Shadelle Chambers, Council of Yukon First Nations executive director, talks to media about the the 40 recommendations brought forward by a legal advisor following his inspection of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre at a press conference on Aug. 15. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Whitehorse Correctional Centre report a ‘starting point’ to address justice system issues, CYFN says

CYFN executive director Shadelle Chambers says the justice system ‘requires fundamental changes’

The Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) is “supportive” of the 40 recommendations brought forward by a legal advisor following his inspection of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC), the council’s executive director says.

However, Shadelle Chambers emphasized that it was still early in the process and that the recommendations are just a “first step” in a long process of addressing issues with the criminal justice system.

“I think (the Yukon government) has taken the approach that they’ve appointed an inspector because they knew there were issues … and this is really where the work hits the ground, right?” Chambers said in an interview Aug. 16. “It’s the implementation of these recommendations and how meaningfully Yukon First Nations can be involved in the implementation of these recommendations.”

Yukon Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee appointed David Loukidelis to undertake an inspection of the WCC last year on the heels of the abrupt conclusion of Michael Nehass’s nearly six-year-long tangle with the Yukon justice system. His case raised questions about the adequacy of the WCC’s supports for First Nations inmates, inmates with mental health issues and the use of segregation and separate confinement.

Loukidelis’s report, which the territorial government made public Aug. 15, contains nine recommendations specifically related to improving conditions for First Nations inmates, who make up more than 60 per cent of the jail’s admissions even though people of First Nations descent make up less than 25 per cent of the Yukon’s population.

Those recommendations include increasing the number of elders who visit the WCC and ensuring that they are able to visit as often as needed to meet the needs of inmates, that Gladue reports are available when an inmate is sentenced for a disciplinary offence, and focusing on better supporting “spiritual renewal and healing, and connection with traditional knowledge and practices.”

Chambers said Loukidelis reached out to CYFN before his inspection officially began in January “to say that he wanted to ensure First Nations were involved and … get our advice on who he should connect with and how to approach the First Nations.”

CYFN was able to suggest people for Loukidelis to talk to, Chambers said, and also hosted a justice conference in spring that Loukidelis was able to attend. In his report, Loukidelis described the conference as a “vitally important opportunity.”

“I’m glad, in hindsight, that the report and his work really reflected and was encompassing of our conference, and when you read it, you can see that it made an impact,” Chambers said.

Loukidelis “had real, true intentions of involving the First Nations to the best of his ability. We have to keep in mind that David didn’t live up here, he was doing other work, but he definitely connected on a number of occasions with CYFN and I know he did connect with other individual First Nations as well,” she added.

CYFN will be discussing Loukidelis’s recommendations, as well as an internal WCC position paper it prepared earlier this year, at a justice caucus at the end of August, Chambers said. There, Yukon First Nations justice officials will be able to discuss the recommendations in-depth and talk about how to prepare for the implementation process.

Chambers added that she views Loukidelis’s report and the Yukon government’s acceptance of it as a “starting point.”

“Here’s a real opportunity to do something different and have Yukon First Nations meaningfully involved,” she said.

“(But we also have to) start to begin to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in WCC, and that’s looking at the entire criminal justice system, right? So that includes the relationship with the RCMP and community relations and community safety, all the way down to the courts and how folks are sentenced…. The corrections system is one piece of the criminal justice system that requires fundamental changes.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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