The Yukon’s deputy assistant minister of justice referred to the Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC) as “my hotel” last week and various parts of the justice system as “travel agents” that “book” inmates into it.
Al Lucier made the comments April 6, the second day of the Council of Yukon First Nations’ justice conference, “Exploring Justice: Our Way,” during a discussion encouraging attendees to share their stories about the WCC.
The discussion had followed presentations by David Loukidelis, who is currently undertaking an inspection of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, and Whitehorse lawyer Jennie Cunningham, who has been retained by CYFN to represent First Nations’ interests in the inspection. Loukidelis and Cunningham were both taking notes as attendees, many of them frustrated, spoke about their experiences with the corrections centre and Yukon justice system at large.
At one point, a man asked why the Yukon government hasn’t already taken action if problems with the WCC have already been known for years.
“What are we waiting for, a report? We knew all of this already, so why isn’t change being made now by the Yukon government? I’d like a response,” he said.
After the man was applauded by attendees, Lucier stood up from his seat and gave a seemingly impromptu speech.
As assistant deputy minister, Lucier said his portfolio covers policing, victim services and corrections, the latter of which he described as a “very difficult area for me.”
“It is a very complex area and we’ve heard many of those complexities today. This room is filled with representation of those complexities — mental health issues, addictions issues, generational trauma issues, cultural issues, and those in their separate components are difficult enough. Place that into an institution and then try to deliver it,” he said.
While Lucier said he supports the idea of initiatives to better serve First Nations people, people with mental health issues and people dealing with trauma involved in the justice system, he doesn’t “have an answer” to why things haven’t changed yet.
“That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m here listening,” he said.
“I am not the travel agent that books them there. I have told others and some of you are in this room, it takes three travel agents to get you booked into my hotel. They’re simply, the police, the system and ultimately, the judge. We don’t take direct bookings.”
The government has started making ‘improvements” to the WCC “as a result of an unbelievable number of human rights complaints centred around WCC,” Lucier said, and will continue to do so after Loukidelis delivers his report. But he added that change is not his alone to make, and that he doesn’t have “answers in their entirety.”
“I 100 per cent support the notion of strengthening our communities, strengthening the First Nations, so you have the skills and abilities and capacity to join with me and join with the rest of the system to create a system that is yours, if you undertake it, because that’s how we’re going to make a change,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to recognize today’s system is the system that we want tomorrow…. That’s my commitment to change is there. I am not against the change. I come in, been in this job for nearly two years and never once have I said, ‘that can’t change.’”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org