Dozens of Nunavik Inuit inmates get early release during provincial lockdown
Makivik Corp. tasked with arranging inmate quarantine, then travel home
Nunavik’s Makivik Corp. says it’s working in tandem with Quebec Public Security to streamline the release of Inuit inmates and their return home.
About 50 Inuit inmates have been released from southern Quebec detention centres since mid-March. That’s almost one-third of the 165 Inuit inmates counted in provincial facilities as of April 2020.
Most of those inmates were released from two detention centres: Amos and St. Jérôme, just north of Montreal.
But only one of those inmates was released in response to a provincial directive implemented in late April to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That early release measure applies to inmates who are serving sentences of under two years in length or those with certain medical needs.
The measures don’t apply to any offence related to domestic or family violence or sexual abuse.
Inuit who are released from a detention facility are sent to a hotel in Montreal to complete a quarantine period before returning home to Nunavik.
That’s where Makivik’s justice department comes in, by ensuring individuals comply with a 14-day isolation period before arranging their flights home.
“The procedure has been successful in keeping beneficiaries safe after being released from detention, in addition to ensuring all persons returning home are not infected with COVID-19,” Makivik said in an email to Nunatsiaq News.
“As travel restrictions remain in place [in Nunavik] the procedure will continue until the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services and Kativik Regional Government decide further.”
Intercommunity travel within Nunavik has opened up in recent weeks, though travel to and from the region remains restricted.
The process hasn’t been easy, however. Inmates must have housing secured before they can be released. Makivik said its justice department often has to contact relatives and friends to ensure inmates have somewhere to go.
The Open Door, a drop-in centre in Montreal, said its staff has supported Inuit clients newly released from prison—in some cases, helping them find housing in the city.
At the end of March, when Nunavik’s first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Salluit, that community went into full lockdown. That meant Makivik had to house Montreal-based inmates from Salluit in a local hotel until they were cleared to fly home again.
Quebec Public Security said it continues to evaluate requests for early release made by Inuit inmates from Nunavik.
It wasn’t possible to track the early release of Nunavimmiut inmates in Quebec’s federal penitentiaries, as Inuit from anywhere in the country could be serving sentences in those facilities.
The Federal Training Centre near Laval has seen one of the country’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks, with over 160 confirmed cases and one death. And as CTV Montreal reported, the centre is also home to a unit reserved for Inuit men inmates.
Makivik’s justice department does programming at FTC, which is on hold now during the pandemic. The organization didn’t say whether Inuit inmates were among those infected.
“Our justice team has been working in collaboration with Correctional Service Canada staff by phone to speak to some inmates for an array of reasons,” Makivik said in an email.
Correction: an earlier version of this article said that 50 Nunavimmiut inmates have been released from detention centres since mid-March under a provincial directive, when in fact, the directive wasn’t implemented until late April.