Baffin Correctional Centre inmates speak out

‘Six steps in the cell with the door,’ says Poasie Aniniliak, an inmate being held in segregation at BCC, who says he’s often left for long periods without human contact.
The Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit. In 2012, the building was cited for more than 40 fire code 'deficiencies', including blocked fire exits and malfunctioning fire extinguishers. A report released this week found conditions at the jail 'appalling' and called for it to be closed. (Vincent Desrosiers/CBC)

Some inmates in the Baffin Correctional Centre are speaking out to CBC about poor conditions at the jail.

Their comments come just as a report is released from the Federal Office of the Correctional Investigator found the prison so appalling it should be shut down. The inspection was done in March, 2013, upon request from Nunavut Corrections.

The jail was built almost 30 years ago to handle about 40 inmates, but it often holds more than 100 men, crowded into cells.

The inspection found that close to 60 inmates shared two toilets, two showers and 3 urinals, and some inmates expressed fears of sexual and physical violence. Mold is everywhere, along with its smell.

Iola Lucassie is inside BCC and a regular at the jail.

"They don't really try to do anything about the mould here in BCC, and it looks like every time it's getting worse and I have to breathe that stuff and that's another thing I think that's not right. I think they should do something about it. I think they should re-renovate this whole building because it is, like, falling apart. On the unit I’m in right now, the wall starting to peel here because it’s so old."

Lucassie has a history with the justice system, both in Nunavut and in southern Canada. He says he's currently being held in segregation and when he leaves his cell, he's kept on handcuffs because of trouble he's caused with BCC staff. 

He's even in handcuffs in the shower or when he comes out in the yard, Lucassie says.

"I stay in cuffs out there too and I think that's not right that they do give me this kind of treatment, especially in winter time, leaving me out there with handcuffs on, I think that's inhumane."

Lucassie also feels that he can't get access to treatment or counselling.

"I can't even get counselling here and I think that's not right 'cause this is suppose to be a correction centre and they're here working here to try and correct me and guide me to the right path and they're doing the exact opposite by neglecting me."

Decision-making rules unclear

The report raises questions about how decisions are made at the Baffin Correctional Centre and how these decisions affect the fundamental rights of inmates or people in remand.

It says Nunavut's corrections legislation has not been updated in 25 years, the jail lacks a list to guide staff who make decisions. In some cases, the report found that actions taken are inconsistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Both Lucassie and another B-C-C resident Poasie Aniniliak, who also spoke with the CBC's Patricia Bell from jail, say they feel their time in custody is making them worse.

Aniniliak admits he has anger issues, and has caused grief for BCC workers. He says he's now in segregation.

He accuses the staff of keeping him there for long periods without contact — another human rights issue identified in the report.

"I am being kept in segregation, 24-hour lock up, very little access of anything... the case workers and the warden, they're suppose to give us some programs... Now I'm basically, I'm not getting programs...I'm getting worse, I'm not getting anywhere."

The warden and the case workers are making their own rules, Aniniliak alleges.

On the edge in a cell

He feels he's on the edge in his small cell. “Five steps each side me at least,” Aniniliak says. “Six steps in the cell with the door, with the hatch, toilet in there, two bunks.”

Judges and criminal defence lawyers in the territory have known about safety and other problems in the jail for years.

“The biggest difficulty I’ve run across and I’ve seen this a few times, is contraband,” says James Morton, a criminal defence lawyer who often works in Iqaluit. “There really is a problem with drugs and other things getting into BCC.”

In 2010, Nunavut's fire marshal,Tony Noakes, was fired at the end of his one-year probation. He believes it's because he went to RCMP to ask if criminal negligence charges should be laid because of the overcrowding and numerous fire code violations at the correctional centre.

In 2012, the building was cited for more than 40 fire code 'deficiencies', including blocked fire exits and malfunctioning fire extinguishers, the CBC learned through an Access to Information request. In response, the Government of Nunavut claimed the deficiencies were minor.

Of the most recent report, Nunavut's Justice minister and former premier Paul Okalik says the government is aware of the problems and is making improvements.

“We're taking measures to make sure the environment is safe and secure for everyone so we've taken steps already and we're building a new facility to make sure the overcrowding is relieved and that the facilities that we put in place are secure and healthy for everyone."

That new jail, next to the old one, is scheduled to open later this year, but it will only handle about 50 inmates.

The government says it plans to renovate, not close, the Baffin Correctional Centre.