07/25/2015 05:02 EDT | Updated 07/24/2016 05:59 EDT

Baffin Correctional Centre's conditions 'intolerable,' Nunavut judge writes

A routine criminal sentencing in Nunavut turned into a commentary on the "deplorable" state of the territory's notorious Baffin Correctional Centre when the judge highlighted the difference between one inmate's time at BCC and in a jail in B.C. 

"It is well known that many inmates from BCC had to be transferred to British Columbia because the conditions at BCC had become intolerable," wrote Justice Sue Cooper in a sentencing decision delivered June 18 and published this week.

Guy Uniuqsaraq, 21, spent 10 months in remand — most of that time at BCC, with three months at an institution in Surrey, B.C.

"He spoke eloquently about his time at BCC and his time in British Columbia," Cooper wrote.

"He spoke about how having a cell to himself calmed him down and allowed him to think. He sought out counselling with the prison Chaplain and established a supportive relationship with him. He completed two levels of programming on how to establish healthy relationships."

Cooper then points to Uniuqsaraq's jail record, which showed numerous incidents in BCC — including an assault on a guard and a contraband incident for which he was ultimately sentenced to 10 months — and none during his time in B.C.

No 'coping mechanisms'

In her ruling, Cooper cited a federal correctional investigator's 2013 report that found conditions in BCC were "deplorable" and, in some cases, violated human rights.

She also pointed to an auditor general's report from March 15, which found the jail was a risk to inmates and staff alike. 

"The fact is," Cooper writes, "most of those who find themselves at BCC are without the necessary coping mechanisms to deal with the stress and difficulties of everyday life."

Uniuqsaraq, she notes, had a difficult upbringing, including the possibility of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of other children in his early home, and a move to the foster care system at age 13.

Though adept at hunting and carving — skills he honed by leaving school at Grade 9 to move to a remote outpost camp — Uniuqsaraq struggles with substance abuse and has experienced lengthy periods of homelessness, Cooper wrote.

'Not realistic'

"Many have cognitive impairment, mental health, and substance abuse issues," Cooper wrote of the population at BCC. "They have difficulty controlling impulses. Simply getting through the day without incident can be a struggle for them."

The charge that sent Uniuqsaraq to prison in the first place stemmed from an alcohol-fuelled assault last summer. The victim recalls nothing but the first blow and waking up in a hospital in Ottawa; he had been medevaced with life-threatening bleeding in the brain.

Uniuqsaraq's assault on the prison guard at the BCC took place last Halloween, when staff were attempting to move him to a secure area. Forced to the ground, placed in leg irons and handcuffed, then put back on his feet, Uniuqsaraq head-butted a guard, leaving him with a cut lip and chipped tooth.

In another incident at the Iqaluit jail, Uniuqsaraq was charged with possession after being caught picking up about eight grams of marijuana from the ground, a common way to bring contraband into the prison.

"It is not realistic to take this segment of the citizenry, put them in a confined and crowded living situation, without any supports to assist them with their issues, and expect them to function without incident," Cooper writes.

Uniuqsaraq was sentenced to serve about 17 more months in jail.