Gay man claims mistreatment, discrimination while in N.W.T. jail

‘No amount of money could ever fix this,’ says Kelly Canadian. He's willing to give up a $5,000 human rights settlement to tell his story. WARNING: This story contains strong language that might be offensive to some readers

WARNING: This story contains strong language that might be offensive to some readers

‘No amount of money could ever fix this,’ says Kelly Canadian, who's willing to give up a $5,000 human rights settlement to tell his story. He claims he was discriminated against because he's gay while in jail at North Slave Correctional Complex in Yellowknife. (Kelly Canadian/Facebook)

A Yellowknife man is willing to give up a $5,000 human rights settlement to talk about alleged mistreatment he faced as an openly gay man in the city's jail.

Kelly Canadian, 25, says he was incarcerated for nine months beginning in September 2016, after he stole two pizzas and assaulted a police officer.

During that time he alleges guards at North Slave Correctional Complex (NSCC) repeatedly harassed him and called him names like "faggot" and "cocksucker."

Seven months into his incarceration, Canadian filed a human rights complaint against NSCC, a facility run by the N.W.T. government.

The complaint says NSCC employees discriminated against Canadian because of his sexuality.

In one allegation, Canadian said during a fire drill a guard called him a "faggot" and told him to "hurry my ass up or I'm going to burn."

He told CBC News he complained to prison officials, but it didn't solve the problem. He said one guard was given a written warning.

"Everybody who was involved with this got a slap on the wrist," said Canadian.

Breaching confidentiality

Canadian said harassment by the guards made life harder at the facility.

"It certainly sends the inmates a message that that type of behaviour is OK. So it's not only the inmates I have to deal with, it's the staff too."

His human rights complaint against the territorial government was settled out of court in November, with a payment of $5,000. 

By contacting CBC News, he has broken a confidentiality clause in that settlement, meaning he could be forced to pay back the money.

But he says "no amount of money could ever fix this."

"There is a healing process which I have to do on my own," said Canadian.

"The world needs to know that this type of stuff still happens and that people aren't getting disciplined for it."

Canadian says he was incarcerated for nine months. During that time he alleges guards at the jail repeatedly harassed him due to his sexual orientation. (Mitch Wiles/CBC)

Human rights complaint

The Northwest Territories Human Rights Commission received the complaint in April 2017 — while Canadian was still incarcerated. In it, he listed multiple incidents of harassment by the guards.

Canadian said at one point he was put in segregation — in a cell by himself — after he refused to go to his cell. But he said he was kept like that longer than necessary because of his sexual orientation, claiming officers didn't want him to have a cellmate. 

"They were worried because something might happen because I'm gay," said Canadian. "They thought it might turn into a sex room or something."

Canadian said while he was in segregation he asked for an additional blanket — for which he had a nurse's note.

The North Slave Correctional Complex in Yellowknife. (Walter Strong/CBC)

"The guard told me to touch myself and I would feel warmer," he told CBC.

When contacted by CBC, a spokesperson for the commission said it cannot comment on specific cases. 

An official with the territorial Department of Justice, said in an email that the department would not respond to this specific case.

But Blair Van Metre, assistant director of facility operations, said inmates are typically segregated when "they are considered a threat to themselves or others, when their actions jeopardize the health, safety and security of the facility, or for disciplinary reasons."

He also said corrections officers are "expected to model respectful behaviours at all times. The Department doesn't condone any type of disrespectful behaviour and supports a positive workplace culture."

No lawyer

Canadian said he tried to find a lawyer to represent him for his human rights complaint, but no one would take his case.

He said all of the lawyers he contacted either didn't respond, or had a conflict of interest because they had or have worked for the territorial government.

Canadian said the territorial government took advantage of the fact that he couldn't get representation.

He said he would have preferred if the government had offered counselling, and he regrets accepting the financial settlement.

Canadian said he's still suffering from mental health issues and the effects of the discrimination.

"I'm sure that other people have experienced this and they're afraid to say something."