Nixon backtracks on jail comments

Justice Minister Mike Nixon is changing his tune when it comes to the Yukon Human Rights Commission investigating complaints at the jail.

Justice Minister Mike Nixon is changing his tune when it comes to the Yukon Human Rights Commission investigating complaints at the jail.

Last week, at a barbecue, Nixon indicated he didn’t have a problem with inmates going to the human rights commission for help as long as they had gone through the internal complaint process first.

Inmates at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre have filed multiple human rights complaints. No specific details about the complaints have been released, but government lawyers say the commission doesn’t have the authority to investigate these cases.

They say the complaints in question were either already dealt with by the jail’s Investigations and Standards Office (ISO) or in some cases because the inmates hadn’t gone through that process first.

This morning, Nixon clarified that when he said inmates could go to the human rights commission, he meant only in cases where the ISO doesn’t have the authority to investigate.

“The best example I can think of off the top of my head would be, in a situation where a doctor prescribed a certain medication to an inmate, whatever the medication might be, the inmate had an issue that they wanted a different kind of medication. In a situation like that, ISO wouldn’t have jurisdiction because they don’t deal with medication issues.”

Situations like that could be referred to the human rights commission if the ISO declared that it didn’t have jurisdiction.

When asked for more clarity about where this jurisdiction ended, Nixon deferred to his department.

Spokesperson Caitlin Kerwin said the ISO “has very broad authority to accept complaints under the act. But in some cases it might determine that another venue or another agency, such as Yukon Human Rights Commission, might have more appropriate jurisdiction to investigate.”

Some examples where the ISO could refer cases to a different body may include questions about medications, criminal investigations and complaints regarding police, she said.

The Department of Justice has already said publicly that the ISO does have the authority to investigate human rights complaints.

Nixon’s stance now falls in line with the public statements made by his department: inmates unhappy with a decision by the ISO can ask for a review in Yukon Supreme Court.

“The human rights commission and the ISO are both independent bodies from the correctional facility, both organizations would be professional in their conduct,” Nixon said.

“Whether an inmate is going to ISO for issues they have jurisdiction over or human rights commission for issues that they have jurisdiction over, I’m comfortable and confident in both teams doing their job.

“If in the event that an inmate is not satisfied with the outcome, then a request for a judicial review can be made.”

The Yukon Human Rights Commission disputes this interpretation of the Yukon Human Rights Act. They point out that the act requires that the process be “reasonably available.”

The department is not against people airing their complaints, Nixon said.

“It seems that some people believe that Yukon government is suggesting that a person shouldn’t get their day in court, and that’s not the case at all,” he said.

“Yukon government is not suggesting at all that a person should not get his or her day in court. But the question remains, which court? There’s a good reason the courts discourage multiple proceedings at the same time.”

The minister’s latest comments followed after media were invited to the WCC for a tour on Thursday. There, Nixon read a prepared statement but refused to answer any questions from reporters.

He touched on issues surrounding human rights and the treatment of people with mental illnesses, but never directly addressed the human rights complaints.

The jail houses on average about 80 inmates at one time.

“All WCC inmates have access to mental health services. Upon admittance, inmates are assessed for mental health concerns. There is a psychologist and a psychiatrist on contract to the facility,” Nixon read.

The psychologist visits WCC a minimum of once a week. Inmates will see the psychologist within one week of making a request, he said.

“WCC was not built to be a mental health facility,” Nixon said.

But if the court orders them to, the jail can house people with mental health issues who have committed crimes and are found unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible, until they’re seen by the Yukon Review Board who come up with a treatment plan. That can take up to 45 days.

“While Yukon is geographically large, we are a small jurisdiction, and at times WCC has to provide services that would be provided by another facility in a larger jurisdiction,” Nixon said.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

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

Just Posted

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks to media at a press conference about COVID-19 in Whitehorse on March 30. The Yukon government announced three new cases of COVID-19 in Watson Lake on Oct. 23. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three new COVID-19 cases identified in Watson Lake

The Yukon government has identified three locations in town where public exposure may have occurred

Teagan Wiebe, left, and Amie Wiebe pose for a photo with props during The Guild’s haunted house dress rehearsal on Oct. 23. The Heart of Riverdale Community Centre will be hosting its second annual Halloween haunted house on Oct. 30 and 31, with this year’s theme being a plague. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Plague-themed haunted house to take over Heart of Riverdale for Halloween

A plague will be descending upon the Heart of Riverdale Community Centre… Continue reading

Indigenous lobster boats head from the harbour in Saulnierville, N.S. on Oct. 21. Elected officials in the Yukon, including all 19 members of the legislature, are backing the right of Mi’kmaq fishers on the East Coast to launch a moderate livelihood fishery. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)
Yukon legislature passes motion to support Mi’kmaw fishery

“It’s not easy, but it’s also necessary for us to have these very difficult conversations”

A pedestrian passes by an offsales sandwich board along Fourth Avenue in Whitehorse on Oct. 22. NDP MLA Liz Hanson raised concerns Oct. 21 in the legislature about increased hospitalizations due to alcohol consumption that correlate with an extension in the hours alcohol can be sold in the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Alcohol-related hospitalizations rise after off-sales hours extended

Reduced hours for off-sale liquor establishments likely part of Liquor Act spring reforms

Tourism and Culture Minister Jeanie McLean (formerly Dendys) speaks during legislative assembly in Whitehorse on Nov. 27, 2017. The Yukon government has announced $2.8 million in tourism relief funding aimed at businesses in the accommodation sector that have already maxed out existing funds. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Tourism relief funding offers $2.8 million to hotels and overnight accommodations

$15 million in relief funding is planned for the tourism sector over the next three years

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over the Takhini elk herd be struck by the court. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Yukon government asks for Takhini elk lawsuit to be struck

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over… Continue reading

The Yukon government has filed a reply to an outfitter’s petition challenging the reduction of its caribou quota to zero. (Yukon News file)
YG replies to outfitter’s legal challenge over caribou quota

The Yukon government has filed a reply to an outfitter’s petition challenging… Continue reading

The Yukon government is encouraging people to get the flu vaccine this year, saying that with COVID-19, it’s “more important than ever.” (Black Press file)
Get flu vaccine, Yukon government urges

The Yukon government is encouraging people to get the flu vaccine this… Continue reading

Benjamin Munn, 12, watches the HPV vaccine in 2013. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available to all Yukoners up to, and including, age 26. Currently the program is only available to girls ages nine to 18 and boys ages nine to 14. (Dan Bates/Black Press file)
HPV vaccine will be available to Yukoners up to, including, age 26

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

COMMENTARY: Me and systemic racism

The view from a place of privilege

Today’s mailbox: Electricity and air travel

Letters to the editor published Oct. 23, 2020

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Irony versus Climate

Lately it seems like Irony has taken over as Editor-in-Chief at media… Continue reading

Most Read