Iqaluit jail fire caused $250,000 in damage

Government officials originally said fire was minor, caused by a piece of burning plastic

Firefighters respond to the Baffin Correctional Centre on March 18, after smoke was seen billowing from the correctional facility. (Photo by David Venn)

By Randi Beers

A March 18 fire at Iqaluit’s Baffin Correctional Centre caused $250,000 worth of damage, according to an official with Nunavut’s Department of Justice.

Repairs to the jail took about six weeks, and it started taking inmates again as of April 30, according to spokesperson Mark Witzaney.

Nunavut RCMP have yet to lay charges, and government officials have divulged very little about the circumstances around the incident, except that police consider it to have been arson.

At the time, the city’s communications manager, Lisa Milosavljevic, offered one detail: She described the fire as minor, caused by a piece of burning plastic.

But emails and other documents obtained by Nunatsiaq News through access to information laws say the fire caused serious damage to the facility.

The jail was determined to be “un-occupiable,” according to a March 22 jail operations plan, due to “extensive smoke damage, structural damage, combined with major safety/security concerns identified post incident.”

Nunatsiaq News asked the Justice Department to elaborate on what these safety and security concerns are, but Witzaney said the department can’t offer any more information.

“However, we can confirm that there are no safety or security concerns outstanding that pose risk to the health or safety of our inmates or staff,” he stated in an email.

He said the fire damaged the facility’s medium-security Charlie Unit, but there was smoke damage to the facility’s other two units.

Still unanswered is the question of how a piece of plastic — a substance not generally thought to be particularly incendiary — caused such serious damage to the jail.

Back at the city, Milosavljevic redirected Nunatsiaq News to the territory’s fire marshal for more information about what caused the fire.

Deputy fire marshal Dave Pratt declined to comment, and declined to share his office’s report on the fire, citing the ongoing RCMP investigation.

The documents obtained by Nunatsiaq News are also heavily redacted, largely citing the ongoing investigation, but offer a few new details surrounding the fire.

Emergency crews were initially called to a fire at 3 p.m., according to reports at the time.

In an email update to Justice Minister George Hickes 90 minutes after the original emergency call, deputy minister Stephen Mansell reported the external fire was out.

“But it has gotten into the walls,” Mansell said.

In a separate email to Hickes the day after the fire, Mansell said there was no timeline for when the facility would reopen.

“Other than the fire, prisoners were not causing issues, i.e. riot,” stated Supt. Marie-Claude Cote in an update to government officials on March 19.

Another email that day from RCMP Const. Marc-Olivier Vary asks for statements from everybody working in Charlie Unit on March 18.

“Especially from the guards entering the cell to try to put out the fire and whoever was in the control room monitoring the cameras,” he said.

The fire displaced 60 prisoners, and the Justice Department’s focus quickly turned to where to house them until the Baffin Correctional Centre would be operational again, according to the documents.

There was discussion about sending inmates to Ontario, Yellowknife, Whitehorse, and other facilities in Nunavut.

Ultimately, 30 were sent to Joyceville Institution near Kingston, Ontario. Others were sent to different facilities in Nunavut.

Of the 60 inmates, 41 are still in custody. The territorial government is sending them back to Iqaluit as their court dates come up, or when their sentences expire, said Witzaney.

Ten inmates are at the Baffin Correctional Centre or the new Makigiarvik Correctional Centre, both located in Iqaluit.

Twenty-five inmates remain at Joyceville Institution, and six are at the North Slave Correctional Complex in Yellowknife.

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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    Nunatsiaq News needs to keep on digging and uncover the facts behind this fire and the damage it caused. In the end it is the taxpayers who pay and yes the taxpayers have a “right” to know what’s going on.
    Do not accept the “get our of jail free” card that the politicians and bureaucrats are trying to use that the matter is “under investigation” and they can’t comment. As the responsible persons you can indeed comment, and indeed you have a duty to keep the public informed.
    Granted you cannot divulge confidential information that may be used in a court of law if charges are laid against one or more individuals I would wager between that, and we can’t say anything that there is a lot of information that the public should know, now and not later.
    Let’s go Nunatsiaq News, turn your reporters loose and let them pick-up some awards for investigative journalism. Maybe challenge the redactions in court!

  2. Posted by John W Paul Murphy on

    Unfortunately, if you go back a few years didn’t a member of the Fire Marshal’s Office get hung out to dry for speaking out about the status of that same institution?

    Perhaps that is why we are getting any info. Once burnt, twice shy.

  3. Posted by Lol on

    Multimillion dollar facility can be brought to ruin by some degenerates lighting a piece of plastic on fire. What a joke, designers and engineers should be fired and jail staff heads rolling for allowing criminals access to lighters in prison. Won’t be long until this building is in the state of the old jail or the old res by the airport. Abused and unkept.

    • Posted by Whack-a-mole on

      I’m fairly sure this happened at BBC, the old, dilapidated thing that should have been allowed to burn, not the newer building which isn’t finished yet.

      • Posted by Negative on

        You can see at the corner of the building when driving to the airport where it happened by a window. It was trapped up last time I saw. Newer building.

  4. Posted by MARS on

    “Still unanswered is the question of how a piece of plastic — a substance not generally thought to be particularly incendiary — caused such serious damage to the jail.”

    Fire spreads.

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