This week, the Whitehorse RCMP has a new place to take prisoners: the new Whitehorse Correctional Centre.
Although jail inmates won’t move in until February, the admissions and discharge cells started serving as the new temporary police cells on Wednesday.
By fall, a new, 11-cell facility will be built there to permanently serve this function.
Unlike the old cells at the downtown RCMP detachment, these new areas will be supervised by medical staff.
It’s a change prompted by the inquest into the death of Raymond Silverfox, a Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation man. He died in December, 2008 from complications of alcohol poisoning in the RCMP drunk tank while guards and officers mocked him.
The RCMP lockup is commonly known as the drunk tank. The government has a more clunky title for the new facility: secure assessment centre.
But there’s one thing it isn’t. “It’s not a sobering centre. It was never intended to be,” said Bob Riches, assistant deputy minister of Justice.
Riches’ old boss, former Justice Minister Marian Horne, evidently didn’t get that memo. At one point, she described the new facility as a sobering centre, producing much confusion.
Sobering centres provide a place for alcoholics to dry out under medical supervision in a more supportive environment than what would be found in an RCMP lockup or jail.
Dr. Bruce Beaton and James Allen, chief of the Champagne and Asihihik First Nation, called for such a facility in their government-commissioned report, which was sparked by the Silverfox inquest.
The Yukon Medical Association also made a sobering centre its top demand during the territorial election. Both opposition parties vowed to build one. But not the Yukon Party.
It ruled out building such a facility, deeming the new drunk tank to be an acceptable upgrade. But it did promise to act on other pieces of the Beaton-Allen report.
It vowed to build a new detox centre and provide more support to residents who have completed a 28-day program. It also promised a new homeless shelter that may be attached to the existing Salvation Army building and a community clinic, open several days a week, to help homeless Yukoners struggling with addictions.
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