Nunavut court: away from BCC, troubled inmate blossomed
“Numerous incidents while in BCC and no incidents while in British Columbia”
A badly damaged Iqaluit man — convicted on two counts for crimes he committed while on remand at the Baffin Correctional Centre — stopped offending after he was transferred to a remand centre in British Columbia, the Nunavut Court of Justice heard last month.
“Perhaps the impact of this change in his remand conditions is best illustrated by his disciplinary record, which showed numerous incidents while in BCC and no incidents while in British Columbia,” Justice Sue Cooper said in a sentence judgment released July 20 that included scathing remarks about the “intolerable” conditions at the notorious Iqaluit prison.
Guy Uniuqsaraq, 28, of Iqaluit, pleaded guilty earlier this year to three charges.
Like many remand prisoners, he had been transferred to an institution in Surrey, B.C. following the Auditor General of Canada’s release of an embarrassing report this past March on conditions at BCC.
One of his convictions was for an aggravated assault he committed on Aug. 4, 2014 when he badly beat another man who had once been involved with Uniuqsaraq’s girlfriend.
The man recovered fully from his injuries, but not until after he was hospitalized in Ottawa following a medevac.
Uniuqsaraq committed the other two offences while detained at BCC waiting for the court to finish dealing with the offence that first put him there.
The first of his BCC convictions dates to Oct. 31, 2014, when BCC staff attempted to move Uniuqsaraq to a secure location inside the prison.
Uniuqsaraq head-butted a guard after jailhouse staff put him into leg irons and handcuffs, causing the guard to suffer a chipped tooth and cut lip.
On the second charge, Uniuqsaraq picked something up from the ground when he approached the courthouse door prior to a court appearance.
It turned out that he had picked up 7.8 grams of marijuana and a lighter — for that, he was convicted of simple drug possession.
At a sentencing hearing near the end of May, Crown prosecutor Caroline Lirette asked for a total sentence of 40 months in prison: 32 months for the aggravated assault, six months for the BCC assault, and two months on drug possession charge.
Uniuqsaraq’s lawyer, Patrick Bruce, asked for a total sentence of between 18 and 24 months.
After looking at various mitigating aggravating and mitigating factors, including a childhood from which Uniuqsaraq survived various forms of physical and sexual abuse, emerging as a badly damaged adult with a possible case of fetal alcohol syndrome, Cooper sentenced him to 15 months in prison for the aggravated assault.
At the same time she sentenced him to consecutive sentences on the other charges: an extra six months for the BCC assault and an extra four months for the weed possession charge.
That added up to 750 days, but she gave him 241 days of credit for pre-trial time already served, which left him with 509 days, or slightly less than 17 month left to serve.
That calculation included the 88 days he spent at BCC, for which she gave him credit for a day and half for each of those 88 days.
To justify that, Cooper cited the April 2013 report of the Office of the Federal Correctional Investigator and the March 2015 report of Auditor General of Canada.
Following the embarrassing auditor general’s report, the Government of Nunavut transferred numerous remand prisoners, including Uniuqsaraq, to British Columbia.
“It is well known that many inmates from BCC had to be transferred to British Columbia because the conditions at BCC had become intolerable,” Cooper said.
She pointed out that most inmates aren’t able to cope with regular life even before they’re admitted to the filthy, overcrowded BCC, where there’s little programming to prepare them for release.
“Many have cognitive impairment, mental health, and substance abuse issues. They have difficulty controlling impulses. Simply getting through the day without incident can be a struggle for them,” Cooper said.
“It is not realistic to take this segment of the citizenry, put them in a confined and crowded living situation, without any supports to assist them with their issues, and expect them to function without incident.”
Uniuqsaraq racked up 17 disciplinary violations during his stay at BCC, Cooper said.
But after he got to the institution in Surrey, B.C., those disciplinary incidents ended.
“He spoke about how having a cell to himself calmed him down and allowed him to think. He sought out counselling with the prison chaplain and established a supportive relationship with him,” Cooper said.
And while at the southern prison, Uniuqsaraq also completed two programs on establishing healthy relationships, Cooper said.
Uniuqsaraq’s sentencing hearing was held May 18 in Iqaluit. Cooper delivered an oral judgment June 18, and released a written version July 20.