Iqaluit’s new jail set to open

$90M facility designed to be safer and more culturally appropriate than aging Baffin Correctional Centre

The new Aaqqigiarvik Correctional Healing Facility is more secure, safe and culturally appropriate than the old Baffin Correctional Centre that it will replace, says Nunavut’s acting corrections director Mickey McLeod. (Photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As Iqaluit’s new jail approaches its opening, Nunavut’s acting director of corrections says the facility will offer inmates a safer, more culturally appropriate setting.

The new $90-million, 96-bed Aaqqigiarvik Correctional Healing Facility is set to have its opening ceremony in early September, said Mickey McLeod, as he gave reporters a tour of the facility on Thursday.

“The existing BCC [Baffin Correction Centre] is not a very healthy place.… It’s got low ceilings, it’s darker, it doesn’t have a lot of natural light coming in — so that building doesn’t really help us do our job to try to help the clients,” he said.

“Even though they know it’s a more secure building, they’re excited to come in.”

A 2015 report from the Office of the Auditor General spurred the department to begin planning the new jail, which is located behind BCC.

The auditor general found that the old jail was unsafe, rife with contraband, and that the inmates were subjected to unsanitary conditions, a lack of culturally appropriate programs and, ultimately, had their rights infringed upon.

The new facility was designed to solve those problems, McLeod said.

“We really built it with a healing lens. We don’t want it to feel like a jail everywhere in the building,” he said. “It has more of a campus-feel in a lot of the areas, and that’s the kind of feeling that we’re trying to create.”

Nunavut’s acting director of corrections, Mickey McLeod, says the new jail “has more of a campus-feel in a lot of the areas, and that’s the kind of feeling that we’re trying to create.” (Photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

The Department of Justice worked with an elder advisory committee to work in cultural details throughout the facility.

As a result, the jail uses Inuktitut terms for rooms and spaces, McLeod said. “There won’t be any English on the doors. It’ll be Inuktitut and syllabics,” he said.

The medium security unit, for example, is called makigiarvik, meaning in progress or moving forward. The library is called uqalimaagaqarvik, the kitchen is kuuqarvik and the calming units are saimasarvik.

The building’s name, Aaqqigiarvik, means “place for help to make progress in life.”

“We’ve actually done some PowerPoints for our staff, to teach them, because I’m not gonna let them use English to describe the area,” McLeod said.

To help stem the flow of contraband into the building, visitors remain outside the secure part of the building, separated from inmates by Plexiglas during visits. A full body scanner, meanwhile, will help reduce the need for frisking, which is intrusive for inmates and staff, McLeod said.

“There’s very low risk of any sort of contraband being brought into the facility,” he said.

Aaqqigiarvik Correctional Facility’s full body scanner will be used to help stop the flow of contraband into the facility. (Photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

The new jail features a garage for ambulances and sheriff’s vehicles to pick up and drop off inmates.

At the old jail, inmates are dropped off outside of the building, where there was always a chance for them to slip and fall or to try to run, McLeod said.

Each security unit is mostly separated from the others, which, McLeod said, is safer than transferring inmates through different units to access food, prescriptions or programs.

The waiting area in the medical space alone is bigger than the entire medical space in BCC, and there are two negative-pressure treatment rooms for people with infectious diseases like tuberculosis, or COVID-10, he said.

There are wooden doors for cells instead of steel ones in the lower security areas, there is natural lighting in all of the cells and many common areas and the inmates have access to a video calling system to see their families.

“We want it to be secure and solid, like a correctional facility, so that they can’t breach or so that they can’t do anything when stuff goes wrong, but all in all, we’re trying to create a very positive environment for them,” McLeod said.

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(15) Comments:

  1. Posted by No english? on

    “There won’t be any English on the doors. It’ll be Inuktitut and syllabic” . How is this helpful to those who don’t speak Inuktitut? Many inmates from western nunavut don’t speak Inuktitut and only speak English. THis is discrimination

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    • Posted by Pain In The Groen on

      It also implies that Inuit are the only inmates. Unintentional, perhaps but correlates strongly with the institutional racism faced by Inuit in the justice system.

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      • Posted by Soothsayer on

        If anything, it implies that Inuktitut is both the language of the majority and that there are ethical obligations to give it primacy. Given that the vast majority of the population of Nunavut is Inuit it should not be that surprising that most inmates are also Inuit. The idea that there is some hidden bias or *gasp* “institutional racism” being exposed here is not believable.

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    • Posted by Dude Town on

      Only in the Nunatsiaq comments could making an inuk speak inuktitut be called racist.

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      • Posted by Think on

        Almost 40% of Nunavut Inuit don’t speak Inuktut.
        This is just more discrimination by unthinking bureaucrats.

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    • Posted by Will Burton on

      To learn a few words out of respect for Inuit and their culture is not really a big deal. Be sensible.

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  2. Posted by Ian on

    Healing centre with a campus feeling wow lucky, meals, tv , internet it’s about time.

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  3. Posted by New hotel on

    Is this the new hotel in iqaluit aqsarniit? wow the inmates will never want to leave!? is there a spa too?

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  4. Posted by New elders home instead on

    Why can’t they build new elders homes or facilities. All these jail birds can speak English fluently.

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  5. Posted by Strange Philosophy on

    Once upon a time if you did the crime you did the time. With this, it is like do the crime and escape homelessness and enjoy a stay at our campus. Tents on the land is what I think anyone in jail deserves. The way judges flake on Inuit sentencing up here, if someone is in jail here they are really deserving it, since Inuit get light sentences compared to southerners for the same crimes.

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  6. Posted by temp on

    As someone who lives and works in Iqaluit, I have to go to the airport several times a day. I have to say, I’m amazed that the construction of this facility is finally nearing an end. The workers just walk back and forth across the road all day. There is so much pedestrian traffic, they had to put a pedestrian crossing sign up. Guess they couldn’t milk it any more ha ha ha…

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    • Posted by Deputy Warden of Facebook on

      The ‘milking it’ has only just begun, wait til this thing opens

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  7. Posted by iWonder on

    It takes decades to raise a functional, well adjusted person. It’s good that corrections aspires to use a “healing lens” to make these men more functional, but how realistic is it to think this environment will dramatically change people who have endured a lifetime of neglect and abuse, or who are simply wired in ways that make them indifferent to the suffering of others (sociopaths, for example)?

    Given the huge expense of a facility like this it seems appropriate to ask, does the Department of Justice keep track of the recidivism rates of the offenders who take their healing programs? Do any of these aspirational goals crafted to sound so great in the paper, actually work?

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