Nunavik inmates caught in Quebec jail COVID-19 outbreak
“I find it very worrying,” inmates’ lawyer says
A Nunavik woman says she’s worried about her son, who is one of dozens of inmates at a Montreal area jail who have been infected with COVID-19.
Linda Inukpuk said her son Alaku Inukpuk is one of four infected Inuit inmates at the Saint-Jérôme detention centre. She worries the inmates, who have been in quarantine for several weeks now, are not getting access to medical care.
“Usually Alaku calls every day,” said Inukpuk, who lives in Umiujaq. “But then he didn’t call for two days, so I started to get worried.”
Inukpuk said her son called again around Jan. 25 to say he’d tested positive for the virus, along with three other Nunavimmiut inmates.
He complained to her of body aches and losing his sense of taste and smell.
“He said he was really sick, his whole body — like a bad cold,” Inukpuk said. “His voice is not like him.”
Inukpuk said her son hadn’t seen any nursing staff but had purchased his own Tylenol at the jail’s canteen.
As of Wednesday, Quebec’s Ministry of Public Security said there are 46 actives cases of the virus at the facility, which has an inmate population of about 300. Of that group, 40 inmates are Inuit.
Another nine staff members at Saint-Jérôme have tested positive, the department said.
Laurent Rivest, a lawyer who represents Alaku Inukpuk and some other Nunavik offenders who are incarcerated at Saint-Jérôme, said he hasn’t yet been able to make contact his clients at the jail since the outbreak began.
Inmates have been in quarantine, which may limit their ability to make and receive calls, he noted.
But Rivest said inmates at Saint-Jérôme would have access to the jail’s infirmary for their health-care needs.
“I find it very worrying,” Rivest said. “Inuit who are in detention are at a much higher risk [of being infected] and they’re facing a lack of resources.”
Rivest said that in light of the risks of COVID-19, the correctional system has made efforts to arrange for the early release of some inmates who are serving shorter sentences for non-violent crimes.
But the cancellation of certain programs in jails, like Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, or the cultural programming offered to Inuit detainees through Makivik Corp., could have an impact on their eligibility to be released, he said.
Alaku is scheduled to be released this April. The 26-year-old has been in detention since he was sentenced in December 2019 for drug possession, assault, robbery and breaking conditions.
Makivik Corp. did not respond to Nunatsiaq News’ requests for information about contact with Nunavimmiut inmates.
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.