Treatment of Inuit in Quebec jails called ‘unacceptable’ by ombudsman
Report notes dramatic rise in number of Inuit in provincial jails, from 549 to 898 over last 6 years
CBC News, Feb 18, 2016
Quebec’s ombudsman has released a scathing report on the treatment of Inuit in the provincial justice system.
Raymonde Saint-Germain describes the conditions of people arrested and convicted as “unacceptable.”
She says the detention conditions are “below current standards” and infringe on the constitutional right to human dignity.
The ombudsman’s office visited three villages in Nunavik, the Inuit territory of about 11,000 people in northern Quebec, as part of the investigation. In Nunavik, officials witnessed serious violations of detainees’ rights.
Among Saint-Germain’s concerns:
- Holding cells are often unsanitary and overcrowded.
- Cell mates with “incompatible profiles” are thrown together, creating a dangerous situation inside the jail.
- People arrested in Nunavik are detained 24 hours a day, which doesn’t happen anywhere else in the province.
- The wait for a bail hearing can be as long as 10 days.
- The lack of videoconferencing technology and jails in northern Quebec means millions of dollars are spent transferring the accused to Amos for pre-trial detention. Amos is 600 kilometres northwest of Montreal, but prisoners are often routed through Montreal and St-Jérôme.
- Detention so far from home means family members aren’t able to visit those detained.
Ombusman calls for improvements
Saint-Germain made 30 recommendations to the province, including:
- Lower the occupancy rate in detention cells in Nunavik.
- Ensure that detention areas and bedding are always clean.
- Allow detainees to spend time outdoors by providing them with secure space for that purpose.
- Change the angle of cameras so that toilets cannot be viewed on screen.
- Ensure that suicide intervention equipment is available and that officers can use it correctly.
- Overcome the language barrier.
Her report also notes a dramatic rise in the number of Inuit in provincial jails. That number has increased to 898 from 549 in the past six years.
Saint-Germain said improved social services, including treatment for substance abuse, would help address the problem.
“Over-reliance on the courts and the resulting incarceration does nothing to solve social problems,” she said.
“More has to be done for social progress in Nunavik.”