05/26/2014 01:25 EDT | Updated 05/28/2014 04:59 EDT

Whitehorse Correctional Centre Investigated By Auditor General


A new jail that the Yukon government vowed would address the "root causes" of violence through rehabilitation is doing the exact opposite, say justice advocates, and now the territory's auditor general is getting involved.

After extensive community consultations which stressed a focus on restorative justice, the Whitehorse Correctional Centre opened in February 2012 to replace a much older, smaller facility.

But First Nations leaders and community advocates say the $75 million jail isn't working as intended, instead warehousing mostly aboriginal people, many with mental health and addiction issues, in an American-style, high-security prison with little to no special programming. The territory's auditor general's office is now looking into the jail's operation and will put out a report next year.

The father of an aboriginal inmate at the jail recently lodged a human rights complaint after his son was seen naked and shackled during a court appearance by video conference call.

Michael Nehass' father said his son has suffered "psychological torture" during 28 months in solitary confinement and that staff didn't inform him when his son attempted suicide. Nehass, who has mental health issues, is being labeled as "insane" because he has ranted about systemic First Nations discrimination and has low literacy skills, his father said.

Both of Yukon's opposition parties called in 2012 for an aboriginal liaison at the jail, a position which doesn't appear to have been filled.

There have also been other controversies. Yukon News reported last June that the jail charges inmates $1.35 to make a phone call to their lawyer, but a representative from the department of justice said this policy is common in other parts of Canada.

A guard was also charged with drug trafficking back in January, and is now serving his sentence at the same jail.

The modern stone building, with TVs in inmates' rooms, a library and a healing room, isn't meeting the community's needs, Linda Bonnefoy, chair of the Yukon Civil Liberties Association, told the National Post.

"They turned a community jail into a gulag. It’s a catchall for the most vulnerable people in our society."

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