Addressing concerns about a woman’s 11-day stay in RCMP cells over the holidays, Yellowknife’s top cop told city councillors Monday the detachment is working with the GNWT to ensure a similar incident doesn’t happen again.
However, Insp. Alex Laporte admitted the force will likely again be asked to support the territory’s Corrections Service in the future.
The jailed woman was released from RCMP cells — a windowless space where lights are kept on 24-hours a day — on Jan. 6 after being brought to the detachment in late December, where she was held in remand custody, Mounties stated last week.
“We did not wish to have someone in our cells for 11 days, I can tell you that,” said Laporte, officer in charge at the Yellowknife detachment, during a monthly presentation to council.
“But I can assure you, when this situation came to us, we made all efforts possible with our partners to find a solution.”
Both Mounties and the territory’s justice minister have stated cells are no place for extended periods of incarceration — the amenities are not on par with those provided at the territory’s three correctional facilities.
Yellowknife RCMP told NNSL Media last week the woman was provided with a mattress, blankets, out-of-cell time, reading materials and “customized meals.”
The territory’s Corrections Act designates police cells as a “place of detention,” a point stressed by Laporte, who told councillors RCMP cells are sometimes used to “supplement correctional facilities.”
Laporte emphasized the RCMP is one of a number of departments involved in housing inmates in the NWT.
“I know you’re not the only agency that’s involved in trying to sort out a puzzle like this, and I’m glad you’re working with partners … just know there are many community members that are concerned,” Coun. Shauna Morgan told Laporte.
Morgan asked Laporte what the detachment is doing, in terms of strategizing and seeking additional resources, to ensure an 11-day stay in RCMP cells doesn’t happen again.
Laporte did not address the question directly, but said Yellowknife RCMP is continuing to “work with partners to find solutions.”
“Moving forward, I’m sure there will be situations where we will be asked again to facilitate or support existing correctional facilities, but like I said, we’re part of a multitude of departments that have responsibility and we’re working together,” said Laporte.
Morgan, who noted past concerns over long stays in RCMP cells in Yellowknife, expressed optimism that, as a community, those solutions could be found.
Justice Minister Caroline Wawzonek fielded questions about the woman’s prolonged incarceration in police cells — described as “disturbing” by Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green — at the Legislative Assembly on Feb. 12.
Under normal circumstances, Wawzonek said the woman, who had four scheduled court appearances in Yellowknife, would have been transported to Fort Smith’s new women’s jail, but that an inability to coordinate flights from the capital prevented this from happening, despite the efforts of RCMP and Corrections Service.
With no room at Yellowknife’s North Slave Correctional Complex — the four cells reserved for women were at capacity, RCMP and the minister stated — the woman was held in police cells, said Wawzonek.
While Wawzonek said last week there’s no evidence to suggest extended periods of incarceration are a “consistent” problem in police cells, incidents in recent years have brought prolonged stays in RCMP custody under scrutiny — from both the public and the courts.
Yellowknife RCMP statistics for the month of January
- Yellowknife RCMP fielded a total of 923 calls for service.
- Police responded to 64 assaults, a drop from 88 recorded in January 2019.
- Forty-four occurrences related to Liquor Act violations were recorded, two more than in January 2019.
- Mounties carried out 51 downtown foot patrols, 12 of which were focused around the Sobering Centre/Day Shelter. Eleven bottles of alcohol were seized and destroyed.
Source: Yellowknife RCMP.