Inuit in Canada’s federal penitentiaries overrepresented when it comes to COVID-19

An overhead view of the women’s prison in Joliette, Quebec from 2005. It’s one of three penitentiaries to have carried out mass testing for COVID-19. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
The most recent COVID-19 update for federal corrections facilities in Canada has found that there is an over-representation of Inuit prisoners who have contracted the virus, especially in Quebec.

The report, released by the office of the Correctional Investigator on June 19, found that Inuit prisoners make up less than one per cent of the total incarcerated population, but represent 5 per cent of COVID-19 cases in federal corrections facilities.

The majority of those cases were at a lone institution in Quebec, unnamed in the report.

Prison situation improving

Since the start of the pandemic, 360 cases of the coronavirus have been reported in federal corrections facilities, approximately 2.7 per cent of the total prison population). The outbreak was spread across five penitentiaries: The Federal Training Centre prison in Quebec, the Joliette Institution in Quebec, the Port Cartier Institution in Quebec, the Grand Valley Institution in Ontario and the Mission Institution in British Columbia.

COVID-19 cases among federal inmates from the period of March 30 to June 3. As of June 19, there was only one active confirmed case. (Office of the Correctional Investigator)

But as of June 19, there was only one known active case of COVID-19 among current federal inmates.

“Incidence data indicates that the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among federal inmates appears to have stabilized and is holding relatively stable since the end of ApriI,” said the Office of the Correctional Investigator in the report. “Indeed, there have been relatively few new daily-confirmed cases from about mid-May onward. 

“Overall, these trends and developments are positive and indicative of the mobilization of tremendous effort, commitment and resolve of CSC (Correctional Service of Canada) staff and management in recent months to flatten the curve in federal corrections.”

The report did not give further details of why the Inuit prisoners were overrepresented when it came to COVID-19 infections. The office of the Correctional Investigator did not respond to requests for comment before publication.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Nunavik justice issues “extremely important” to tackle, says Quebec government, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Police response times up to an hour slower in Arctic Finland, Yle News

Sweden: Film exploring racism against Sami wins big at Swedish film awards, Radio Sweden

United States: Lack of village police leads to hiring cops with criminal records in Alaska: Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Public Media

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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