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Accused women jailed without conviction

Women in Yukon who fall into conflict with the law have nowhere to go but jail.Even if they’ve never been found guilty of a crime.

Women in Yukon who fall into conflict with the law have nowhere to go but jail.

Even if they’ve never been found guilty of a crime.

In most jurisdictions across Canada, local governments or charity groups provide some sort of halfway house for people who have been charged with a criminal offence and are awaiting trial.

Such a facility exists in Whitehorse: the Adult Resource Centre located near the Alaska Highway. The facility is operated by the Salvation Army.

But in June, the centre closed its doors to women, citing problems between the sexes.

“The Salvation Army has said that their facility at this time is not suitable,” said Sharon Hickey, director of community correctional services for the Yukon Justice department.

“Whenever you have men and women, you’re going to have problems managing a co-ed population,” said Hickey on Thursday.

“They’re generally lonely; they’re interested in each other. Quite often they might have a history with each other, in terms of who has got whose boyfriend or girlfriend, or who is sleeping with whose relatives, and who wants to sleep with each other.

“It raises some management issues, in terms of their safety.”

Putting women awaiting trial in jail provides a safe place, said Hickey.

“Certainly, at least, they’re safe there, and the public is safe with them there.”

But accused women who lack a “support structure” wind up waiting for weeks or even months in jail without being convicted of a crime, said lawyer Jenny Reid.

“Some (women) have family and friends, sometimes not,” said Reid, whose unnamed client from the Northwest Territories is currently lodged in the Whitehorse Correctional Centre waiting to be tried for an assault charge.

Reid’s client cannot return to the Whitehorse residence she has shared with her husband while she waits for her next court date.

The last time she did there was violence, said Reid.

Thus her client will be in jail indefinitely and without a conviction, pending the outcome of a trial that has yet to be given a date.

There have been more women being processed by the Justice system in recent years, perhaps six or seven annually up from one or two, said Reid.

“The numbers have gone up and their crimes have become more serious, involving violence and even murder,” she said.

The Salvation Army tried opening its centre to women for about five years, but problems kept occurring, said Reid.

“The ARC is really just a big house, and its not designed to accommodate both the sexes.

“It is a recipe for disaster, in some ways, to be mixing them.”

For example, a women waiting for trial at the centre might encounter a man who has sexually assaulted her in the past, she said.

Reid doesn’t blame the Salvation Army for its decision to ban women.

“But without ARC, there’s no other option for release for some women, so they sit for months in jail, waiting for trial.”

Women are being discriminated against in this fashion, and it is a human rights issue, Reid added.

The Yukon Justice department recognizes the problem and is weighing its options, said Hickey.

“The justice system is always going to look at having alternatives to incarceration,” she said.

“The ARC provided a service that we are now going to try and replace.”

The Justice department will explore the possibility of a tender process for the procurement and management of a facility for women, said Hickey.

It could involve the purchase of a small house in town, or “private home placements,” which are beds in private residences that are alcohol and drug-free and run by “suitable supervisors.”

“I’m told that, on average, one or two community beds would be sufficient,” said Hickey.

“Down the road, if some agency like Elizabeth Fry or the Salvation Army wanted to build a women’s facility, I suppose they could.”