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.
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