In a surprisingly well-co-ordinated campaign, more than half of the men in custody at the territory’s main jail wrote open letters to MLAs and the minister of justice complaining about a wide-range of shortcomings at the jail.
As reported in News/North last week (“Inmates start letter writing campaign,” Oct. 16), the letters outlined grievances about a lack of quality programming at North Slave Correctional Complex (NSCC), the removal of the recreation director and the inability to access exams for educational upgrading.
The hand-written letters also contained complaints over expensive phone calls, “hugs and kisses” being prohibited during in-person visits, an outdated copy of the Criminal Code of Canada, and pricey items at the canteen.
Two common concerns – and arguably the most serious issues – were a lack of cultural amenities for Indigenous inmates and a need for more programming to help combat alcoholism.
Being a mixed security facility, the NSCC is home for some of the region’s most dangerous criminals, along with non-violent offenders serving time for such things as property crimes.
Some of the men – and youth, in a separate area – are only accused of a crime, as they wait trial on remand. They were denied bail or couldn’t come up with the sureties required for interim judicial release.
One of the highest profile inmates – Yellowknife’s Denecho King – managed to escape in 2016 and was on the lam in a frightened city for several days until he was cornered in his mommy’s place by the legions of extra police brought in on overtime to hunt him down.
In fact, the accused killer’s run resulted in an outdoor area of the jail being closed down until security can be beefed up. So if inmates are angry over that situation, they can speak with Mr. King.
Ironically, a letter signed by a Denecho King – News/North has no way to verify the authenticity of the letters – doesn’t mention the lack of access to the yard but does request healthier foods high in protein and protein powder. News/North notes protein helps muscles develop for quick bursts of energy and also repairs them after a long run.
King’s neighbours include the letter-writing campaign chair, Daniel Gillis, who said many inmates feel the support programs are not adequate. Inmates can’t get a GED (general equivalency diploma) or an actual high school diploma at NSCC.
Martin Goldney, deputy minister of justice, said he was caught a little bit off-guard by the campaign – which he described as unprecedented in the history of the facility.
In the legislative assembly – the day after after the letters were made public, and after a volley of questions over the letter – a concerned looking Justice Minister Louis Sebert raised more than a few eyebrows when he stated the justice department would respond to each inmate letter.
That is more than an over-reaction. It is the ministerial grovelling of a man wearing a cloak of non-confidence, and awaiting – at the time — the outcome of an impending ouster motion.
Are there problems with some programming at the jail? Probably. Should a King-proof fence have been designed, shipped north and installed by now? Yes. Are conditions better than at Russia’s infamous Back Dolphin prison? Oh gosh, yes.
Sebert survived that Oct. 18 motion to strip him of his duties by 11 member votes to seven. So those jailhouse letters dropped at the most opportune time to get the most attention.
The jailbirds can sing the praises of Mr. Gillis for that. In addition to being a sexual assaulter, Gillis is an accomplished self-promoter in the Yellowknife arts scene.