Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Iqaluit May 24, 2017 - 3:59 pm

Senator says Nunavut jail system acts as homeless shelter

“We need to be reallocating resources to people, not to prisons"

BETH BROWN
Senator Kim Pate says, during her second visit to the North, more emphasis needs to be put on preventative measures than new jails. (PHOTOS BY BETH BROWN)
Senator Kim Pate says, during her second visit to the North, more emphasis needs to be put on preventative measures than new jails. (PHOTOS BY BETH BROWN)
Elder Geetaloo Kakee, speaking during a town hall meeting on police accountability at the Iqaluit soup kitchen, said more focus should be put on mental health in Nunavut.
Elder Geetaloo Kakee, speaking during a town hall meeting on police accountability at the Iqaluit soup kitchen, said more focus should be put on mental health in Nunavut.

Standing May 23 in front of a town-hall style meeting at the Iqaluit soup kitchen, Senator Kim Pate told the crowd what she had seen that afternoon during her visit to the capital’s three adult correction centres.

“They were all Inuit prisoners, men and women,” Pate said.

Pate, who had flown from Ottawa to anchor a panel on police oversight and accountability, said the experience led to her scrapping her speaking notes.

Besides seeing only Inuit inmates, which she said was her largest take-away, Pate said there’s an obvious problem with overcrowding and a reliance on the criminal justice system instead of social programs and homeless shelters.

“We need to be reallocating resources to people, not to prisons,” Pate said.

Pate, former executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, or CAEFS, has received the Order of Canada for her work in bringing attention to the interactions between marginalized groups and Canada’s criminal justice system.

While visiting the Iqaluit jails, Pate met a woman whom she said had clearly been victimized her whole life.

“Here’s a woman who is weeping, wanting to know where she can go to get help,” Pate said.

After asking the jail staff about possible programs, Pate found that the options were slim.

“The biggest resource available is jail,” she said. 

During her visit Pate said she also became aware of the fundamental cultural differences between those being policed in Nunavut, and those doing the policing.

Around the time when Nunavut was formed in 1999, Pate said she was asked to help develop programs within Nunavut’s emerging criminal justice system.

At the time Pate refused, saying the system needed to be developed by Inuit, believing an imported prison system would create a cultural divide and lead to a disproportionate number of already marginalized Inuit being criminalized and imprisoned.

“That’s unfortunately where we are now,” Pate said. 

By way of advice, and going back to the meeting’s focus on police accountability, Pate suggested creating a council of elders within communities. The elders could provide feedback to the RCMP when an incident involving police takes place.

Elder Geetaloo Kaki who stood up after Pate’s presentation, said, through an interpreter, that he felt his generation did not receive the information they needed to question law enforcement.

He said younger people are helping to bridge this knowledge gap. He also said that mental health needs to become a priority.

In her presentation Pate encouraged Nunavummiut to push for policy changes. She suggested using dollars earmarked for the new correctional centre in Iqaluit, which will cost roughly $76 million, for policy and programs that Inuit want.

Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson, who also attended the event, said that with a $2-billion territorial budget, Nunavut has no excuse not to rearrange its funds.

Mentioned, but not discussed in detail, was how since December, three men have died during separate police shootings in Gjoa Haven, Pond Inlet and Hall Beach.

When RCMP police shootings take place in Nunavut, the Ottawa Police Service comes in to investigate as a third party.

But in the fall, some Nunavummiut started to question involvement of the OPS after a member made racist comments on social media, which he later admitted to, following the death of artist Annie Pootoogook in Ottawa.

After the meeting, Pate told Nunatsiaq News that people in Nunavut have good reason to doubt police accountability.

“Look what happened to Annie, the racist and misogynist comments that were made about her,” Pate said. “That sends a huge message if you knowingly use a group that is not trusted or that is seen as biased [to investigate].”

Earlier in the year the Department of Justice completed a review into how other jurisdictions conduct civilian-led reviews of police organizations.

Minister Keith Peterson said in March that the review would be used internally and not released to the public.

Criminal defence lawyer Tamara Fairchild of the Legal Services Board of Nunavut also spoke at the town hall to outline what people should do if they find themselves in custody.

The board offers legal services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to residents of the territory through three regional offices in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay, and through an after hours phone line.

Those attending the meeting also included two Nunavut politicians, Health Minister and Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes, who also offered some words of welcome at the start of the meeting, and Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak.

Organizer Thomas Rohner said those interested in staying up to date on the issue of police oversight in Nunavut can contact him to be added to a mailing list. His email is .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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