Nunavut inmates complain about Ontario jail conditions

“I’ve been in segregation for too long. It’s affecting my mental health so bad that I can’t concentrate anymore”

By BETH BROWN

Two Nunavut inmates recently sent to a Toronto jail vented their frustrations with their new surroundings by video-link to a territorial judge late last week.

The inmates are among the 40 sent south in late June, following the closure of one wing of Iqaluit’s Baffin Correctional Centre due to the damage caused by a riot.

Gary Arnaquq, 36, refused to plea over assault related charges, after alleging that he has been in segregation for over 21 days.

Nunatsiaq News tried but was unable to confirm this information with Nunavut and Ontario corrections officials.

In May, new legislation was passed in Ontario stating that inmates cannot be kept in segregation for more than 15 days consecutively—a limit that Arnaquq mentioned.

“I’ve been in segregation for too long. It’s affecting my mental health so bad that I can’t concentrate anymore,” Arnaquq told Justice Earl Johnson. “I can’t agree with this. I don’t want to plea on video. If I can’t see the papers and I can’t be there I don’t want to plea.”

On June 22, 40 Iqaluit inmates were flown south to Toronto South Detention Centre, after 26 inmates badly damaged a medium-security wing at the Iqaluit jail.

On July 13, Arnaquq was charged in connection to that riot. He was also charged for involvement in a smaller riot that happened at the BCC in the fall of 2017.

“I would like to be able to help you but today is purely to set dates. This is not the time to get into those issues that you’ve raised so far,” Johnson told Arnaquq.

Arnaquq is set to appear in court in person on Aug. 14 in Iqaluit.

His defence counsel, Matthew Eaton-Kent, echoed Arnaquq’s concerns after visiting him in Toronto.

“I do understand that the conditions at Toronto South are really bad,” Eaton-Kent told his client. “They don’t have a functioning system that allows for the proper rights to be respected.”

Another inmate, Silasie Pillaktuaq, wanted to know why it was taking so much time to process his charges for breaches of probation and peace bonds.

“Is it necessary for me to wait that long for breaches?” he said when he was given the same Aug. 14 date for next appearance.

“That’s crazy,” he said and asserted that his rights were being violated.

“Why was I sent here?” Pillaktuaq asked. “I wasn’t part of the riot. I was in a different unit.”

Nunavut justice officials told Nunatsiaq News that a larger number of men were sent out than were involved with the riot to make sure there was room inside the BCC for prisoner intake, following the loss of its primary unit.

Pillaktuaq said he missed a family funeral because of being relocated.

Eaton-Kent, who represents both men, told his clients that days spent in segregation would be taken into consideration as time served during their sentencing, and would usually be grounds for receiving additional credit.

Last summer, a Nunavut judge slammed Ontario and Nunavut corrections systems for subjecting an Iqaluit man charged in a string of robberies to confinement and lock downs for 158 days out of more than 370 days spent at two southern jails.

“I understand the conditions down there are not good and they are contributing the worsening mental health of the prisoners who have been brought down from Iqaluit,” Eaton-Kent told Pillaktuaq. “It’s important to let the court know what you’ve experienced.”

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