the realm of wanton disregard for an inmate's well-being.

"It was horrible," said Robert McKenzie, a jail sergeant at the time, said during the coroner's inquest into Mr. Coaster's death. "He dehydrated to death and boiled to death in there."

The Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne focuses more energy on courting donations from beer companies than it does worrying about an alcoholic man who dies after being thrown into solitary confinement for a minor administrative offence.

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It has ignored coroner's reports calling for urgent reforms – including multiple calls to close the Thunder Bay jail – and it just recently declined to place limits on the use of solitary in administrative cases like that of Mr. Coaster.

The Ontario government's chronic indifference to a well-documented problem has had deadly consequences. The same government says changes are coming, but no belated reform can do anything for Christopher Coaster.

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