The legal expert undertaking an inspection of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC) as well as the lawyer hired by the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) to highlight First Nations interests both gave brief updates on their work at CYFN’s justice conference last week.
Inspector David Loukidelis and Whitehorse lawyer Jennie Cunningham appeared together on the second day of the “Exploring Justice: Our Way” conference April 6.
Loukidelis, whom Yukon Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee appointed to undertake an inspection of the WCC in November 2017, said that he has started writing his report, due May 15, while continuing to review literature and interviewing people involved in the Yukon justice system.
Among the literature Loukidelis said he’s read so far is the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s Canadian justice system report card, which ranks the Yukon’s as the worst in the country, an auditor’s report of Yukon corrections from 2015 and the UN’s the Nelson Mandela rules for prisoner treatment.
Loukidelis said he’s also spoken to court workers, Aboriginal justice workers, members of CYFN, Kwanlin Dün First Nation citizens, Legal Aid, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society Yukon, current and former WCC inmates and mental health staff who provide services at the WCC.
Meanwhile, Cunningham said she has been retained by CYFN to create a report parallel to Loukidelis’s on the effects of the WCC and the justice system on First Nations people and recommendations on how to address those effects.
Cunningham said that she’s identified six key themes through consultation with the community — healing versus punishment, the impermeability of the WCC, meaningful consultation with Yukon First Nations on the direction of corrections in the territory, the use of separate confinement, proper mental health care and advocacy and access to legal counsel.
“Justice, as we understand very well from yesterday, means radically different things for different people,” Cunningham said. “The (WCC) building itself … is a super-maximum security building. The Whitehorse Correctional Centre itself, the building itself, comes into conflict with many of the concepts we’ve been addressing at this conference: reconciliation, restorative justice, reintegration, healing…. For anyone who’s been inside or visited anyone inside, it’s alarming, and the most alarming part is the inability to ever go outside, or rarely ever go outside.”
Cunningham described the “outside area” that inmates have access to as “a concrete, sort of small gymnasium with a cage very high up into the sky and an oblong cage high up as well.
“We heard a lot yesterday about healing on the land, land-based healing. That is not, unfortunately, what is happening in our territory,” she said.
Cunningham emphasized the need for transparency and “clear and unambiguous” communication from corrections officials about what happens inside the WCC, and for officials to be willing and open to learning from the community and other jurisdictions.
“Let’s learn about models that are working well to make people come out of prison better rather than worse, and let’s learn from people who are already doing it,” she said.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org