Officials in Nunavut say the Safe Streets and Communities Act, the Conservative government’s new crime bill, could overwhelm that territory’s meagre jail system and fill up a brand new jail in Rankin Inlet overnight. The act’s tougher measures on drugs and sex crimes and its promotion of harsher sentences, particularly in relation to young offenders, is expected to lead to a 15 per cent increase in inmates across Canada, but higher still in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
Nunavut’s corrections system is already under enormous pressure: the Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit, for example, built in the 1980s as a minimum-security jail for 46 prisoners, has at one time or another put up as many as 88, many of them in for violent crimes. Bill C-10 will likely fill Nunavut’s Rankin Inlet prison, built to house 40 offenders, immediately after it opens this fall.
In the past, Nunavut has eased its numbers by sending offenders to prisons across Canada, at a cost of millions. The NWT charges Nunavut $266.74 a day for each of the 30 Nunavut inmates jailed in Yellowknife. But last year Janet Slaughter, Nunavut’s then-deputy justice minister, said she’d got word from NWT and Ontario officials that Nunavut’s prisoners could be sent home if Bill C-10 leads to overcrowding in those jurisdictions. Last month, NWT Justice Minister Glen Abernethy acknowledged that possibility: “Our first step would be to stop taking Nunavut inmates.”
NWT Solicitor General Sylvia Haener says that possibility isn’t imminent, but notes the territory forecasts its inmate numbers will jump by at least 11 a year due to the new legislation, forcing the possibility of building new prisons, and other measures like rejecting the Nunavut inmates. “Several of our facilities are aging and also nearing space limitation,” she says. “It could be a tipping point.”