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Inmates may see human rights commission as last resort: Nixon

Yukon's minister of justice says he has no problem with inmates at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre going to the human rights commission with complaints.

Yukon’s minister of justice says he has no problem with inmates at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre going to the human rights commission with complaints.

That’s at odds with a position previously staked out by his department officials.

They have said that the Yukon Human Rights Commission can’t investigate several complaints launched by inmates at the facility. The department insists that its own internal procedures are able to handle any inmate concerns.

Minister Mike Nixon had declined interviews on the subject. But, when he was approached by a reporter at a constituency barbecue yesterday evening, he offered his comments.

“We’re having a legal look at the legislation right now and it seems a bit unclear whether that’s actually a step in there.”

Weeks ago, the Department of Justice issued a statement saying it believed the Yukon Human Rights Commission does not have the jurisdiction to investigate complaints where the law provides for another review or grievance process.

In the case of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, that’s the investigations and Standards Office, or ISO. The same statement went on to suggest people unhappy with a decision by the ISO could go to the ombudsperson or the courts for a judicial review.

Nixon said department lawyers are currently looking at the legislation to come up with some clarity.

“We are taking a look at the legislation, the wording, what it says and what it means.”

Nixon said it’s important that inmates take all the steps in the process, including going to the ISO, before going to the commission. If they’ve exhausted all of those steps and there’s no resolution, Nixon says he has “no problem with them going to the human rights commission.”

“We’re all human beings. Regardless of the fact of where we are, whether we’re living in the Yukon or Ontario or in a correctional facility or a child in a government group home, there are processes for everyone,” he said.

“We work in government, we need to go through the process of talking to management and going through the steps before talking to an ombudsman. It’s the same process for the human rights commission in a correctional facility.”

Documents suggest there have been multiple human rights complaints filed against the jail. Neither the government nor the Human Rights Commission is saying how many complaints have been made.

Both sides are also quiet about whether the inmates who have made human rights complaints first tried to go through the jail’s internal complaint system.

The only complaint that has been made public is that of Michael Nehass.

Nehass was brought naked to a video court appearance, shackled and pinned to the floor by jail guards.

His father has since filed a human rights complaint, alleging that his son has been kept in solitary confinement for 28 months.

The Department of Justice denies that claim.

Another politician at the barbecue was Premier Darrell Pasloski, who dodged a question about whether MLA Darius Elias was sanctioned by the Yukon Party for violating its code of ethics after he pleaded guilty to refusing a breathalyzer in May.

“I think you have to ask the party that question. I mean, that’s what we have a party and a president for,” he said.

“What we’ve said, Darius has said he’s got a problem, and he’s seeking help, and he’s asking for patience. And what the caucus has said is he’s getting help and we support him and that hasn’t changed.”

Elias was originally pulled over for talking on a cell phone and then charged with the other offence.

That same day he would vote on the territory’s budget.

Pasloski was asked whether there were any concerns about Elias’s sobriety that afternoon.

“I’m pretty focused in the House, where I am as well. That is a big day for me. As the finance minister, that’s my budget. So I’m in the front and I’m pretty focused on what we’re doing.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at