By Cassandra Richards
During my time at Maliiganik Tukisiiniakvik Legal Services in Iqaluit, a riot broke out at the Baffin Correctional Centre in June. Baffin Correctional Centre, known colloquially as BCC, carries a reputation as an abhorrent facility, among the worst prisons in North America.
BCC is a men’s territorial medium security prison in Iqaluit and the largest correctional facility in Nunavut. Anyone in Nunavut who is detained will be immediately brought to this facility. This has widespread implications for individuals who do not live in Iqaluit. For example, if you are arrested in Cape Dorset, you will be flown to Iqaluit (1hour flight). For many family members of individuals who have been detained in Iqaluit yet who live in other communities, visiting is not an option for multiple reasons, particularly travel time and costs.
There are no federal prisons in Nunavut. Therefore if a person must be detained at a federal prison (determined by the crime they have been found guilty of committing and their sentence for the latter), they will be flown to a prison in Ontario.
BCC was designed in the 1980s by Bruno Freschi. It was constructed to hold a maximum of 41 inmates. However, since it’s original construction it has been upgraded. The most recent upgrade targeting the amount of inmates the facility could hold was in 1996, during which the capacity was increased to 66 beds with two segregation cells. The prison is constantly over its 66 bed capacity.
There are three other prisons in Iqaluit. Accordingly: Makigiarvik Correctional Centre (men’s prison), Nunavut’s Women’s Correctional Centre, and the Isumaqsunngittukkuvik Youth Facility. Before having gone to Makigiarvik (Maki) or BCC, many people in Iqaluit had described Maki as a hotel compared to the “shit hole” of BCC.
Unfortunately, after my first and many repeated visits to BCC, it lived up to the “shit hole” reputation it has received. What is most frustrating is that many people have long known about the appalling conditions at BCC. A 2015 Report to the Auditor General of Canada stated that “Housing inmates at the Baffin Correctional Centre compromises the security and safety of inmates and staff” and that the “Department of Justice has not addressed its most critical facility needs.” Justice Cooper of the Nunavut Court of Justice has previously called the jail “intolerable” in R v. Uniusaraq, 2015 NUCJ 16.
There are numerous issues with BCC I could speak of, however it would take up a lot of space. Briefly, BCC is constantly overcapacity. The facility itself is severely under resourced and unsafe. Inmates have often be said they are given 30minutes outside their cell per day. The facility equally lacks adequate programming for its population.
[Picture taken from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/baffin-correctional-centre-inmate-riot-iqaluit-1.4715657]
BCC houses some of the most vulnerable people in Nunavut. Accordingly, many individuals who are detained at BCC live with serious mental health issues, substance abuse, and/or trauma that must be properly treated. The facility itself and the programs it offers (or lack thereof), fall completely short of offering many individuals detained at BCC the treatment they need and deserve. It is also important to remember that many of the people detained at BCC are still presumed innocent, therefore have yet to be convicted of a crime.
Prior to the riot in June, I had used an interview room to speak to a client about their upcoming court appearance. The client I was seeing struggled with serious mental health issues. As him and I sat down in the interview room, I noticed someone had engraved words into the wall saying: “Kill yourself so you don’t need to live in this shit hole.” The situation was extremely upsetting. As I sat with my client with severe mental health concerns the words on the wall reconfirmed to me that BCC and many other facilities across Canada, are doing more harm than good to people in serious need of support. An ethos of rehabilitation has not yet been fully embedded in our prison systems.
The riot which occurred in June 2018, was the second riot at the Iqaluit jail in less than a year. Last September, multiple inmates had damaged 85 per cent of the building’s medium-security bed space. There have been various other riots at BCC since it was first constructed. Inmates have stated that they lashed out in June again to bring attention to the deplorable conditions in the jail.
In an interview with CBC, Director of BCC JP Deroy and Satah Smith a policy analyst at BCC, made statements about the riot and the prison:
“It’s going to happen again. It will. As long as we have this building, and we’re dealing with these issues, it’s going to happen again.”
“Now, take the same inmates and put them in a proper facility. Different story. Completely different story. In general, they want to help themselves,” Deroy said.
“For the sceptics who want to put this on the inmates and say the inmates are bad people, or maybe even the staff are bad people, we’ve seen the success,” Smith added.
Smith, too, added as long as BCC is open, riots will happen again.
“This building has far exceeded its life-cycle, and we’re just seeing the repercussions of it now. It’s not like our inmates are getting more bad, or savvy, or whatever,” she said.
If we know riots will continue to occur, what are we doing to change this reality?
Prisoners remain human, with human rights that cannot be violated. Accordingly, prisoners have the right to be safe from cruel and unusual punishment. It is imperative that facilities which house those who have been detained seek to rehabilitate, not punish or ignore basic human rights. Prisoners detained at BCC will one day return to their communities. Nunavut Corrections and the Canadian Department of Justice are currently failing these inmates and these communities.