Nunavut needs cash infusion to fix BCC: Aariak

“It costs a lot to fix outdated buildings”


Nunavut needs more money if it is to replace the cramped and hazardous Baffin Correctional Centre, Premier Eva Aariak said May 14.

“We need resources to expand on some of the maintenance work that needs to be done,” Aariak told a news conference in Whitehorse, at the end of a meeting of Northern premiers.

“It costs a lot of money to fix outdated buildings, to build them up to code.”

But Aariak did not directly answer the question of whether BCC, which is now stuffed with twice as many prisoners as it was originally built for, is safe for inmates.

Last week, Tony Noakes, Nunavut’s former fire marshal, said he was fired from his job for advocating the closure of BCC for numerous fire hazards, including overcrowding, a faulty fire suppression system in the kitchen and exposed plywood walls.

Aariak did say that Justice Minister Keith Peterson has visited the jail and invited other MLAs to do the same. Aariak acknowledged conditions at the jail have been a longstanding complaint.

The GN tried to commission a study that would look at either replacing or renovating BCC, but was thwarted last December when regular MLAs voted to strip $300,000 for the study out of the Justice Department budget, despite Peterson’s argument the jail is an overcrowded firetrap.

That measure was spearheaded by Iqaluit West MLA Paul Okalik, who suggested the money could be better spent on other projects, including a community learning centre for Iqaluit.

“Every time there is an election they build new correctional facilities and we would like to see something else,” Okalik said at the time.

But a capital substantiation report for fiscal year 2007-08, when Okalik was still justice minister, says a replacement for BCC even then was “urgently needed.”

The document, supplied to Nunatsiaq News by Carleton University researcher Justin Piche, who obtained it through an access to information request, says the risk of not replacing BCC is enormous.

“Severe overcrowding is dangerous,” the report states. “While our men in custody have been well-behaved so far, experience in other jurisdictions shows that crowding, limited programs and limited outlets for normal human energy can lead to catastrophic results.”

“Riots, property damage, fire, injury and worse have all occurred in circumstances like this.”

If they occurred at BCC, the report says, Nunavut’s legal liability “would be very high.” It adds that conditions at the jail leave the GN open to a legal challenge.

Last December, Tununiq MLA James Arvaluk argued the GN should look at healing and on-the-land programs as alternatives to locking up prisoners, as well as incarcerating some offenders in their home communities.

BCC is already supposed to provide healing programs for inmates, but cannot, because of overcrowding. The 2007/08 report says “we’re just holding, not healing.”

“Healing requires a place of safety, appropriate resources and focused attention. These conditions are not readily available at BCC.”

The Yukon faced similar problems with its old Whitehorse Correctional Centre in the mid-1990s. At the May 14 news conference, Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie said his government would make available to the GN “all the information we have garnered over the years.”

That information would presumably include a 1998 report from the Yukon fire marshal, who identified 28 improvements the government needed to make at the old WCC while the new prison was built.

In 1998, the Yukon government spent $90,400 to implement 23 of those recommendations.

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