Squalid, drug-ridden Nunavut jail unsafe, likely illegal, corrections watchdog says
Canada’s prison ombudsman finds BCC violates international human rights norms
Iqaluit’s notorious Baffin Correctional Centre — unsafe, unsanitary and insecure — violates international human rights standards and should be shut down, Canada’s prison watchdog agency found in a blistering report the Nunavut government suppressed for nearly a year.
“The current state of disrepair and crowding are nothing short of appalling…,” said the 34-page report, written by Canada’s Office of the Correctional Investigator.
On top of that, the agency found illegal drugs and contraband flow easily into BCC and that correctional officers can’t stop it.
The flourishing drug and contraband trade inside BCC is so bad, it damages carving and cultural programs aimed at rehabilitating inmates, the report said.
That’s because inmates on temporary leave face demands from other inmates to smuggle drugs back into the prison. If they refuse, they risk threats and beatings.
“The result is that fewer and fewer offenders participate in programs outside BCC,” the report said.
And visiting family members also get constant pressure to smuggle drugs and contraband into the prison, “as the risk of detection is considered low.”
Last year, enterprising inmates even bored holes through BCC’s exterior walls to bring drugs into the prison.
“This raises concern about the security perimeter of BCC and its adequacy as a correctional facility,” the report said.
As for correctional officers, they “are overwhelmed and appear ineffective” at stopping the movement of contraband into the jail.
That’s partly due to BCC’s poor design, which makes it difficult for staff to directly observe inmates, a problem that’s compounded by overcrowding.
“With so many inmates, the 10 narrow hallways and multiple rooms prevent appropriate supervision of inmates and limit positive interactions between staff and inmates,” the report said.
And the report found the GN’s human rights and corrections policy weaknesses include the following, some of which are Charter of Rights violations:
• a corrections policy that is “silent on the unique needs and situation of Inuit people;”
• the use of straitjackets to confine prisoners for up to 24 hours;
• the use of restraint chairs and “chemical restraints” without consent;
• no provisions for meeting the religious and cultural needs of inmates;
• a poor grievance system for prisoners;
• a policy under which remand prisoners sign away their human rights in waivers;
• confusing and inconsistent policies on the use of force; and,
• outdated acts and regulations that are 25 years old.
The national corrections watchdog issued the report April 23, 2013. That followed a site visit by Jean-Frédéric Boulais, the agency’s manager of investigations, between March 12 and March 14, 2013.
But as early as Sept. 17, 2012, Howard Saper, the correctional investigator, was quoted by the Ottawa-based iPolitics news website as saying that BCC is “one of the most troubled correctional centres I’ve ever visited.”
And the report reveals that on Dec. 4, 2012, Saper’s office told Nunavut corrections officials the facility should be closed, based on the Nunavut government’s own assessments.
That came after Saper agreed to a request from Nunavut, accepted eventually in a memorandum of understanding signed in January 2013, to have his office look at BCC “through a human rights lens.”
On that score, the prison’s squalid living conditions, along with Nunavut’s antiquated corrections policies, likely violate the Charter of Rights and international human rights standards, the report said.
But the report did not enter the public domain until April 1 this week, when it popped up on the Nunavut justice department’s website.
Opened in 1984, BCC was designed as a minimum security jail for up to 41 inmates. In 1996, it was expanded to accommodate 68.
But when Boulais did his March 2013 inspection, BCC held 106. And the report finds the moldering prison, a continuing security nightmare, poses health and safety risks for staff and inmates alike.
In a section on BCC’s confinement conditions, the correctional investigator found:
• six to eight inmates jammed into cells designed for only two;
• many inmates who fear sexual or physical assaults at night, or when supervision is limited;
• the crowding together of mentally damaged inmates with violent pasts, substance abuse histories and cognitive deficits, in violation of international human rights standards;
• mold-infested cells that cannot be cleaned and disinfected, creating a stench that fills much of the building;
• badly ventilated showers and toilets used so often they can’t be cleaned, leading to “permanent smell, rot, rust and mold;”
• staff and inmate complaints about air quality and no evidence about when air ducts were last cleaned;
• thriving mold, fungus and deteriorating drywall, the material first used build walls at BCC in the 1980s, when it was designed as a minimum security facility;
• extensive use of plywood, which is “inconsistent with sound management of public assets and creates a fire risk;”
• dirty, smelly prison clothing, including socks and underwear that are permanently stained due to inadequate washing machines and redistributed after each wash — these are “legitimate hygiene concerns.”
Another big finding suggests the prison’s current state represents a permanent human rights violation.
About 70 per cent of BCC inmates are remand prisoners awaiting trial, which means they’re presumed innocent. Only 30 per cent are convicted offenders.
But because of chronic overcrowding, the two populations are packed together.
“The current infrastructure of BCC makes it impossible to separate the two groups, contrary to human rights standards,” the report found.
Until this week, the Nunavut government’s justice department refused to release the report.
Just last month, CBC’s national news wing reported the Nunavut justice department refused to give them an unredacted copy of the report in response to an access to information request.
But the report said Elaine Keenan Bengts, Nunavut’s information and privacy commissioner, could find no legal justification for the GN’s refusal.
On April 1, 2014, nearly a year after it was written, the report appeared on the Nunavut justice department’s website.
The Nunavut government has a long history of suppressing bad news that concerns BCC.
In May 2010, the GN fired Tony Noakes Jr., then the fire marshal, for pointing out the GN’s refusal to fix a long list of fire safety violations at BCC.
Because Noakes was on probation at the time, it was easy for GN bosses to make him walk the plank.
But in an email to Nunatsiaq News April 1, Noakes said he has reached a settlement with his former employer.
“I am ecstatic that a settlement has been reached and hope that I can inspire others that may be in any legal issue, to always keep pushing forward in whatever issues they face,” Noakes said.
On March 19, 2013, just a few days after the correctional inspection, a tent-like “temporary” structure down the road from BCC had suddenly morphed into a permanent “overcrowding relief structure.”
That new jail is still under construction.