Daniel Andre knows his life at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre could get worse by speaking out.
“Of course,” he said. “Everybody knows that.”
But Andre, 42, said he is in a better position to do so than so many others.
Andre has attended the University of Victoria and intends to continue his schooling once he has served his sentence. He’s been in jail since March and is waiting to go back to court on multiple charges including public drunkeness, sexual assault and disturbing the peace.
He has worked as the executive assistant for three different chiefs and as an economic development officer for First Nations in the Northwest Territories, he said. He also knows how to hunt, trap and fish.
In other words, Andre is confident, proud and says he has never been intimidated by government officials or processes in the past.
“I am approaching these topics in hopes that I can affect some sort of change,” he said. “I am not going to be in the system too long, but other people will. There’s so many other inmates that do not have the skills or abilities to communicate and view the whole process as too intimidating to even get engaged, in terms of voicing their concerns.”
The topics that concern Andre at Whitehorse’s jail range from Christmas beefs to guard abuse.
As a dorm representative, Andre learned the jail has an inmate welfare fund. It’s essentially a bank account for the prison’s canteen. The inmate’s money – usually from family and friends – can be spent on things like cigarettes, gum, potato chips and hygiene products. The jail pools that money, and staff and the inmates decide how to spend it.
There is currently over $40,000 in the fund, said Andre.
He asked for $10 Christmas gifts be given to each inmate. That would cost about $1,000.
“There’s some inmates that don’t even have $10 or may not even have family or friends to visit or call,” he said. “To have them left out at this time of year is unacceptable to me.”
Despite raising the issue at meetings and in letters to the facility’s superintendent, management and Justice Minister Mike Nixon, it has not been done, he said.
“There’s no reason why they can’t do it,” he said. “They said that they are going to be spending all the money on exercise equipment for the new facility. There’s no way that it’s going to cost $40,000. They’re just putting a hard line on something where there shouldn’t be.”
Andre and another dorm representative have also written to jail superintendent Val Mosser regarding the jackets provided to prisoners to go outside.
“The jackets currently being provided are tremendously inadequate for Yukon winter weather,” said the November letter.
“These jackets that are made available for fresh air are torn, ripped and are not even able to be done up and are not enough in quantity for all desired inmates to attend fresh air as, due to the cold weather, inmates are having to double up on jackets. The jackets that are provided are best suited for fall weather.”
Andre has also written to Nixon, and his predecessor, Marian Horne, about making available traditional foods, like dried caribou, moose and salmon.
“They say they have to follow the Canada food guide, which is ridiculous because I know in the Northwest Territories and in other jurisdictions they allow traditional foods like dry meat and dry fish to inmates, and it’s not regulated or inspected. It is, again, just another hard line where there shouldn’t be one.
“And they don’t realize how good inmates feel, and are lifted and inspired by being able to eat dry meat and dry fish,” he said. “Something so simple, but it means a whole lot.”
In a similar tone, Andre has written requests and filed complaints about making traditional healers and spiritual leaders, like pastors, as well as mental health counselors, more accessible for inmates. Currently, inmates are only able to attend church every four to six weeks. Andre has been waiting six weeks for the centre’s psychologist.
Finally, Andre and other dorm representatives have repeatedly raised concerns about certain jail guards abusing their authority.
It’s not every guard, Andre is quick to point out. A number of guards and staff at the prison have helped him out, encouraging him to read, write and set goals for his continued education.
But there are others whom he believes abuse their power. They dismiss inmates, speak to them disrespectfully and ignore requests, even for basic items like toilet paper. With the constant threat of internal charges and time in solitary confinement, the entire idea of rehabilitation is undermined, Andre said.
“When guards abuse their power, it really does defeat the whole purpose,” he said. “They could be running three or four programs with inmates to take responsibility for their actions and make fundamental changes in their life, but when guards treat them like shit, effectively, it just erases all of the good stuff the inmate is trying to do. It’s sad, really sad, to see it happening … they’re really treating us like dogs in a cage.”
Andre began writing letters about his concerns in July. Since then, he has received a reply from Horne regarding her hopes to include more traditional foods in the facility’s menu. Nixon has also responded, telling Andre he would pass his concerns along.
But so far, there has been no adequate response or changes made, said Andre.
The Department of Justice responded to interview requests from the News with a single statement that all inmates are welcome to file a compliant through the official complaints process.
“It goes without saying that the higher-ups are definitely not going to be happy with my (speaking out) and they’ll most likely target me for discipline,” said Andre.
“It’s a fear that I have. But I’ve never bowed down to anyone … it’s just worse now because I have no control. They’ve taken everything except the little dignity I have left. That’s the only thing I’m standing on.”
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at