09/28/2011 08:07 EDT | Updated 11/28/2011 05:12 EST

Conservative Crime Bill Could Overwhelm Nunavut Jails


The Nunavut government is making a plan to deal with an expected jump in the number of prisoners. Last week, the federal government introduced the Safe Streets and Communities Act.

The act’s goal is to get tough on drugs and sex crimes, with harsher sentences. The bill also seeks to raise minimum sentences for some crimes, and it also allows for some violent young offenders to be sentenced as adults and allows for the lifting of the publication ban on their names in some cases.

But in Nunavut, there’s no room in the jailhouse.

Nunavut’s deputy justice minister Janet Slaughter says her counterparts across Canada expect a 15 per cent increase in prisoners. But she says that number will be even higher for Nunavut.

Right now, the territory houses almost 60 people in jails outside the territory. Slaughter says she was notified by Ontario and the Northwest Territories that these prisoners might be sent home to make space.

But questions remain as to where the prisoners will go.

The new 40-person jail in Rankin Inlet will fill up instantly when it opens early next year. The Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit houses more than 80 inmates right now, but it was made for about half that amount.

Slaughter says her department is looking at a new temporary jail for Iqaluit. She adds they’ll also put more people in corrections outpost camps around Nunavut.

Criminal laws are a federal responsibility. But provinces and territories foot the bill for jails and inmates who serve less than two years in jail.

But still, Nunavut’s Conservative member of parliament Leona Aglukkaq says victims trump the unknown costs of this new legislation.

“When you talk to a person who has been the victim of a crime, there is no cost associated with that,” she says.

Agglukaq’s party has invested millions of dollars in mental health and drug education for youth in Nunavut and she hopes the programs will steer some away from crime.

In the meantime, the Conservatives have vowed to pass the Safe Streets and Communities Act in less than 100 days.