Unit in trashed Nunavut jail to reopen in a month
Reinforced walls will make it tougher to smuggle in contraband
A handful of steel patches now cover the exterior walls of Baffin Correctional Centre, outside of the Iqaluit jail’s medium-security block called the Charlie unit.
Those patches cover what’s known as “fishing holes,” which are burrowed by inmates from inside their cells to haul in delivered contraband.
But there’s an end in sight for fishing holes at the BCC. As part of ongoing repairs to the Charlie unit, steel plating is being installed on the inside of exterior cell walls, along with the exterior patches.
Those repairs, which should wrap up by the end of next month, come after an overnight riot involving 26 inmates on June 21, which saw the unit trashed to a point where it couldn’t be lived in.
Corrections officials hoped that repairs at the BCC would be done within 30 days of that riot, but 60 days is now the expected timeline—which now puts construction at a halfway mark and means inmates could return to their cells at the end of next month.
Right now, 40 Nunavut inmates are living at an Ontario provincial jail in Toronto.
More inmates were sent out than were involved with the riot because corrections staff needed to make space for intake, said Sarah Smith, who works in policy with Nunavut’s Justice Department.
There are 20 to 25 inmates still living at BCC now, in the high-security Delta unit. The BCC also has a small behavioral segregation unit.
There’s no price tag yet on the repairs, but at the time of the riot Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak told Nunatsiaq News that the fix would be a “huge cost” and would use up the department’s contingency budget for this year.
Repairs are seeing heavy plywood put up in the interior cell walls as well, along with pot lights and higher ceilings.
In a smaller riot last September, four inmates badly damaged one unit of the BCC when they took down the light fixtures, crawled into the ceiling and broke a sprinkler, causing a flood.
These upgrades will make the unit more secure, said Nunavut’s director of corrections, JP Deroy, during a tour of the jail. Now, if anything like this ever happens again, the event would call only for a clean up, rather than a rebuilding, he said.
“This place is not meant to do what it’s doing,” Deroy said of the Iqaluit jail, which was built in the mid 80s as a low- to medium-security jail to serve the Baffin region.
When Nunavut became its own territory, the BCC was made into the territorial hub for high-medium- to maximum-security inmates.
“You’ve just witnessed what can happen when you have people in a setting that the infrastructure doesn’t support,” Smith said. “Because our infrastructure isn’t what we need it to be in terms of security level, we have to rely on our staff to build relationships to ensure that security happens.”
In correctional lingo that’s known as “dynamic security,” she said.
The riot and ensuing repairs at the BCC come as Nunavut corrections staff await a new jail, which they say will offer more restorative justice in the territory.
“It will meet our needs,” Smith said of the new Qikiqtani Correctional Healing Centre, which is expected to open in 2021.
That new jail will attach to the BCC and to the low-security jail next door, Makigiarvik. The BCC will be completely renovated to serve as programming space.
“This place will be down to the steel,” Smith said.
The new jail was supposed to open in 2020, but a contract delay means construction can’t start until next year. That’s because heavy steel piles that will support the concrete needed for a high-security facility can’t go in the ground until spring, when the permafrost is cold enough.
To get ready for the build, a gym used by the inmates was moved to an adjacent lot and isn’t being used. Now, after the inmates asked to have a temporary gym set up, there is work-out equipment in what used to be program space in the Charlie unit.
Inmates still at BCC are allowed 45 minutes each day to use that equipment and are given half-hour of “fresh air time” that is spent in a fenced pen outdoors. Regular programs that don’t need a lot of space, like addictions support, are ongoing.
On July 13, Nunavut RCMP announced that charges related to the riot were laid on 11 inmates. Those charges include: rioting while wearing a mask, assaulting a peace officer with a weapon, uttering death threats to corrections staff and threatening to damage the BCC.
Deroy, who has worked with Nunavut corrections since 1991, said the division has been pushing for the new facility for around 15 years.
“It’ll be a relief for everybody when we have that new centre,” said Deroy, who called the riot “textbook.”