Nunavut MLA deplores banning of journalist from territory’s jails

“An action like this struck me as something you’d see in a place like Venezuela or Russia not here in Canada.”

Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak speaks in the Nunavut legislature March 6 about the banning of a Nunavut journalist from the territory’s jails. (Photo by Jane George)

By Jane George

The Government of Nunavut is behaving like an authoritarian regime by banning a journalist from the territory’s jails, says Iqaluit-Niaqunngu MLA Pat Angnakak.

Speaking in the legislature last week, Angnakak said on March 6 she passionately believes in open and transparent government and that “taking an action like this struck me as something you’d see in a place like Venezuela or Russia, not here in Canada.”

The journalist in question, who was not named by Angnakak, is Thomas Rohner of Iqaluit, a former Nunatsiaq News reporter, who is now a freelance investigative journalist.

His recent work includes a story published by Vice last September that features inmates at Iqaluit’s Baffin Correctional Centre speaking about their experiences in solitary confinement.

In December, Rohner received a letter from Jean-Pierre Deroy, Nunavut’s director of corrections.

In that letter, Deroy said Rohner could no longer visit with any inmates in territorial custody.

Rohner’s visits had escalated the “negative behaviours” of inmates and hampered their rehabilitation plans, said Deroy, without offering details.

He also said Rohner had been passing “contraband” to inmates: these were copies of stories Rohner had written.

Deroy said there would be “no appeal of this decision.”

Angnakak said the ban on Rohner on doesn’t reflect well on Nunavut, “and it makes it look like we have something to hide.” She said that in the absence of compelling evidence, “the actions taken in the recent case were heavy-handed and could have been avoided.”

Before her statement, Angnakak had also written a letter to Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak, deploring the move against Rohner.

Ehaloak had defended Deroy’s actions in second letter, dated on Jan. 19, sent in response to a letter of support for Rohner from the CWA Media Union. In her letter, Ehalok said Rohner had been “belligerent, demanding and rude,” without providing examples.

Rohner also received letters of support from the Canadian Association of Journalists and Senator Kim Pate, known for her work with the Elizabeth Fry Society, a charitable organization that supports some of society’s most vulnerable populations: women, girls and children at risk, involved in or affected by the justice system.

Speaking to Nunatsiaq News, Rohner said he denies the allegations and that he has not yet received a proper outline of what these allegations against him are.

At no time during his visits to jails was he informed of any rules that would have prevented his sharing his stories with inmates, he said.

Rohner said he is consulting lawyers but remains optimistic that this situation will be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

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(12) Comments:

  1. Posted by pauly on

    Dont always agree with rorhner but those wardens are sleazy

  2. Posted by Crystal Clarity on

    I think we all know that the facility is a dump so Rohner won’t be telling us anything new there. It’s old, over-crowded, staff is sometimes abusive, prisoners are even more abusive, staff is not properly trained otherwise they would have briefed Rohner properly about giving anything to inmates period or having any physical contact at all. The prisoners are responsible for the place becoming even worse after their little mini riot a few months back.Rohner should have known himself already not to give anything to a prisoner and was obviously taking liberties but got caught doing it. We all know journalists will push the envelope when they get the opportunity. Having said all that he allegedly wasn’t briefed properly before seeing prisoners and if he was and he broke the rules then they are right to ban him. If they didn’t they need to bite the bullet on this one and suck it up. No one benefits by banning the press. The public has the right to know about public institutions the pay to build, run and maintain even if it is for the rights of scumbag prisoners in jail. If the law doesn’t protect our so-called “worst” what chance do the rest of us have.

  3. Posted by On Assingment on

    if he wants to get a good story, go on assignment for at Month as an inmate at BCC. this way he will get more publicity and another 15 minutes of fame.

  4. Posted by Unfortunate on

    Amazing how few comments there are, too bad Nunatsiaq has chosen to censor this discussion so much.

  5. Posted by Clarise on

    Anyone who is caught handing ANYTHING to prisoners should be charged if it hasn’t been given to the staff to inspect first. Who could possibly think it’s okay to just hand something over to someone who is in custody??
    Shouldn’t prisoners obtain prior approval before visitors are allowed to bring in any items for them?? If you are bringing in approved items for a prisoner, shouldn’t they be given to the Correctional Center staff prior to your scheduled visit to give them ample time to inspect whatever it is you’re giving?
    Assuming that because you were able to hand over something once that you can hand the same item to the same or a different prisoner is debatable.
    Every prisoner is different.
    A newspaper article in one person’s hand can be a non issue, and in another prisoner’s hand could be a weapon or could be laced with drugs.
    Come on man. Have some respect and understanding for the people around you.
    There should be clear rules posted but just because they are not posted does not mean they don’t apply. There’s a certain amount of responsibility that lies with Thomas here that he just doen’t seem to grasp.

    • Posted by PooPoo on

      “A newspaper article in one person’s hand can be a non issue, and in another prisoner’s hand could be a weapon or could be laced with drugs.”

      Weird comment. It either has drugs or it doesn’t, whose hands it are in won’t change that. As for paper being a weapon… lol. If they are going to make paper into a weapon they are going have a weapon long before receiving that particular piece.

      Bizarre

      • Posted by Clarise on

        How’s this then

        “A newspaper article in one person’s hand can be a non issue, and in another prisoner’s hand could be a weapon. Or the newspaper article could be laced with drugs which would be bad in any prisoner’s hands.” Nothing bizarre about that bud.
        The whole act of handing an un-inspected anything to a prisoner is just plain old dangerous which is likely why Thomas was banned.
        Duh

        • Posted by PooPoo on

          That’s a little better. Your a good sport.

          Thomas was banned because he says things people don’t like. And who knows, they might even be true.

          • Posted by Clarise on

            *you’re

            • Posted by PooPoo on

              Good catch! I’m proud of your progress today. You’re doing great!

  6. Posted by charges passed this time on

    The reporter got off lightly. With the South moving into the North, watch for the way Southern hard time federal prisons charge anyone bringing in contraband.

    • Posted by guards are well trained on

      You are right that the guy got off lightly!!
      Good thing the guards are trained well enough to see that exchange and to deescalate the aggression that it had caused.
      It’s not good to hear that a visitor is being belligerent and scary to think of how the prisoners can be effected by someone being rude and not following the rules in front of them.

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