Iqaluit jail riot to cost Nunavut more than $11K a day and counting

Keeping 40 Nunavut inmates in an Ontario jail is costing the Government of Nunavut $11,000 a day. The 40 were shipped south after what RCMP describe as a “riot” at the Baffin Correctional Centre (BCC) in Iqaluit on June 20.

Keeping 40 Nunavut inmates in an Ontario jail is costing the Government of Nunavut more than $11,000 a day.

The 40 were shipped south after what RCMP describe as a “riot” at the Baffin Correctional Centre (BCC) in Iqaluit on June 20.

That’s when 26 prisoners inside the medium security institution’s “Charlie” unit blocked the entrance and began destroying prison property. RCMP surrounded the facility with 22 members when the call came in at 10:30 p.m. The riot was contained by 4:00 am the next morning.

Justice Department officials estimate at least 30 days are needed to repair the jail and are still totalling up the damages. Nunavut RCMP says they are still investigating and anticipate laying charges.

The cost could be significant. A much smaller incident in September – involving four inmates – resulted in over $100,000 in damages.

While no one escaped the jail, prisoners did damage five RCMP cruisers by hurling furniture out a window they had broken open. No prisoners or officers were injured in the incident.

Now Nunavut faces another cost, the cost of keeping prisoners out of the territory. Ontario charges Nunavut $285 a day for each inmate they take in. With 40 inmates now in Ontario, the price tag is $11,400 a day. The Justice Department is unsure as to when they will return to Nunavut.

The jail houses two different kinds of prisoners, those serving a sentence and those awaiting trial on remand. Both varieties have been sent to out of territory facilities following the riot. Only 21 of the 52 inmates that were housed the night of the riot remain there.

“We actually received more inmates from other communities, both remand and sentenced, and this actually happened right after the incident. We had to include them, so that came up to 40 inmates,” explained Riita Strickland, Nunavut’s assistant deputy minister of Justice.

Nunavut does have a second institution, the Rankin Inlet Healing Facility. None of the prisoners involved were moved there. According to a Justice Department official, “the facility was close to capacity and available bed space was not appropriate.”

Relief for the notorious BCC is years away.

A replacement prison – the Qikiqtani Correctional Healing Centre – won’t be complete until 2021 at the earliest, and a renovation of BCC will not be complete until 2022. Both projects were delayed at least a year; when a request for proposals to build the new jail resulted in only one applicant, with a bid $12 million above the government’s budget.

BCC was originally designed to hold 41 inmates – a renovation upped that number to 68 –  but is constantly overcrowded. The jail has held as many as 115 inmates.  A scathing Auditor General of Canada report in 2015 stated, “the centre’s physical infrastructure was not safe for either inmates or staff” and “Critical deficiencies identified in fire inspections of the Baffin Correctional Centre have yet to be addressed”.

The Government of Nunavut agreed to every recommendation the auditor general made.

“We have been implementing the recommendations, but we do have challenges with our current facility. Until we have a new facility, it will be very challenging to implement the other recommendations. That’s just a reality that we have,” Strickland said.

Destroying a wall – or yanking a sink out of it – is not hard at BCC. The walls are plywood, designed for a minimum security facility and far fewer inmates.

“The security challenges right now are with the walls, that’s one of the biggest concerns. The walls were built with sheetrock and plywood, not very strong infrastructure for a maximum security facility,” Strickland said.

Nunavut has six and half times more people in jail per capita than the Canadian average, and 98 per cent of Nunavut’s inmates are Inuit. For many Nunavut residents, BCC holds family.

“We want to convey to the family members [who have relatives in BCC] that their family are safe. That was one of the priorities while the incident was happening, it was to ensure the safety of staff and inmates, and that will continue regardless of where they are,” said Strickland.

In the 2014-15 fiscal year, Nunavut spent $32 million on the overall corrections budget.

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