IQALUIT, Nunavut — You won’t see it on the itinerary for Stephen Harper’s annual northern tour, and it’s somewhere the prime minister would probably rather not be seen, anyway.
But while Harper is in Iqaluit trumpeting his government’s spending on science and technology, scant attention will be paid to one of the North’s most notorious jails, just a short distance away.
It’s a place the federal Conservatives want no part of, one they are more than happy to leave in the hands of the territorial government, which is responsible for the jail, but seems reluctant to do much about its squalid state.
The territory hasn’t done a whole lot to deal with a list of serious problems that Canada’s prisons watchdog identified more than a year ago.
In fact, federal Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers hasn’t heard from the Nunavut government since he submitted his report on the Baffin Correctional Centre in April 2013.
“Once we gave them our report, of course we don’t have jurisdiction and they have no particular obligation to reply,” Sapers said in a recent interview.
“That’s why there weren’t recommendations. We just simply gave them the observations that they asked for and it was then really a matter for the territorial government to deal with.”
Sapers’ report, which quietly appeared on the Nunavut Justice Department website in the spring, listed a slew of serious problems at the jail.
The place is rife with drugs and illegal contraband. Inmates live in constant fear of beatings and sexual assaults. It is so overcrowded that prisoners are kept in cells with up to four times the intended occupancy rate. Some cells have no toilets or running water. The prison is filthy, drafty and mouldy. The smell is overpowering.
“When I first walked through, I was quite taken aback. I was taken aback at its state of disrepair, said Sapers.
“The conditions of confinement were certainly well below anything I had seen in a federal penitentiary.”
Not just in Canada, either. Sapers puts the Baffin Correctional Centre on par with some of the worst jails he’s seen around the world.
“I have visited prisons across Canada and in several spots in the United States and in many places around the world, including China, (South) Korea, the Czech Republic, Singapore,” he said.
“The conditions in the Baffin Correctional Centre were certainly as bad as any I’ve seen anywhere.”
Neither Nunavut Justice Minister Paul Okalik nor his department have responded to questions about the jail.
Ottawa has an agreement with Nunavut to hold federally sentenced offenders, under certain circumstances, in territorial jails.
But the Conservatives aren’t eager to be associated with the Baffin Correctional Centre.
In a November 2012 response to questions on the Commons order paper from former Liberal MP Denis Coderre, then-public safety minister Vic Toews repeatedly said the jail belongs to Nunavut and isn’t the federal government’s responsibility.