Baffin Correctional Centre inmate says he spent weeks at a time in isolation

Another trial of an inmate is raising questions over the treatment of prisoners at the Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit.

Iola Lucassie is facing an aggravated assault charge from 2013 while in BCC

The Baffin Correctional Centre is seen Thursday, April 23, 2015 in Iqaluit. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Iola Lucassie says he would spend weeks at a time, alone in a jail cell, about the size of a juror's box.

At the Baffin Correctional Centre (BCC) in Iqaluit, it's known as the behavioural unit.

It's where inmates go when they become difficult to handle. And Lucassie would often find himself in the B unit.

Lucassie was sitting across from the juror's box this week, up on a number of assault charges.

The 28-year-old was involved in a fight with jail guards in December 2013 that left one bloodied and Lucassie facing an aggravated assault charge.

Video of the scene was played in court. A shirtless Lucassie was seen back-pedalling, fists up, as four guards approached.

Lucassie throws a punch, knocking one guard to the ground, then he picks up a chair and swings it down on the guard.

This was one of three incidents played in court. The others show Lucassie spitting on the face of guard, and another video of him throwing a cup of tea on him, all while he was kept in the behavioural unit.

'22 hours a day, all by himself'

By his own lawyer's admission, Lucassie is no saint.

He's been in an out of jail since an aggravated assault charge sent him to Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario when he was 19. While there, he stabbed a guard. Years later he wound up back in BCC after a number of convictions for break and entering, assault and theft charges.

"I definitely think that much of his behaviour stems from the frustration from being stuck in that cell," Lucassie's defence lawyer Jonathan Park said.

"Weeks at a time, 22 hours a day in a six-and-a-half by 15-foot cell, all by himself. It's pretty stressful." 

Nunavut's justice department reported inmates spent a total of 914 days in segregation over a two-and-a-half-year span between Jan. 1, 2012 and July 1, 2014 with an average stay of 10 days. On an average day, seven inmates at BCC were in segregation in 2014. 

About a year after the fight with the jail guards in 2013, Lucassie was transferred to a remand centre in Surrey, B.C.

"BCC decided that they couldn't handle him anymore and they sent him down to Surrey. I question that," Park said.

"I do have to ask myself whether BCC could have done better for Iola." 

Lucassie is back in Nunavut this month for his trial. He spoke to CBC News from BCC and said his experience in Surrey was much different than his time behind bars in Iqaluit.

"The very first contact I had with staff in Surrey, B.C. I really noticed it was easier going," he said.

"The way they approach a situation is very professional, like it's supposed to be. And they're not like provocative — or they don't show any sign of aggression in dealing with any kind of situation. They're really calm and collective, it's a lot better over there than it is here."

'Intolerable conditions'

Earlier this year in the sentencing of Guy Uniuqsaraq, Nunavut Justice Sue Cooper commented on the jail's "intolerable conditions."

"It is not realistic to take this segment of the citizenry, put them in a confined and crowded living situation, without any supports to assist them with their issues, and expect them to function without incident," she wrote in the sentencing.

She also pointed to a federal correctional investigator's report that found conditions in BCC were "deplorable" and, in some cases, violated human rights.

In March, a damning report from Canada's auditor general found conditions at the jail put the safety and security of inmates and staff at risk.

Conditions at BCC remind Lucassie's lawyer about the run-down apartments he grew up in around Toronto.

"The apartments I grew up in were pretty nasty," Park said.

"I think there's a problem there (with the BCC) when I'm reminded of living in the basement of a laundromat or in really run-down apartment housing in Mississauga."