Whitehorse Correctional Centre is now a akin to a northern version of the notorious Guantanamo prison, a correctional facility beyond the purview of society.
As of early January, those unlucky enough to be jailed there have been stripped of their Constitutional right to freedom of speech by a simple policy decision by a bureaucrat, Robert Riches, assistant deputy minister for community justice and public safety branch.
“We don’t have the resources to waste time on arranging interviews for inmates,” said Justice spokesman Dan Cable, talking about the new policy.
“We don’t restrict their free speech, but we don’t facilitate it either. We don’t have a mandate to do it, so we don’t do it anymore.
“They’re actually in the prison to serve a sentence, or they’ve been remanded into custody. They are not actually there for the purposes of doing an interview.”
There are plenty of reasons why Yukon Justice officials might want to restrict media access to the jail.
Over the years, media have reported on safety issues in the filthy, dilapidated facility, overcrowding, fire code violations, and abusive treatment of both male and female prisoners.
In one case, we covered the story of a woman who had remained jailed in the facility even though her charges had been dropped two years before.
Justice officials were always reluctant to grant access to the inmates. Officials did little to hide their contempt for the stories published after those meetings.
Now they’ve taken action to prevent them altogether.
“The difference between visitors and an interview with you, as a media reporter, is that visitors are usually deemed to be family, or people in their support network, of which you are not,” said Cable.
“You’re not for the purposes of rehabilitation, you’re for some other purpose.”
That purpose is actually laid out, plain as day, in Section 2(b) of the Constitution
It says, “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”
Despite Justice officials assertions to the contrary, that right extends to inmates. And also to reporters seeking access to inmates jailed in the Yukon prison.
There are plenty of good reasons why Charter rights are extended to all in society, including prisoners.
Allowing media access to prisoners in the care of the state prevents abuse of authority. It is the ultimate check on the system.
There is plenty of evidence the system needs such checks, especially in the Yukon.
Of course, there are cases where media access to a prisoner must be restricted – for example, a hotheaded gang leader might, through his remarks, incite a riot in the jail.
So, federal prisons sometimes restrict access to inmates. But officials must meticulously document the reasons for denying such visits, and the decision is subject to review – to prevent abuse.
However, the default is to restrict a prisoners’ rights as little as possible. That includes access to media.
In the Yukon, that is no longer the case.
The Whitehorse jail is starting to resemble Gitmo. Without the ocean view.
Local Justice officials have simply stripped prisoners and reporters of their Charter rights. Through a departmental policy enacted by a single bureaucrat.
Yes, that really is as stupid as it sounds.
And it calls into question the competency of the territory’s senior Justice officials.
They should withdraw the policy immediately.
Because it won’t withstand a challenge.
And, if officials don’t act, it will be challenged.