After nearly four years of Yukon Party rule, Liberal MLA Pat Duncan wants to know whether conditions have improved at the notoriously rundown Whitehorse Correctional Centre.
“Has the Yukon Party, after three and half years in office, made any progress on replacing the Whitehorse Correctional Centre?” Duncan asked Premier Dennis Fentie as Yukon’s legislative assembly wrapped up last week.
“Are individuals incarcerated at Whitehorse Correctional Centre any better off with programming than they were three and a half years ago?
“Are there any fewer individuals in Whitehorse Correctional Centre than there were three and a half years ago?”
No, no and no, Duncan said, answering her own questions for the assembly.
The jail, originally built in 1967, houses more than 70 inmates on average — up to 90 per cent of which are First Nations.
A 1995 report, by Edmonton-based architects, said the government was obligated to build a new facility. The Yukon fire marshal has been delivering the same message for years.
And 20 of the 53 complaints Yukon ombudsman Hank Moorlag received last year were from correction centre inmates.
“The premier has trotted out endlessly this election slogan that they’ve got of ‘Are you better off?’” said Duncan.
“Well, are the inmates better off with this supposed better programming that the Yukon Party was going to introduce? No, there is no better programming.”
So how close is the government to actually building a new jail?
“I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Justice minister John Edzerza.
In November 2004, the Justice department embarked on a $2.1-million corrections review that involved more than 1,000 Yukoners.
The result was a 230-page report tabled in the legislature in April.
The report’s findings are essential to designing an effective new correctional centre, says Edzerza.
Right now, the government plans to bring design options forward to cabinet in September, said deputy Justice minister Dennis Cooley.
Once a specific design has been agreed upon, architectural planning will proceed, he said.
Cooley could not give a specific date for actual completion of the jail or what the construction budget would be.
But, he insisted, “This is our number one priority as a department.
“The jail is kind of like the lightening rod or the crown jewel — I don’t know how you want to put it, but it’s the focal point.”
The government will strike two committees to plan the facility — one will design the jail and the other will decide how corrections report recommendations, like increased inmate education and job training, will be implemented.
“You don’t want to design a building that won’t allow us to do the types of correctional programming that we see in the future,” said Cooley.
The government allotted $1 million in this year’s budget for the planning process, as well as eventual implementation expected towards the end of the year.
“We know the programming and approach within the jail to rehabilitate people is just as important as the facility itself,” said NDP leader Todd Hardy.
But the process is happening too slowly under the Yukon Party government, he added.
“So what you’ve got is a Justice minister who is correct in that sense — there’s no question about it — but you’ve also got a Justice minister who should have built a jail.
“It’s a shame because I think all this could have been done by now. We shouldn’t be spending millions and millions of dollars to keep patching it together,” said Hardy.
“It’s always important to hear from Yukoners,” said Duncan.
But the new correctional report’s findings mirror what people have been saying for years, she said.
“What I find distasteful is that the government completely ignored the advice that was already on the books from Yukoners. They completely dismissed all of that work.
“That correctional consultation said ‘Hello! Surprise! You need to build a new facility!’
“At least we did the work. We turned the dirt. They’ve done nothing,” said Duncan.
The Liberal government, under Duncan, had broken ground on a new jail during its time in office, but construction came to a halt when the Yukon Party came to power in 2002. It cancelled the project, and has since spent $1.4 million dollars to repair the existing facility.
“The Liberals always talk about the government abandoning the project they started,” said Edzerza.
“Well, after going through the justice reform process, it’s quite obvious that the building they were proposing would not have met the needs of what has been proposed to date by all the different stakeholders.
“We could have pushed anything through, but we didn’t do that. We let the process unfold in a timely manner so that people weren’t forced to make a decision — we let the people think about really what it is we see as justice reform.”
Duncan appreciates these are good intentions.
“I don’t deny that these are laudable objectives, and absolutely we should be working on that,” she said.
“But it only works if you walk the talk, and actually do it.”
Contact Rich Maerov at firstname.lastname@example.org
CYFN opposes policy
Opposition to the Yukon’s new outfitter land-application policy is growing.
Premier Dennis Fentie has received another letter from Yukon First Nations opposing the exclusive land-application policy for big-game outfitters.
“The current policy is flawed and will only foster confrontation and conflict,” Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief Andy Carvill said in a letter to Fentie dated May 23.
“Rescind” the policy and draft a new one that “respects the aboriginal and treaty rights of Yukon First Nation citizens and promotes sensible land use and management,” wrote Carvill.
The policy allows the 19 outfitting concession holders currently operating in the territory to apply for leases and licences on their base camps and satellite camps in the Yukon wilderness, granting them exclusive tenure.
It came into effect in October 2005.
So far, only Lone Wolf Outfitting has applied for tenure.
The policy was developed without “meaningful consultation” with Yukon First Nations, said Carvill.
Yukon First Nations participated in “a handful of half-day information sessions” with the federal government prior to April 2003 — the date of devolution of power to the territory — but “no further sessions or any consultations have been carried out with the Yukon First Nations with respect to the policy,” he said.
The Yukon government has a “constitutional obligation” to consult with affected First Nations about the policy, he added.
Fentie was unmoved.
“Categorically, I say they have been consulted,” he said.
“This is a much improved approach to deal with issues on the land base.
“This is not new. There are already some 438 leases out there on the Yukon’s land base.” (GM)