COVID-19 outbreak at Quebec jail puts Inuit detainees at risk: lawyer

“The conditions are pretty drastic,” says Nadia Golmier, who works with inmates

The Saint-Jérôme detention centre, located northwest of Montreal, currently has a population of about 300 inmates — 40 of whom are Inuit. (Photo courtesy of Quebec Public Security)

By Sarah Rogers

Quebec public security officials are trying to contain an outbreak of COVID-19 in a Montreal-area jail that houses Inuit inmates from Nunavik.

The Saint-Jérôme detention centre, located northwest of Montreal, currently has a population of 309 inmates — 40 of whom are Inuit.

As of Jan. 25, Quebec’s public security department reported 45 active cases of COVID-19 among inmates and another 16 cases of the virus among staff at the facility.

The department said it couldn’t specify if any Inuit detainees were among those infected.

Nadia Golmier, a Montreal lawyer who works clients at Saint-Jérôme, says all inmates at the facility are at a heightened risk, and are being held in inhumane conditions in the meantime.

“The conditions are pretty drastic,” she said. “They might get a shower every two weeks.”

Due to the outbreak, all inmates have been subject to lockdown measures for a 28-day period, Golmier said, which confines detainees to their cells almost 24 hours a day.

Golmier acknowledges that jails are following regulations imposed by public health authorities, and in some cases, for good reason.

“The problem is, these regulations are not adapted to jail settings,” she said. “They didn’t take into account the psychological impact this has on inmates.”

For Inuit detainees, who are at a great distance from their home regions and using a second or third language, the conditions are especially difficult, Golmier said.

The majority of Inuit incarcerated at Saint-Jérôme are housed in a separate area, said Marie-Josée Montminy, a spokesperson for Quebec’s Department of Public Security.

But sometimes Inuit stay in other areas of the detention centre, especially when staff are trying to separate inmates with active or suspected cases of COVID-19 from the general population, she said.

Typically, Makivik Corp. arranges cultural programming and support services for Nunavimmiut inmates in Montreal-area jails, but the organization has not had access to detainees while lockdowns are in place.

Makivik Corp. did not respond to Nunatsiaq News’ request for more information.

In June 2020, the Office of the Correctional Investigator raised the alarm over the high number of COVID-19 infections among Inuit inmates in federal prisons. Most of those cases were clustered at the Federal Training Centre in Laval, Que., which houses a unit for Inuit men.

Although there haven’t been any more confirmed cases of COVID-19 at that facility since last summer, investigations into suspected cases continue to cut inmates off from important services, said Montreal lawyer Alexandra Paquette, who works with Inuit clients at the facility.

“At any suspicion of positive cases [of COVID-19], the whole jail is on lockdown and all the programming and visits are suspended,” she said.

“A lot of my clients go in front of the [parole board] without having completed the program targeted in their correctional plan,” Paquette said. “Which is very problematic in regards to lowering the risk of recidivism and in terms of social rehabilitation.”

The correctional investigator’s June 2020 report noted that while Inuit account for less than one per cent of the total incarcerated population in Canada, they represented five per cent of all COVID-19 cases in federal corrections at the time.

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(16) Comments:

  1. Posted by Northener on

    Detainees put themselves at risk by going to jail in the first place. If your worried about contacting covid in correctional facilities then quit doing stupid @**! that puts you there!

    • Posted by Victor on


  2. Posted by Revolving door syndrome on

    As you can see from the first comment, as I believe it represents many people. Many people don’t have much sympathy for detainees in jails. I’m not saying that’s right wrong or indifferent, just saying the truth. For my own perspective, those immates in st Jerome are among the same group they are always in st Jerome year after year. Most of them are at home there, and not as distressed as its made out to be. That being said they still are human beings, hopefully less likely to commit future crimes, thanks to the pandemic.

  3. Posted by Concerned on

    So easy for you to make that comment when Inuit and aboriginals get thrown in jail for things a white person would get let off with a warning or easily get bail.
    On another note, why is there no store on Nunatsiaq about an Inuit man who froze to death outside a shelter closed due to COVID in Quebec.

    • Posted by Victoria Okpik on

      Correction, it was first nation from Quebec not Inuk person. Not that it corrects the situation. Just clarification.

      • Posted by concerned on

        Thanks for the clarification.
        The news article I read stated that it was an Inuk man.

    • Posted by Say What? on

      Clearly you’re not in Nunavut. If you were, you would watch offenders getting off with incredibly light sentences compared with other jurisdictions.

      Nunavut is a horrible place to be a victim, to often the offenders get a slap and return to their communities and their ways.

      • Posted by They’re mostly gone south to jail on

        I live in a community where significant number of the male population are in jail down south at any given time. Some females , mostly male. It appears there’s a rotation of those coming and going all the time. The same people, we called them well known to the system. The guards down south know them so well. They know all their likes and dislikes. They’ll continue that behaviour way into older age. They even try to blame girlfriend, spouse, whiteman, whoever, whatever. It’s like they belong in that situation. Pathetic life.

      • Posted by Retired from Corrections on

        Having spent over a decade working in correction in Nunavut before retiring a few years back, I was often struck by the lightness of the sentencing. When you say that indigenous people are given jail time for things white people would get off for I really wonder what you are talking about? Can you give us an example?

        • Posted by Stigma on

          Though I don’t necessarily fully agree with your statement, that is the stigma Inuit have to live with.

      • Posted by Who said anything about Nunavut? on

        Uhhh. You ain’t on the same page.

    • Posted by Interesting on

      That’s not true what you state. The court system is not strict enough in Nunavik. People get away with too much. People go to jail sometimes wrongly accused, not in these cases here. But I’m willing to bet, those detainees we talk of, are in for too short a period, that’s why they’re always in there. They’re not put through anything deterrent. Along comes COVID-19, not only in jail, covid is teaching the whole of society.

    • Posted by Wake up on

      “Inuit are going to jail for things a white man would get a slap on the wrist” is a lie. White man can’t use the Gladue principle. For someone that works with First Nation offenders, it saddens me that the Gladue principle is stopping a drunk driver who killed someone from doing hard time. It saddens me that a man who beats his wife monthly only gets probation. Those in jail usually committed heinous acts and often only get a fraction of the jailtime compared to someone that can not have the Gladue principle applied.
      Everyone in jail deserves to be there. No ifs ands or buts!
      Get your facts together before you go and make false claims.

  4. Posted by trapper on

    Covid virus is a get out of jail free card do your time for your what ever they did maybe they will walk them up.

  5. Posted by I hope they’ll be fine on

    There are not enough resources in the north. Some of the inmates are victims of neglect, child abuse and of course may have been the ones to see family or friends dead by suicide or homicide and then had no support, no counseling or therapy.

    Some of them may have been spoiled rotten by their parents, getting away with everything and thought were untouchable.

    28 days must be long and deplorable if having no showers or fresh air. They are still our people and they’ll come back home and who will give them support and assistance? Nobody else but you and me even if you’re high and mighty.

  6. Posted by The people on

    I take defence lawyers comments with a grain of salt. Does anyone think they’d say anything about how positive a jail sentence is?


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