Hunger strikes at Whitehorse jail

Karen Nicloux hasn't eaten for two weeks. To avoid smelling the hot meals delivered to her dorm three times a day, the Whitehorse Correctional Centre inmate rubs Vicks VapoRub under her nose.

Karen Nicloux hasn’t eaten for two weeks.

To avoid smelling the hot meals delivered to her dorm three times a day, the Whitehorse Correctional Centre inmate rubs Vicks VapoRub under her nose.

“The smell of food is making me nauseous,” said the 43-year-old First Nation woman.

“I have started getting dizzy, and I’m losing sleep.”

But Nicloux still refuses to eat.

The hunger strike is a last resort.

Staff at the jail “won’t acknowledge or accommodate my disability,” she said.

Nicloux has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder.

“When I get an attack, it feels like I’m having a heart attack,” she said.

“My chest gets tight and I sometimes black out from lack of oxygen.”

Nicloux blames a death threat on the job in 1999, when she was Na-cho Nyak Dun’s employment training officer, for the onset of her post-traumatic stress.

Ten years later, Nicloux has received another death threat—this time, in jail.

“It’s causing me anxiety attacks,” she said.

Nicloux was jailed on drug charges more than two months ago.

For the first five days, she was held in B dorm with the rest of the female inmates.

But before the week was up, Nicloux was moved to the medical dorm for “safety reasons,” according to her lawyer, Fia Jampolsky.

Ten days later, Nicloux was assaulted by a schizophrenic patient who was sharing the med dorm.

“She threw a cup of hot water in my face,” said Nicloux.

“She was suicidal and I was trying to calm her down.”

With nowhere else to put her, staff at the jail moved Nicloux to administrative segregation for the night.

“It’s a 10-by-eight-foot room where they check you in and out of the jail,” she said.

“There’s no bathroom—you have to wave at the camera.”

The next day Nicloux slept in the gym, then in an interview room.

Finally, she was moved to G dorm, a windowless cell in the middle of the jail across from two tiny segregation rooms known as The Hole.

But it isn’t the dorm that is troubling Nicloux—it’s lack of programming.

“I have repeatedly requested (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings, mental-health programming, counselling from alcohol and drug services, schooling and to see a psychiatrist,” she said.

All were denied.

“I was told I couldn’t go back to B dorm, so I couldn’t have the programming,” said Nicloux.

But then another woman joined Nicloux in segregation—three days later the new inmate was offered programming.

“She was attending AA meetings, arts and crafts, healing circle, Yukon College classes, and was taken down to adult probation for drug classes,” said Nicloux.

The other inmate was also allowed to join an outside work crew, something Nicloux was denied.

Nicloux phoned adult probation requesting addictions counselling. She was sent three drug booklets.

“I completed them and sent them back a couple of weeks ago, but still haven’t heard anything,” she said on Wednesday.

In the last 70 days, Nicloux has been seen one elder, attended one arts-and-crafts class, three healing circles and four counselling sessions.

The other female inmates get this kind of programming at least once a week and school twice a week, she said.

Nicloux, who used to attend regular programming at the hospital, is “starting to forget what she learned.”

“I’m having angry outbursts and letting things build up before I vent,” she said.

“I am supposed to wait 10 seconds and think, ‘Will this make my life better or worse?’—but I am losing this now.”

On June 17, Nicloux filed a complaint with the Yukon Human Rights Board, based on discrimination due to her disabilities.

Even getting fresh air is an ordeal.

“I have been out for fresh air once this week,” she said.

Nicloux is expected to join the other women from B dorm in the yard, but it exacerbates her post-traumatic stress.

“When I go out in the yard with them they call me names and speak about me loudly so I can overhear, even with earplugs on,” she said.

“They call me ‘that thing.’”

One inmate told Nicloux she was “going to die.”

Nicloux no longer goes for fresh air with the women, opting to stay in her dorm. Although she longs for the sunlight, it is too hard on her mentally, she said.

Nicloux was told if she wants fresh air alone, she needs a note from her doctor.

“I have been trying to see a psychiatrist for months,” she said.

It wasn’t until a week into her hunger strike, that the first meeting finally happened.

The psychiatrist visits the jail weekly, said Justice spokesperson Dan Cable.

“He does his rounds on Thursdays.”

The programs available for women at the jail “are Alcoholics Anonymous, elder counselling and guidance, and standard educational programs through Yukon College,” said Cable.

There are two additional programs geared toward First Nation inmates but open to everyone, he added, referring to the White Bison and Gathering Power programs.

“In addition, female inmates have access to individual counselling to assist them with addictions, trauma, and anger management, and they have access to the new healing room.”

But all programming is dependent upon an individual inmate’s personal-risk assessment—what risk they pose to other inmates, the risk other inmates pose to them and what risk they pose to staff, he said.

Cable would not comment on individual cases, including Nicloux’s.

But the jail does have a general hunger-strike policy.

“The staff will offer the inmate meals at the regular times and it’s up to the inmate to decide if they want to eat those meals,” said Cable.

“The doctor will monitor more closely inmates who are on a hunger strike.

“Should an inmate’s health be compromised, the decision is not made by the correctional officers, it’s made by the doctor.

“And if a person’s health becomes compromised during a hunger strike, then they’re moved to the hospital.”

Nicloux’s last meal was the night of June 13.

She has lost 14 pounds.

“I am weaker,” she said.

“I used to be able to do 40 situps at a time, and now I can do 15.”

And a few days ago, Nicloux noticed a weird tingling in her arm.

She asked a nurse about it.

“All you have to do is eat, and you’d feel better,” the nurse said.

“They’re really sarcastic,” said Nicloux.

“I don’t understand why it’s so hard for them to recognize I have a disability, let alone accommodate it.”

There is another inmate in segregation who has diabetes and uses an oxygen tank; he should be in the med ward, said Nicloux.

“If they can’t accommodate people with disabilities, then we shouldn’t be in jail.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crystal Schick/Yukon News
Calvin Delwisch poses for a photo inside his DIY sauna at Marsh Lake on Feb. 18.
Yukoners turning up the heat with unique DIY sauna builds

Do-it-yourselfers say a sauna built with salvaged materials is a great winter project

d
Wyatt’s World

Wyatt’s World for March 5, 2021.

g
Yukonomist: School competition ramps up in the Yukon

It’s common to see an upstart automaker trying to grab share from… Continue reading

The Yukon government responded to a petition calling the SCAN Act “draconian” on Feb. 19. (Yukon News file)
Yukon government accuses SCAN petitioner of mischaracterizing her eviction

A response to the Jan. 7 petition was filed to court on Feb. 19

City councillor Samson Hartland in Whitehorse on Dec. 3, 2018. Hartland has announced his plans to run for mayor in the Oct. 21 municipal election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillor sets sights on mayor’s chair

Hartland declares election plans

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Public Health Nurse Angie Bartelen at the Yukon Convention Centre Clinic in Whitehorse on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
State of emergency extended for another 90 days

“Now we’re in a situation where we see the finish line.”

The Yukon government says it is working towards finding a solution for Dawson area miners who may be impacted by City of Dawson plans and regulations. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Miner expresses frustration over town plan

Designation of claims changed to future planning

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been postponed indefinitely. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
2022 Arctic Winter Games postponed indefinitely

Wood Buffalo, Alta., Host Society committed to rescheduling at a later date

Housing construction continues in the Whistle Bend subdivision in Whitehorse on Oct. 29, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Bureau of Statistics reports rising rents for Yukoners, falling revenues for businesses

The bureau has published several reports on the rental market and businesses affected by COVID-19

Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief Peter Johnston at the Yukon Forum in Whitehorse on Feb. 14, 2019. Johnston and Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn announced changes to the implementation of the Yukon First Nations Procurement Policy on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Third phase added to procurement policy implementation

Additional time added to prep for two provisions

Crews work to clear the South Klondike Highway after an avalanche earlier this week. (Submitted)
South Klondike Highway remains closed due to avalanches

Yukon Avalanche Association recommending backcountry recreators remain vigilant

RCMP Online Crime Reporting website in Whitehorse on March 5. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Whitehorse RCMP launch online crime reporting

Both a website and Whitehorse RCMP app are now available

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

Most Read