Corrections officers with the Yukon’s justice department will be taking over provost services from Yukon RCMP starting on Oct. 1, the Yukon government said in a press release Sept. 27, ending months of silence on the matter.
Provost duties include transporting prisoners to and from the Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC) and the Whitehorse courthouse, moving prisoners to and from the courthouse cellblock to courtrooms, guarding prisoners during court proceedings and managing the arrest processing unit.
The Yukon RCMP had previously provided all provost services, with a dedicated three-person unit. However, the police force pulled its members out of the Whitehorse courthouse cellblock Jan. 18 following an inspection by its departmental security branch earlier that month that identified several “deficiencies” within the space.
The “deficiencies” have never been made public, with both the justice department and Yukon RCMP citing security and safety reasons for not disclosing that information.
Corrections officers and court sheriffs have been moving prisoners within the cellblock ever since, with Yukon RCMP members continuing to transfer prisoners from the WCC to the courthouse and back.
The justice department and Yukon RCMP formally agreed on having corrections officers take over all provost services on Aug. 29. Starting Oct. 1, four corrections officers will be assigned to provost duties.
The News had made at least five inquiries to the justice department since January requesting information on whether any work was being done on the cellblock to address the “deficiencies,” or whether the department was considering taking over provost services from the RCMP.
Each and every time, the department told the News that no updates or new information was available, at one point taking 26 days to do so.
However, in an interview Sept. 27, assistant deputy minister of justice Allan Lucier, whose portfolio includes corrections, said that the justice department and Yukon RCMP had been in negotiation for “a number of months” over how to, and who should, manage provost services.
“The discussion around provost had been informally discussed for a number of years, for many, many years, actually, as we were one of the last jurisdictions in Canada where RCMP actually provided those services,” Lucier said, adding that the Yukon RCMP requested that the justice department take over provost in a formal business case it presented to the department in spring 2017.
In an email, Yukon RCMP spokesperson Coralee Reid confirmed that the RCMP had made the request to transfer provost services over the the justice department “to allow our operational police officers to focus their attention on core policing functions in the Yukon, and on initiatives that will have the greatest impact on the communities we serve.”
The officers previously assigned to the provost unit will be “reabsorbed into the existing policing structure in the Yukon,” she added, which could mean, for example, filling in temporary vacancies or returning to their previous positions.
Lucier also confirmed that some work on the cellblock to address safety concerns was “undertaken almost immediately” following both the RCMP’s inspection and another independent analysis ordered by the Yukon government to corroborate the RCMP’s findings.
Work on the cellblock was split into two phases, Lucier said, with one phase having already been completed and the second expected to go out for tender “very shortly.” The first phase was work that “really needed to be done to ensure the safety of those there and those looking after people,” while the second will “sort of be continued improvements to bring the facility to a more contemporary environment.”
Lucier said he could not go into detail on the majority of the work that’s already been done for security and safety reasons, but did give one example.
“Some of the improvements that have been made improve the fixtures of the cells in the cellblock themselves, and an example that I can give you is … (the cells in the cellblock were) initially fitted up with a two-piece ceramic sink and toilet fixture,” he said.
“I’ve been in law enforcement and the justice field for a long time. I had never seen a ceramic sink or toilet in a cellblock anywhere that I’ve ever been and those were replaced with a more contemporary fit-up of the toilet-sink, which is a unified piece that includes the toilet, the sink and is consistent with modern and contemporary custodial cells.”
Ceramic fixtures are typically not used in custodial settings as they can be shattered. One-piece fixtures made of metal are favoured.
In an email Sept. 28, justice department spokesperson Megan Foreman said that the department has spent approximately $125,000 so far on its analysis and renovations.
While the cellblock repairs and provost management are both issues related to available resources, Lucier said that he sees the two matters as “very, very separate,” with one related to safety and modernization and the other related to the use of police resources.
“I can’t say that (the RCMP cellblock inspection) didn’t encourage us to look at the options more thoroughly (and an option) that would see the Government of Yukon take over the responsibilities, but only in saying that that was a consideration … The two processes were very different and I don’t see them as connected,” he said.
Lucier added that he was optimistic about having corrections officers take over provost services.
“I think that’s going to build in efficiencies, our people are well-trained in that respect, there are benefits to the continuity of prisoners as they leave the facility and come back to the facility, we regularly do escorting of prisoners as it is for medical appointments and other things that they have outside, so I think the commonality of skills is all there,” he said.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org