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Prison fight

Kent Driscoll
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Nov 27/06) - Justice department officials have announced they plan to spend $47 million on a new jail in Rankin Inlet.

Premier and Justice Minister Paul Okalik said it has always been the plan, but MLAs grilled the premier over the expenditure in the legislature last week.

During committee of the whole, Cambridge Bay MLA Keith Peterson questioned Okalik about the plan, wondering if the location of the new correctional centre was ever debated.

"Last year, the substantiation sheet for this particular project listed Iqaluit as the location, and now we're listing it here as Rankin Inlet. Can the minister clarify for the committee how the decision was arrived at to locate the new facility from Iqaluit to Rankin Inlet?" Peterson asked.

"It was based on the central location of Rankin Inlet... and for security reasons, we require sufficient RCMP presence for backup in the case of an emergency," Okalik responded.

"Were there any consultations with the community of Rankin Inlet with respect to moving a very large correctional facility into their community," Peterson further asked.

"They have been inquiring about it for some time. This is consistent," said Okalik.

This new jail would replace the Baffin Correctional Centre and the premier estimated that the new facility would have between 36 to 48 beds.

The price tag is spread over five years, with $1.5 million budgeted for 2007-08. Peterson wanted to know what that money is for, and the premier answered that it was for "planning purposes." Okalik said an official announcement about the facility would come after "we have detailed plans in place."

When Peterson strayed from the topic of capital expenditures to the treatment for offenders, Okalik reminded him to stay on topic.

"I didn't realize the minister was getting so testy," said Peterson.

This new territorial jail shouldn't be confused with the pitch for a federal prison for Nunavut.

"Recently concerns have been raised in the communities with respect to the issue of the release of potentially dangerous offenders from federal custody," said Uqqurmiut MLA James Arreak.

On that topic, Okalik said, "This is a concern held by all Nunavut residents, and we have been lobbying the federal government to get a federal correctional institution in Nunavut."

Education Minister Ed Picco tabled a petition calling for the removal of convicted child rapist Jason Hikoalok from Iqaluit, and Premier Okalik signed the petition.

"When they release a federal inmate to Nunavut they should provide more support. We were not happy about that; not just in Iqaluit, it could happen anywhere in Nunavut communities. This situation has to be rectified. That's why I signed the petition," said Okalik.