Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut May 12, 2010 - 9:37 am

Nunavut dismisses whistle-blowing fire marshal

“I didn’t expect to come back to Canada and get shot in the back by our own politicians”

CHRIS WINDEYER
Tony Noakes holds the letter informing him he’d been fired as Nunavut's fire marshal. Noakes sought criminal charges May 7 against the Government of Nunavut over fire hazards at Baffin Correctional Centre. On May 11 he was fired. (PHOTO BY CHRIS WINDEYER)
Tony Noakes holds the letter informing him he’d been fired as Nunavut's fire marshal. Noakes sought criminal charges May 7 against the Government of Nunavut over fire hazards at Baffin Correctional Centre. On May 11 he was fired. (PHOTO BY CHRIS WINDEYER)

Updated May 12, 5:57 p.m.

Nunavut’s former fire marshal, Tony Noakes Jr., was fired for asking too many questions about the safety of numerous buildings in the territory, including the Baffin Correctional Centre, he said in an interview May 12.

“I was told, ‘you’ll be fired,’” Noakes said.

Noakes said officials with the Department of Community and Government Services, which oversees the fire marshal’s office, didn’t like that he’d been asking about what would happen if he ordered BCC closed while fire hazards were fixed.

That prediction came true May 11, after Noakes gave information about BCC to the RCMP May 7. exactly one year after he took the fire marshal’s job.

He was still on probation as a new hire, which made it easy for the GN to dump him.  A letter from the Department of Human resources said the decision to terminate Noake’s employment was approved by Kathleen Lausman, the deputy minister of the CGS department.

But Noakes said that as fire marshal, he held the authority — and the duty — to act on numerous safety problems at the jail, including a faulty fire suppression system in the kitchen, problems with electrical boxes and BCC’s notorious overcrowding problem.

Last week, Nunatsiaq News reported that BCC housed a record high number of inmates, 102. The building was built to house about 48 inmates and crams extra prisoners into cells and the centre’s gymnasium.

RCMP Chief Superintendent Steve McVarnock said he received a complaint from Noakes this past Friday. McVarnock said the matter has been assigned to an investigator, who will review it before deciding whether to launch an investigation.

“He mentioned he’s done some fire marshal related activity that had caused him some concern and obviously he was not happy with the response he got from his higher[-ups] and he believes there may be some criminal consequences,” McVarnock said Wednesday.

Emily Woods, Premier Eva Aariak’s press secretary, said the GN will not comment on the situation, because privacy laws prevent the government from speaking on personnel matters.

Noakes said the GN’s fire safety problems aren’t limited to BCC. Asked to identify other buildings in town that don’t meet the fire code, he replied, “Name one.”

“Every building you can think of has a contravention,” he said.

The condition of BCC has been a long-standing complaint on the part of staff, inmates and members of the legal community. Despite that, regular MLAs last December voted to delete a $300,000 study on replacement options from the Justice Department’s capital budget.

At the time, Keith Peterson, the justice minister, defended the study, saying the department needed information on ways to improve conditions for inmates.

“It [BCC] is a facility that’s old, dilapidated, and things have constantly broken down and fallen apart over there,” Peterson said. “It’s chipping away at our funding. Locks sometimes won’t work, the fire suppression systems fail, and so on and so forth.”

According to a GN job posting from last year, the fire marshal is responsible for “administering the Fire Prevention Act and regulations in order to reduce loss of life, injury, accident and property loss due to fire.”

Noakes sat in his empty staff apartment May 12, packing for a flight to Ottawa the next day and fielding calls from reporters. He’s a former soldier, the son of a firefighter, and has served as a firefighter in Afghanistan.

“I didn’t expect to come back to Canada and get shot in the back by our own politicians,” he said.

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