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Internet ban in Canadian prisons is unconstitutional because it blocks access to education, new lawsuit alleges

July 03, 2024

The Toronto Star reports this week on a new lawsuit we have launched with co-counsel, Paul Quick, on behalf of the John Howard Society of Canada and an inmate serving time at an Ontario correctional facility.

The lawsuit alleges that denying inmates access to computers and the internet for educational, vocational, cultural, rehabilitative, and reintegrative purposes and purposes related to legal proceedings (subject to such controls as are necessary to protect institutional and public safety and security) is a breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As the Toronto Star reports:

Noting how colleges and universities that once offered paper correspondence programs have shifted almost entirely online, the lawsuit by the John Howard Society and a prisoner serving a life sentence argues that the Correctional Service of Canada’s internet ban — and “woefully inadequate” access to computers in general — infringes prisoners’ “fundamental right to freedom of expression,” which includes the right to receive information.

It also argues that the internet ban and overall technological deprivation behind bars undermines the correctional service’s mandate to prepare prisoners to successfully reintegrate in society.

The Star notes that taking courses has a dramatic impact on recidivism:

Earlier this year, a Star investigation showed how the lack of internet access in Canadian prisons has made it nearly impossible for prisoners to pursue college or university programs behind bars, despite significant evidence that taking post-secondary courses while incarcerated dramatically reduces the likelihood that a prisoner will reoffend.

The Star story also describes some of the evidence in the case, which demonstrates that other countries safely provide access to computers and the internet to incarcerated individuals and has a discriminatory effect on disabled individuals:

The lawsuit, which is supported by affidavits from current and former prisoners, as well as information technology and corrections experts, notes how several other countries provide varying degrees of controlled internet access in prison, citing specific examples in Belgium, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

“CSC emerges as a clear outlier,” the lawsuit states, arguing that existing technology is “readily available” to provide restricted internet access for educational, vocational and cultural purposes without jeopardizing security.

The lawsuit also notes how the internet ban is particularly harmful to inmates with disabilities, especially deaf inmates who are unable to access on-demand American Sign Language interpretation services available for free online. Deaf prisoners are unable to even make telephone calls as a result, according to the lawsuit.

The evidence also describes how courses are no longer available by paper correspondence and prisoners’ requests for access to a computer or internet for educational purposes have been denied.

“[Paul] Quick said CSC’s internet ban has, in some ways, made a prison sentence harsher today than it was even 20 or 30 years ago, when prisoners were able to — at their own expense — work toward and complete a university degree or college diploma while serving their sentence.

“We don’t just imprison people’s bodies now, we imprison their minds and waste their lives,” he said. “In doing so, we also make it harder for them to re-enter the community.”

Read the article here.

Read the Notice of Application here.


Adriel Weaver, Louis Century, Melanie Anderson

Practice Areas

Constitutional Law, Public Interest Litigation