Ontario Inuit org says recommendations from Mark Jeffrey inquest an important step forward

The Beaver Creek Institution in Gravenhurst, Ontario in southern Canada. (CBC)

An Ontario Inuit organization says the recommendations that came out of the inquest into Mark Jeffrey’s suicide while in detention in southern Canada are an important step forward to better serving Inuit prisoners. 

“We are pleased that many of the recommendations were accepted, and it was apparent that the Inuit voice and perspective was required in this process,” Amanda Kilabuk, the executive director of Tungasuvvingat Inuit (TI), a counselling and resource centre for Inuit in Ontario, said in a news release on Tuesday.

Kilabuk, who also participated in the inquest, said it’s now imperative that Correctional Services Canada implement the recommendations put forth.

“Because of this inquiry for Mr. Jeffrey, it is well- documented for CSC to improve their practices and policies, training, and include the full weight of their Inuit Liaison Officers and Elders when it comes to dealing with Inuit in the criminal justice system.”

74 days in segregation

Mark Jeffrey committed suicide in 2015 after 74 days in segregation at the Beaver Creek Institution in Gravenhurst, Ontario in southern Canada. He was in the midst of serving a life sentence for stabbing Jennifer Naglingniq, a 13 year-old girl, to death in Iqaluit in 2002

An inquest into Jeffrey’s death started on November 22 of this year, with the jury delivering 19 recommendations on December 1.

“It was difficult to hear the details of Mr. Jeffrey’s experience while in custody at Beaver Creek Institution,” Kilabuk said. “He was placed in segregation for 74 days and did not have acceptable access
to culture supports.

“As Beaver Brook is deemed an Inuit Centre of Excellence (ICE), there are higher expectations for the institution to provide Inuit-specific programming for Inuit in custody.”

A file photo of Ottawa, Canada. One of the inquest recommendations is to conduct a feasiblity study about moving the Inuit Centre of Excellence from Gravenhurst to an institution closer
to Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Tungasuvvingat Inuit highlighted five recommendations on Tuesday they said were key:

  • recognizing the necessity of Inuit-specific services for inmates
  • the necessity for the Anijaarniq: A Holistic Inuit Strategy (developed in 2014 to help insure support and resources for Inuit offenders) to be co-managed, co-developed and co-implemented with Correctional Services Canada along with Inuit governments, land claim organizations and communities
  • plans to more effectively recruit Inuit elders and Inuit liaison officers to work with inmates
  • boost supports for Inuit staff including relocation and accommodation support, or offering services virtually when possible so elders can work from home
  • conduct feasilibity studies on ways Inuit inmates can be better served, such as what would be needed to allow federal inmates to serve their sentences in Inuit Nunangat (the Inuit homeland in northern Canada) instead of having to serve their sentences down South away from their communities, families and culture

Kilabuk says the inquest process was painful for many, but that the lessons learned can help Inuit inmates going ahead.

“[Mark Jeffrey’s]  experience as an Indigenous adult in the criminal justice system is not unique and it is our hope, this inquiry and the recommendations will be used to initiate improvements while in the system, and outcomes for those that successfully complete their terms.”

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca 

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change , Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Police in Arctic Finland overstretched, says retiring officer, Yle News

United States: Alaska reckons with missing data on murdered Indigenous women, 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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