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."
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.