Inmate riot in Iqaluit jail causes significant structural damage, but no injuries

An inmate riot at the Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit on Wednesday night has caused significant damage to one of the jail’s units, but no injuries were reported.

Disturbance was contained to the Baffin Correctional Centre's Charlie unit

An inmate riot at the Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit on Wednesday night caused significant damage to one unit. (Nick Murray/CBC )

An inmate riot at an Iqaluit jail has caused significant damage to one of the jail's cell blocks, but no injuries were reported.

The incident at the Baffin Correctional Centre started around 11:30 Wednesday night and was resolved around 5 a.m. Thursday, when the inmates ceded to RCMP and staff, according to Jean-Pierre Deroy, director of corrections for Nunavut.

Twenty-six inmates were involved in the riot that damaged the Charlie unit of the jail, a Thursday afternoon RCMP news release said.

This is the second riot at the Iqaluit jail in less than a year. Last September, four inmates damaged 85 per cent of the building's medium-security bed space.

Deroy said he does not know why inmates acted out this time. An inmate from the riot in September said he lashed out to bring attention to the deplorable living conditions in the jail.

A Nunavut judge has previously called the jail "intolerable," reports have called the conditions "appalling," and in 2015 Canada's auditor general said overcrowding and a lack of programming put inmates and staff at risk.

The Charlie unit of the jail was badly damaged and inmates that lived there have been moved to other units at the facility. (Nick Murray/CBC )

'Inmates hurled metal' objects

The inmates were extracted one by one from the cell block. There were no injuries to inmates or staff and there is no risk to the public, the release said.

RCMP surrounded the jail to prevent escapees — 22 police officers responded to the call along with the Iqaluit Fire Department, ambulance, municipal enforcement and the sheriff's department.

"This was a co-ordinated effort that involved an all hands on deck response," Insp. Mark Crowther said in a statement.

"The extraction went extremely well and the most important fact was that nobody was hurt. This could have ended much differently." 

All the inmates have been removed from the damaged section of the jail and are being housed in other units, as well as Iqaluit RCMP cells. Some inmates may also be sent to facilities outside the territory, while repairs are being completed.

Inmates in the jail's other units were co-operative and on lockdown, so damage is contained to the one unit, Deroy said. 

Chairs were ejected from the jail's windows, along with a cell door, an exit sign, a pair of shoes, a sink, food, a trolley cart, two cable TV boxes, three radiator vents, about two to three dozen cups, and some mugs stuffed with toilet paper. Deroy said there were no firearms involved.

"Five police vehicles were damaged as inmates hurled metal and other projectiles through an open window," RCMP said.

"As for fires, there was a little smoke coming out at one point, but it was resolved by the inmates themselves," Deroy said. "They probably realized that they were in there and their safety would be at risk, so that was extinguished on their own." 

Chairs were ejected from the jail's windows, along with a cell door, an exit sign, a pair of shoes, a sink, food, a trolley cart, two cable TV boxes, three radiator vents, about two to three dozen cups and some mugs stuffed with toilet paper. (Nick Murray/CBC )

The fire department was on site, but did not need to intervene, according to a news release from Nunavut Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak.

Replacement jail likely delayed

The news release says the Department of Justice is continuing to work on its plans for a new jail, the Qikiqtani Correctional Healing Centre, which will replace the Baffin Correctional Centre.

"The new infrastructure will address ongoing security-related issues, as well as provide additional rehabilitative programming," the release said.

However, last month the department cancelled the construction tender for the new jail after only one company bid on the project.

'Please sign here if u think fresh air is a right not a privilege' reads a note on the wall in the correctional centre. An inmate involved in a riot at the jail last September said he wanted to bring attention to deplorable living conditions. (Nick Murray/CBC)

"It doesn't take a whole lot for somebody to do some damage in there," Deroy said. "I think that's the biggest issue — the fact that the building is not solid enough right now."

With files from Kieran Oudshoorn