Nunavut whistle-blower out of line, former boss says

Ex-fire marshal stands by comments

By CHRIS WINDEYER

Nunavut’s former fire marshal was out of line when he went to the police and the media last month with allegations of fire safety problems at the Baffin Correction Centre, says Tony Noakes’ former boss.

Kathleen Lausman, the deputy minister of Community and Government Services, said it “would be highly unusual in any jurisdiction” for a fire marshal to take concerns over a particular building to the police.

“Anyone who has any expertise in building construction and methodologies and knows anything about buildings at all would never presume to do that,” Lausman told Nunatsiaq News June 15.

Noakes, for his part, said BCC, packed with twice as many prisoners as it’s designed for, is a threat to the lives of inmates and prison staff.

He said he took his complaints to the RCMP because he was told he would be fired if he issued an order to close BCC.

But Lausman said if there is a safety threat from overcrowding at BCC it’s not from the building’s fire hazards.

“Any reference to life safety at BCC has everything to do with keeping prisoners safe, keeping staff safe, usually from each other,” she said.

An inspection report for BCC, provided to Nunatsiaq News by the department, contains 29 items of concern identified by fire inspectors on March 25, 2010.

Nearly all of the items are listed at “not life threatening” in inspectors’ notes, and most involve dusty sprinklers or smoke detectors and unsafe housekeeping practices such as newspapers attached to light fixtures or the improper use of space heaters.

The report is critical of the use of space heaters in staff offices at BCC and recommends the use of “personally-owned” heaters be banned.

“This practice is a potentially unsafe fire hazard,” the report states.

But Lausman said the sheer number of items doesn’t mean a serious threat to inmates. The report itself also makes no mention of BCC’s overcrowding.

“Volume does not measure danger,” she said. “So if there were a hundred pages of items, that wouldn’t necessarily measure danger.”

Noakes went out as fire marshal in a blaze of media publicity last month for saying he was fired for pushing to issue an order to close BCC until fire code problems were sorted out.

Noakes told Nunatsiaq News he was told by director of protection services Ed Zebedee, now the acting fire marshal, not to “overestimate [Noakes’] importance or authority” by issuing an order to close BCC.

He said he was unable “to perform the job as fire marshal because of interference by senior government officials.”

Lausman said she know why Noakes left his job as fire marshal, but can’t make public comments because human resource issues are covered by privacy law.

But Lausman said decisions on fire safety are made by “a community of people” within CGS.

“We never… rely on one opinion,” she said. “That would be a huge problem.”

Lausman said CGS will have a role in the construction of any eventual replacement for BCC, as it did with the construction of Nunavut’s new women’s prison in Iqaluit, and a new men’s prison that is to open soon in Rankin Inlet.

“If there was an impression that [the Department of Justice] was languishing in some inappropriate building at BCC all by themselves, that’s a mistaken impression.”

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