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Former Nunavut fire mashal says GN should be ashamed of its safety record at jail

Former Nunavut fire marshal Tony Noakes. photo courtesy of Tony Noakes
"I never witnessed any other private or government organization that had the level of safety issues that Nunavut had while I was there,” says former Nunavut fire marshal Tony Noakes. photo courtesy of Tony Noakes.

Following a March 18 Baffin Correctional Centre fire that resulted in 60 inmates being transferred elsewhere, Nunavut's former fire mashal is once again levelling criticism at the territorial government.

“The Government of Nunavut should be ashamed of its record on the safety issues at BCC,” stated Tony Noakes, who was dismissed as fire marshal in 2010 after raising concerns about deficiencies at the jail that he deemed to be hazards. “This (March 18) fire, which is one of many, highlights why it is important to implement and maintain building safety measures. Fortunately, there was no loss of life. However, there will be costs associated with transporting and housing the inmates in Ontario.”

Nunavut News submitted several questions to the Department of Justice but no responses were sent prior to press deadline.

Among the unanswered questions are: In what part of the building did the fire originate?; What is the extent of the damage caused by the fire?; What's the initial cost estimate of damages?; Is there any indication of cause yet?; When is the new correctional centre expected to open?; What is the cost per day per inmate for those transported to the institution in Ontario?

As of November 2018, it was expected that Nunavut's new $90-million correctional centre will open in 2023-24.

Nunavut News also asked the Department of Justice for a copy of the latest fire marshal or fire chief's inspection report on file for BCC. No such report was forwarded.

The Nunavut Fire Marhal's Office 2019 Annual Report, the most recent on file at the legislative assembly, makes no specific mention of BCC.

Nunavut News asked the Department of Justice to specify how many of the items that Noakes identified have been addressed: lighting fixtures hanging by wires; out-of-date boilers; obstructed exits, improper storage of combustibles; corroded sprinklers; and heavy use of temporary plywood walls.

No response to that inquiry was received either.

Noakes, reached by email earlier this week, said he has continued to follow fire service issues within the territory. Although he has no knowledge of whether the deficiencies he highlighted at BCC in 2010 have ever been rectified, he said he's aware of multiple fires at the facility.

He recommended the GN should publicly release all BCC safety inspection reports from the past decade to document which safety issues have been remedied.

In 2010, Noakes took his list of BCC safety concerns to the RCMP indicating there could be criminal negligence. He was released from his job shortly thereafter. Following a subsequent settlement with the GN, he said he was able to retire at age 40.

“So my termination did have a silver lining,” he stated. “In my time as a senior fire service officer, I never witnessed any other private or government organization that had the level of safety issues that Nunavut had while I was there.”

Thirty prisoners from BCC have been moved to the Joyceville Institution in Kingston, Ont., due to the March 18 blaze. Another 30 inmates from BCC have been transferred to various other correctional facilities within Nunavut.