Sunday, April 17, 2011

The trials of Nunavut: Lament for an Arctic nation - Part Six

Part VI

The generation gap, overcrowding, poor education, alcohol and cycles of violence – the casualties of all these faults languish in a squat, metal-sided building that the Deputy Director of Corrections likes to refer to as “the sardine can.”

The Baffin Correctional Centre lies roughly 30 seconds from downtown Iqaluit. On a recent weekend shift, security doors hung crookedly from bent hinges, sinks didn't work and doors had been ripped from toilet stalls.

Inmates sipped fruit punch from melamine mugs, played checkers and stared longingly at bedside magazine cut-outs of Taylor Swift, Scarlett Johansson and federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq – or “Queen Leona” as one male inmate referred to her.

In the basketball gym, narrow cots crowded the court from baseline to baseline. J.P. Deroy, the deputy director, said there were a few days last year when the gym was free of beds, but usually it's teeming with around 100 inmates, almost 100 per cent above the jail's capacity.

“How are you supposed to run rehab programs in a place like this? Most of the year, it's too cold outside and it's too crowded inside,” Mr. Deroy said, pacing the jail's halls.

One inmate in solitary leaped from his bed and waved through a small window when he saw Mr. Deroy walk by. A guard opened the door. “You need something?”

“Nope,” said the prisoner, a broad-shouldered Inuk in his early 20s with buzzed hair. “Just wondering what you guys was up to.” He and the guards lapsed into neighbourly banter.

Asked his name, he turned his back and pointed a thumb at a tattoo stretching between his soldier blades: “INUKSTA.” He then drew attention to several places where he had scratched the moniker on the cell wall.

“I spend a lot of time here,” he said. “Gotta find something to do with my time.”

Inuksta grew up in poverty with his Inuktitut-speaking grandparents. His struggles with English led to fights, first with other students and then with teachers.

He has been in and out of juvenile-detention facilities and the Baffin Correctional Centre ever since, on a string of charges.

“We know you very, very well, don't we?” Mr. Deroy said. “Are you still causing the guards problems?”

Inuksta just smiled, looked bashfully at his prison-issue sandals. “Maybe a little, yeah.”

Criminologists debate endlessly about the root causes of crime waves, but one thing is generally agreed: The larger the proportion of youth in a given population, especially undereducated ones, the worse the crime problem.

“While the rest of the country is getting older, Nunavut is getting younger,” said V Division's Chief Supt. McVarnock. “You mix a young population with alcohol and limited options, you're going to have problems.”

Rising crime has put stress on the courts as well. The average number of prisoners waiting for court dates has increased to 63 in 2010 from 18 in 1999.

In its proposed budget before the federal election call, Ottawa had pledged $4.2-million over two years to hire judges and prosecutors for Nunavut, responding to a terse letter from Nunavut Chief Justice Robert Kilpatrick that cited the territory's youthful demographics.

For the time being, Inuksta seemed resigned to calling prison a permanent second home.

“I get out, and I try, but I always end up here,” he said, smiling at the guards. “Wouldn't be surprised if that keeps happening, I guess.”

As his visitors moved on, he shuffled his sandals back into solitary, and closed his door behind him.

White, Patrick. 2011. "The trials of Nunavut: Lament for an Arctic nation". The Globe and Mail. Posted: April 1, 2011. Available online:

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