The Conservative government's plan to impose mandatory minimum sentences for some offences could overwhelm Nunavut's jails with more inmates than it can handle, warns the territory's director of corrections.
Jean-Pierre Deroy said he is worried about new crime laws that could come from Ottawa, now that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives have won a majority government.
Deroy said the Conservatives are now poised to push through legislation that would introduce mandatory minimum sentences for offences such as impaired driving and some drug charges.
"It actually scares me, and I think it scares pretty much all of us because we can see what's coming," Deroy told CBC News in an interview.
Deroy said he fears that judges could lose flexibility in sentencing, which would result in more offenders staying in Nunavut's overcrowded correctional facilities for longer periods of time.
'We simply don't have the space'
"All of these [problems, which] are actually a big problem here in the North, [are] actually going to affect us more than in another area," he said. "We simply don't have the space."
Right now, the main jail in Nunavut is the Baffin Correctional Centre, where upwards of 90 inmates are crammed into a facility that was built for 66.
Overcrowding has long been an issue at the Iqaluit jail. Deroy said he has watched the inmate population swell since he first worked there as a guard 20 years ago.
"In our day, if we had 60, 65, that was [a] full house," he said.
Twenty-one inmates are currently sleeping on mattresses laid out in the jail's gymnasium.
While the gym is hot and the lights are never turned off, inmates like Paul Angotituk said they prefer the gym over the regular dormitories.
"Over here, you have more room to breathe," Angotituk said.
Laws could get stronger
Deroy said a new jail that is expected to open next year in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, will help take some of the pressure off the Baffin Correctional Centre, but he added that it won't be enough.
The mandatory minimum sentencing proposal was on the table before Parliament dissolved for the spring election. With the Conservatives winning a majority government, Deroy said he fears the proposed laws could become even tougher.
"When they were [a minority government], you have to wonder how conservative they were … and maybe [made] it a little softer maybe just to help it pass through," he said.
"Now that they have, like, a majority, what else are they going to throw in there? And that's the uncertainty that actually worries us … how is that going to affect us?"
Deroy said his department is raising the issue with the federal government. Officials are also getting an independent review of the territory's corrections needs, he added.