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The indifference that hurt Adam Capay starts at the top in Canada

In the two weeks since the world woke up to the plight of Adam Capay, two things have become clear.

One, federal and provincial politicians have no intention of accepting responsibility for the multiple factors that conspired to place a young indigenous man in solitary confinement for more than 1,500 days while awaiting trial.

And two, only those same politicians have the power to end this kind of human-rights abuse. The culture of indifference reflected in the treatment of Mr. Capay starts at the top.

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Yes, prison officials in Thunder Bay were responsible for putting Mr. Capay in a cell that was flooded with artificial light 24 hours a day. Yes, they should have been more diligent about ensuring his well-being.

But remember that they did not put Mr. Capay in jail in the first place. Canada's federal and provincial prisons are places where bad people, unwell people and marginalized people are all left at the door by the justice system. Prisons have to take them in, and they have to keep them until someone else says they can leave – regardless of whether or not they have the resources to properly house, protect and treat them.

Many in Canada, including us, say Ottawa and the provinces should ban solitary confinement lasting more than 15 days. But doing that alone will only make the problem worse unless other measures are implemented at the same time.

Our politicians need to reform a system that puts far too many people into the limbo of remand, where they sit endlessly in cells awaiting trial or a bail hearing. They have to find a way for prisons to humanely segregate inmates who legitimately need to be apart from the general population, instead of forcing wardens to improvise solutions in ill-equipped institutions. They need to build more treatment facilities to help prisoners with mental-health issues, whose conditions will only worsen inside a segregation cell, and they need to hire more qualified staff to deal with them.

Not one government in Canada has done any of these things, in spite of public inquests and inquiries that have recommended these very solutions and others. Adam Capay's tormentors weren't there in prison with him. They were in the cozy confines of this nation's legislatures.

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