03/10/2015 03:37 EDT | Updated 05/10/2015 05:59 EDT

Auditor general cites slew of problems at Nunavut's most notorious jail

OTTAWA - Nunavut's government has known for years about a litany of problems with the territory's main jail, but has done little to fix them, says a harsh report from the federal auditor general.

Michael Ferguson report, released Tuesday afternoon, found staff at the Baffin Correctional Centre routinely patched holes in the walls with flammable plywood, kept prisoners in the gymnasium because there weren't enough cells and allowed the most dangerous criminals to mingle with other inmates, even those on remand.

"Issues at this facility include holes in walls, the presence of mould, non-compliance with the National Fire Code and the housing of inmates with medium- and maximum-security ratings in a minimum-security facility — all of which continue to put the safety and security of inmates and staff at risk," the report says.

The findings echoed those of a 2013 report by the federal Office of the Correctional Investigator and should come as no surprise to residents of Nunavut, who have long known about problems with the jail.

The auditor's report says the territorial government has known about these and other problems for many years, yet it has done very little to address them.

It has, however, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to study the problem. Nunavut's Justice Department paid a consultant $400,000 for studies over an 11-year period, the audit says.

But rather than going ahead with a planned 72-bed facility in Iqaluit where prisoners would be separated based on their security level, the territory instead built a new facility in Rankin Inlet and is about to open a new minimum-security jail next to the Baffin Correctional Centre.

"While these facilities will provide some relief of overcrowding, they do not address the territory’s most critical facility needs: the lack of appropriate space (including the need for maximum-security space) and the poor condition of the Baffin Correctional Centre," the auditor's report says.

Ferguson's team says the jail held an average of 82 inmates in 2013-14, even though it only has the capacity for 68.

Nunavut's government has been bracing for the auditor's report. Earlier this year, the territory's deputy minister of justice warned her colleagues that the jail was a lawsuit waiting to happen.

"In my opinion, the government of Nunavut is likely in significant breach of constitutional obligations towards remanded accused and inmates housed at the BCC facility and faces a high risk of civil liability towards inmates, staff and members of the public in tort law," Elizabeth Sanderson wrote in a January memo obtained by The Canadian Press.

Justice Minister Paul Okalik — who also held that post between 1999 and 2008 — has yet to respond to a request for comment.

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