Baffin Correctional Centre inmates decry lack of access to radio, Inuktut publications

“I think it would help us in the jail if we had this kind of stuff … to see what people have to say in Canada and the rest of the world”

Inmates in Iqaluit’s Baffin Correctional Centre say their inability to access information from the outside world, especially in Inuktitut, is hurting their chances of rehabilitation. (File photo)

By Thomas Rohner
Special to Nunatsiaq News

Prisoners at the Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit say their lack of access to information from the outside world, especially in Inuktitut, is hurting their chances of rehabilitation.

And that, in turn, is a form of punishment through cultural deprivation, threatens victims of crime and is likely illegal, according to two prominent Canadians who are experts in prisoner treatment.

“Why don’t we get radio or access to Inuktitut magazines or books or traditional stories from the past? Nobody ever answers. I think it would help us in the jail if we had this kind of stuff … to see what people have to say in Canada and the rest of the world,” prisoner Poasie Aniniliak said.

Poasie Aniniliak, 33, of Pangnirtung stands in the visiting room of the Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit Feb. 20. Usually visits are conducted with prisoners on the other side of the metal mesh screen. (Photo by Thomas Rohner)

Aniniliak is one of three prisoners who spoke to Nunatsiaq News about access they have to the outside world through things like the internet, radio, television and books. The prisoners spoke from a small interview room with patched-up plywood walls and plastic furniture at the notoriously inadequate Iqaluit jail, which has been deemed inadequate in reports by the auditor general and by the Office of the Correctional Investigator. Pencilled graffiti on the walls in Inuktitut carried hopeful and religious messages.

Connections to the outside world are widely accepted as crucial to a prisoner’s chance of successful reintegration into their community after prison. For example, the United Nations Standards for the Minimum Treatment of Prisoners, also called the Mandela Rules, reflect this.

One of the rules, of which Canada is a signatory, says prisoners shall be regularly informed through media like newspapers or radio. Another rule says every prison shall have a library.

The BCC “currently abides by these rules,” Nunavut’s Justice Department said in an email. “Books are made available upon written request. Religious materials are available upon written request in several languages.”

But all three prisoners said they only have regular access to television, with limited programming in Inuktitut. And that’s only if they are not in one of the two assessment cells.

Formerly called segregation cells, prisoners in the assessment cells only emerge for one hour each day, during which they have time to shower, watch TV, get fresh air and use the phone, the prisoners said.

This would break not only the Mandela rules on access to information from the outside, but also another rule that says every prisoner should have access to fresh air each day for one full hour.

The only regular Inuktitut-language TV program available to prisoners is CBC’s Igalaaq, which airs nightly at 6 p.m., Aniniliak said. The Aboriginal People’s Television Network is the only other channel that sometimes carries Inuktitut-language programming, the prisoners said.

“Inmates currently have access to several TV channels in the Inuktitut language,” the department said.

Most prisoners watch Igalaaq every night, Aniniliak said. But in the assessment cell, you don’t have access to TV at that time, he added. During the 23 hours prisoners spend in assessment cells daily, they can sometimes hear the TV through the crack underneath the door, the prisoners said.

The department said prisoners do not currently have access to newspapers, but in the past a prisoner committee requested newspapers, which were provided.

“Should a request for newspapers come forward now, we will revisit this practice.”

Guy Uniuqsaraq, 32, of Iqaluit sits at a table with a cup of coffee at the interview room at the Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit on Feb. 20. (Photo by Thomas Rohner)

Guy Uniuqsaraq, another prisoner, said prisoners used to be able to request print-outs from online sources.

“I would ask for news from the day, or some images I’d like to draw…. That hasn’t happened for a while. I haven’t even asked what’s going on in the outside world,” he said.

Uniuqsaraq spends most of his time reading his Bible or drawing. He said he remembers when prisoners used to have access to two or three shelves of books.

“Rarely do I see inmates go and pick a book,” he said.

And he wasn’t sure if those books were still available.

There used to be a room at the BCC with computers for learning, the prisoners said. But that room has since been turned into a gym, and any books or computers that were in that room have been removed, they said.

Uniuqsaraq said access to many things hasve been revoked because of the behaviour of past prisoners.

“It’s beyond an inmate’s control, trying to ask for these things.”

Dennis Kilabuk, another prisoner, said he would most like to be able to listen to the radio, especially in Inuktitut.

“If we got radio, that would help a lot. As Inuit, we’re always listening to radio. Everywhere in communities it’s like that. We usually want to know what’s going on out there,” Kilabuk said.

“There is currently no access to radios,” said the Justice Department.

Most of the prison’s books were lost in a 2018 riot, the government said. Currently, the prison has about 300 books, including instructional, fiction and non-fiction books, according to the government.

“Books are made available upon request.”

But Kilabuk disagreed. He said there is a cardboard box with 20 or 30 old books, mostly donated by guards, that prisoners can choose from on request. Sometimes those requests are ignored, he added.

He asked for a Bible but didn’t get one, so eventually a maintenance worker at the jail donated a Bible, Kilabuk said.

“Inuktitut-language bibles are made available upon request,” the department said.

Kilabuk said, “I asked for a dictionary so I could study words in English, but nothing.”

Dennis Kilabuk, 27, of Pangnirtung stands beside Inuktitut graffiti in the visiting room of the Baffin Correctional Centre on Feb. 17. The grafitti says, “Are you tired of everything? I’m so sorry that I cannot help. Only by saying the Lord’s prayer or keeping my eyes open for a higher power can I choose for better.” (Photo by Thomas Rohner)

A box of books is a sorry excuse for a library, John Ralston Saul told Nunatsiaq News.

“This idea that you just have a bunch of old books in a box, you wouldn’t do that to a child,” said Saul, an author, academic and former president of PEN International, an organization that promotes freedom of speech and literature.

As president, Saul said he worked with prisoners in dozens of countries.

“The more prisoners have access to reading material and any kind of cultural experiences—that’s absolutely essential to their success when they leave prison,” Saul said over the phone from Germany.

Withholding cultural material from prisoners is even more disturbing if corrections officials are of a different culture, Saul said.

“The courts did not order a people whose language is Inuktitut to be denied access to cultural materials in Inuktitut…. So it’s ethically wrong and probably not legal,” he said.

It’s also short-sighted and counter-productive, Saul added, since depriving prisoners of accessing their culture in their own language reduces their chances at rehabilitation.

“You have to think about access to books as part of a program that helps ensure that people will not recommit crimes … So it’s a matter of protecting victims,” Saul said.

Senator Kim Pate, an independent senator from Ontario appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said one of the most common questions victims of crime have is: how can we ensure this crime doesn’t happen to someone else?

Before her appointment as a senator, Pate spent years working for female prisoners’ rights across Canada.

Experts agree that the best way to ensure prisoners successfully and safely reintegrate into their communities is by ensuring they have access to the outside world while in prison, Pate said.

The lack of radio access at the BCC appears especially concerning, the senator added.

“If prison staff are denying prisoners radios, then on what legal basis are they doing that?” Pate asked.

Such a denial would go beyond a court-ordered prison sentence.

“Where you see correctional treatment interfering with the legal sanctions imposed, then there should be a way for prisoners to have those wrongs remedied.”

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(18) Comments:

  1. Posted by Sade on

    Why not self-help books ?
    The lack of programs out there will not rehabilitate anyone.
    Give them programs !!

    • Posted by So true on

      Exactly, there are few programs and the ones that are in place are often a vehicle for the spread of religious ideology by local pastors. There really needs to be a much greater effort to provide meaningful programs and not just fluff.

  2. Posted by Somebody on

    Give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.

  3. Posted by bill tagalik on

    if these idiots were not incarcerated they would never ever pick up a book, check the news or listen to the radio….

  4. Posted by How about this… on

    The person who committed murder should have been reading books and listening to the radio in Inuktitut instead of snuffing out the life of a 44 year old woman. Do research into other correctional facilities around the world, and you will be so happy to get that hour of Iqalaag each day. Take a look at some of the institutions in S. America, or Europe…
    You are in jail because you have been deemed a threat to society for a series of heinous crimes… Lord knows, enough chances and slaps on the wrist are given. So, you could not keep your emotions and temptations in check, you did not seek help, and you have no regard for the quality of life that surrounds you with respect to honest, working people. If you continue to not work, deal drugs and alcohol, and have no approach to increasing your life on the outside – I don’t think a magazine or listening to a song in Inuktitut is going to help you that much.

  5. Posted by Dorothy Turner on

    Good job covering an important local issue. Helps us in the community learn about the needs of different vulnerable populations right here in Iqaluit.

  6. Posted by Northern Guy on

    This kind of treatment is deplorable! Radios cost next to nothing. While an old box of used books that require written request to actually read is NOT a library. For goodness sake if the Centennial Library in Iqaluit is capable of shipping books to communities via inter-library loan then Justice/Corrections staff can surely find a way to provide the same service to inmates at BCC. What this says is that the whole notion of rehabilitation is really only being paid lip service within Nunavut Corrections/Justice

    • Posted by eyeswideopen on

      have you ever stepped foot in this prison ? if they give these inmates radios they will be destroyed in minutes or used to make weapons. the reason the facility is in such a state of disrepair is because the inmates damaged the facility and there are little to no consequences for them . if you want to solve this issue then BCC needs to be treated like a real prison . management needs to take control and stop letting the inmates run the facility .

  7. Posted by actions and consequences on

    “Most of the prison’s books were lost in a 2018 riot, the government said. Currently, the prison has about 300 books, including instructional, fiction and non-fiction books, according to the government.” – I wonder if people do request books in writing? maybe some proof of this would show the interest vs availability. am sad to hear that books were destroyed in the riot, why destroy something that causes entertainment and you want? sad.

    i do think it is standard practice in all of Canada to not have internet access if you are incarcerated, especially with specific crimes. but maybe computer programs that teach skills would be good to have? would just need computers that could not be destroyed easily if someone got mad and decided to take it out on that. that wouldn’t be fair to the others around them.

  8. Posted by Hunter on

    It’s quite interesting that the institutions worst inmates in regards to manipulation, violence, smuggling contraband, assaulting staff and fellow inmates are the ones in this article.

    How many times have they been given the opportunity to change their behaviour? When the programming is offered they don’t even attend. Rather smoke weed in the back of the room and watch English television and listen to rap music.

    Anything for some attention and an new article.

  9. Posted by Propaganda on

    “Withholding cultural material” is hard to believe when there is just not that much that is published in inuktitut. Someone needs to tell Saul. This article reads like an activist press release. I doubt these guys were so heavily into reading in any language before they went to prison, and I have a hard time believing they’d be reading anything in any language even if they had a vast bilingual library available.

  10. Posted by Nellie McLung on

    Is there a book with a title called “How Not to Beat, Rape and Terrorize Women and Children”? Or “How Not to Roam Around Your Ex-Girlfriend’s Office Threatening to Shoot Her.” This is the only type of book these criminal predators should be reading.

    It looks to me like these sociopathic manipulators got Mr. Rohner wrapped around their little fingers.

    By the way, can someone please explain to me how Mr. John Ralston Saul qualifies as an “expert in prisoner treatment?” I kinda doubt he has any relevant experience or knowledge whatsoever.

    • Posted by Unattended on

      Nellie, it is not like that, I know for a fact. It is a world that you do not know. Tony from Clyde River whom become a teacher of the crime world can tell you the facts. I known him, but for sure he has forgotten about me. Like I did from the times I was in.

      • Posted by Hiqaluit on

        Unattended, while reading Nellie’s comments I got a sense she knows one or two of these men as do I. There are always three views to a argument, the two people having the argument and somewhere in the middle, the truth. I do feel for all in BCC but lets not kid ourselves these men are there for a reason. Anything we can do to help we should but how much should we do, that is difficult to answer. The reason it is difficult to answer is that we do not know how much each man in BCC will do for himself to improve his life.

  11. Posted by Tommy on

    Why they are even in the news, I don’t even want to know. Nunavut is broken. Nunavut is a failed system in every conceivable way. Pitying the inmates for not having access to basic information? The very same inmates are fighting for a priviledge they destroyed back in 2018. In Nunavut, the victims are less privileged than the inmates. They may not have the freedom they so desire, but that is what sentencing is, limiting access to freedom. In Nunavut, inmates have more voice than their victims.

  12. Posted by Unattended on

    Been there done that, your fault, not the outside world’s. You decided to do the crime, do your time, even if you hear from the outside world it is not going to help you rehabilitate. Just my thought. If you want to rehabilitate listen to your parents and or the elders from the community you come from. Just my thought as I have been there and thought the same as you. Not the free worlds fault that you decided to do the crime. You, yourself should be learning from the crime you do. Just my nickels worth. Hey Tony from Clyde go teach them the facts.

  13. Posted by Piitaqanngi on

    Interesting posts. It’s like reading posts from people who never drank alcohol trying to endorse their views against drinking. You gotta feel for these fellas, they’re human too.
    Besides, why try and preach to inmates who don’t have access therefore cannot read your preaching.

  14. Posted by avid reader on

    Oh those poor poor criminals. Thomas sure likes to let these manipulators cry crocodile tears for him. How about some stories from the crime victims and their ongoing issues?

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