Nunavut justice officials say conditions at notorious Iqaluit jail already improving
Defence lawyers downplay correctional investigator report as well
Despite a damning report that says inmates at Nunavut’s largest territorial jail suffer under squalid, inhumane conditions, Nunavut’s justice department, and even some Nunavut law professionals, say it’s not that bad.
The Nunavut government was responding to a report on conditions at the Baffin Correctional Centre issued by Canada’s prison watchdog, the Office of the Correctional Investigator.
The report is dated April 23, 2013, but the Government of Nunavut didn’t issue it until April 1, 2014.
The justice department says it’s addressing the overcrowding issue flagged in the report — and that the situation has already improved.
In an emailed statement to Nunatsiaq News, the department said that since the report was completed almost a year ago, they “have taken a variety of steps to improve the territory’s largest jail and address overcrowding.”
The Rankin Inlet Healing Facility, which opened over a year ago, is reducing some of the pressure, the GN says.
And “minor renovations have already taken place at BCC to secure the visiting facility, address air quality issues, repair weaknesses in the exterior of the building, and repair the fire alarm and suppression systems.”
They also point out that an overcrowding relief structure is slated to open later this year.
The Canada prison ombudsman’s report also said major changes to policy and regulations are needed for the facility.
But the justice department said, “Nunavut Correction policies and procedures comply with all modern national corrections standards,” adding that amendments to the Corrections Act are expected to be introduced in 2014.
And while prison investigators said the conditions inmates currently live under violate international human rights standards, some say he’s painting too bleak a picture.
James Morton, a defence lawyer who works in Ontario and frequently in Nunavut said BCC is “obviously” overcrowded and is “past its best before date.”
But Morton said he’s “not really sure that the conditions are as appalling as the report suggests.”
“I think the report’s very valuable. I think it was an in-and-out report ‘though,” Morton said.
Jean-Frédéric Boulais, a trained investigator with the Office of the Correctional Investigator visited BCC from March 12 to 14 in 2013 and helped piece together the report with legislative and policy analyst Dr. Ivan Zinger.
The report said both lawyers, Boulais and Zinger, have “extensive” human rights expertise and were trained by the United Nations and Oxford University.
But Morton — a Toronto resident who visits BCC about three times a week during an average stay in Nunavut — said if they investigated any other public facility in Nunavut, they’d probably be shocked by those buildings too.
And while the building’s age and overcrowding leads to a host of other problems in the facility such as mould and damage, some inmates are used to the state of the building.
“I don’t think most of the people at BCC see that as extra punishment. They just see it as most public buildings, [which] are in pretty rough shape.”
“Most of the people in BCC are coming from relatively deprived backgrounds,” Morton said.
That doesn’t mean changes aren’t needed though, Morton said.
One of the biggest problems at BCC, he said, is the smuggling of contraband into the facility.
“There were places in the walls where people were sneaking stuff in. It’s a bit of a sieve that way.”
And leaving the facility for a short period poses a threat, too.
“Inmates don’t want to go out of the facility, because they’ll be pressured to bring back drugs,” Morton said.
“Because of the overcrowding the staff really are not in the position to check for contraband. And that means people don’t want to go out to do programs.”
Paralegal Abraham Tunraluk with Maliiganiik Tukisiiniakvik legal aid has been to BCC daily for the last 17 years to visit with clients and he hasn’t seen anything that bad.
However, Tunraluk admits his visits are usually confined to the interview rooms and he sees nothing wrong with them.
But “if you go somewhere other than the interview rooms for lawyers and what-not, you could see a problem.”
“But I’ve never seen [a problem]. Except from washrooms are dirty, that’s about it,” Tunraluk said.
Tunraluk rarely asks his clients about the conditions they endure at BCC, but he figures if he did, “I would be there for two or three days with non-stop complaints, probably.”
“I can almost guarantee you that.”