A Yukon Prison: A Real Gold Mine

Friday, February 11, 2005

Whitehorse Prison: A Real "Gold Mine"
By Elliot Saunders
Conducted on behalf of The Truth Commission

The Yukon's Economic History

Whitehorse was founded during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896-1898, when over 30,000 prospectors braved the wild Klondike River to prospect their riches. The gold rush was mythologized as romantic and prosperous. Massive ad campaigns flourished across North America and thousands answered the call. Unfortunately, the Gold Rush didn't "pan out" for most of the 30,000 people.(1)

Modern day, Whitehorse (home to 20,000 residents) is extensive with beautiful facilities relative to its small population. Mining, forestry and tourism don't create economic sustainability. The Territory receives million of dollars from the Canadian government, every year, to keep the Yukon "alive". Government institutions create territorial, profit-bearing, industry in an economic depressed Northern World. The Whitehorse Prison proved to be an economic "gold mine". It proved to be amongst the largest economic generators in the Yukon. Legally, 100,000 people must live in one place to be deemed a city, yet The City of Whitehorse has only 20,000 people. Maybe self-proclamation of city-hood increases its allotment of federal funding?

Genocide in the North

When The Gold Rush brought thousands of Euro-North Americans to Canada's North, it spelt doom for the original, Native inhabitants. The government acted, from its domestic policy, to contain the Native population. Natives were forced to live on reserves. Alcohol, Euro-Canadian imposed diseases, and Euro-Religious mindcontrol were used to contain this relatively free and distinct, "advanced" Native civilizations. Kevin Annett oftheTruth Commission into Genocide in Canada teaches us how federally funded Residential schools achieved government & church (corporatechurch) sponsored Genocide. In this case, Native children were exploited for political and economic gain considering the removalof Native people resulted in land, water and mineral acquisition by the Canadian government and their coalition of corporate inheritors. We know that exploitation, domination, and murder of Native peoples occurred across Canada as Bill Moyers talked about "the destruction of the Native civilization". The Yukon prison system functions like the residential schools except, in the Whitehorse prison, Native people are being used for Economic gain (as well as political). Native Canadians are livestock: "using animals for profit or gain". The Yukon"Justice"branch of the Yukon government is a vast and extensive operation (relative to the Yukon population). In September 2002, I conducted my investigation into The Whitehorse Prison.

The Whitehorse Prison: Yukon's "Justice" System

Several Yukon "Justice" administrators confirmed that the Whitehorse Prison receives $100,000 tax-free, dollars in subsidies - per inmate, per year. British Columbia prisons are granted $80,000 insubsidies, per inmate, per year! Ontario prisons are given $50,000. New York State prisons which are increasingly under private, corporate "control," are given a mere $5000 in subsidy dollars.The Whitehorse Prison holds approximately 60 inmates. Most of the Inmates are Native Canadian. That's 6 million dollars each year! Iwas told by Sherin Hickey, a Yukon Justice top level administrator,that the jail holds inmates for prison sentences up to 4 years. As of December 2002 the jail was full. After only one month into my investigation it dropped to 40 inmates. 1/3 of the totalprison population was released in 5 weeks or so. Mrs. Hickey told me this is common. A new jail will be built to house 120 inmates. Yukon Justice system employees constitute total more people than actual prisoners when factor in 20 prison staffers and administrators, councilors, probation officers, jail service providers, etc., There is little doubt that the employment is a boost to the Yukon of 12 million dollars in a town where the main employer is service industry type jobs like McDonalds, gas stations, etc,.

CathyJohnson of the Native Court Workers (NCW) told me that the new jail will be mostly filled with Native inmates. The Native Court Workers is a Native run organization to "assist" Native inmates with human rights issues, and to conduct research into Native sentencing.The present day, Whitehorse Jail is condemnable. The Yukon News reported regularly (that the fire marshal visited the jail andcondemned it) that a new jail needs to be built.(2) Cathy Johnson(NCW) explained that the jail is "falling apart". I spent 10 minutes in the front lobby and I can testify to its dismal conditions. Prisoners are cooped up and ventilation is non-existence. In addition, inmates are allowed to smoke indoors! Mrs. Johnson's (of the Native Court Workers) biggest complaint is the cruel policy of only allowing these minimum-security inmates only 1 hour of outside time, perday. This is the same amount of outside time death row inmates receive in maximus security prisons in the US. In the present jail, between 80%-90% of the inmates are Native men (and a few Native women). Whitehorse "Justice"Communications coordinator, Dan Cable, reported that the jail houses 75% Native inmates. Cathy told me the jail holds between 80%-90% Native inmates. Cathy Johnson from the Native Court Workers explained to me that when economic activity increases (in the North) so does criminal activity. She said: "when the pipeline development begins intheYukon, it will create thousands of jobs and so crime rates increaseas the alcohol consumption rate increases". But this doesn't explain why Native people are being sentenced (in court) disproportionately. Is the "Justice System" prejudice? Four Whitehorse Justice Workers' told me, in secret, that sentencing in Whitehorse is prejudice against Native people. Cathy Johnson also confirmed that the "justice" system is unjust. I spoke with a StatsCan researcher/statistician (who researched prisons across Canada) who confirmed that prejudice exists. The Aboriginal Healing Foundation - an organization set up by the government to address its own Residential School Crimes - confirmed, during a phone interview, that sentencing is prejudice. Domestic Policy scholars like NoamChomsky and Edward Herman detail how jails are a way to contain minority populations are prejudice systems of profit.(3)

What My Study Found

I tried to determine why Yukon Justice System is prejudice. My goal was to question inmates as to why they thought so many inmates were Native. In October, 2002, I contacted the Whitehorse Prison Administrator Sherin Hickey to arrange to conduct a questionnaire with Inmates. It was agreed by Sherin that inmates would participate based on interest in advertisements for my questionnaire which were posted in the prison. I called Sherin and left a message on her answering machine asking if she posted my ads. Instead I got a call from the Prisons Communications Coordinator, Dan Cable. He said: "I'll fix the problem", meaning he would post them. He asked me to re-send my ad. I asked him "what happened to my original ads?" He never answered except to reiterate: "I'll fix the problem". I emailed him my ads AGAIN but, he responded that he would not hang my ads, again! He said my study was "unfit and invalid" based on scientific research guidelines. I informed Dan that I was conducting a social science study based on case studies but Dan insisted that my study was not fit based on scientific research criteria. I was dumbfounded because Dan hadn't seen my study outline. He had no information about my study except for my advertisement. I asked Dan to produce my original questionnaire. He emailed to say that he could not find myoriginal ad because they "were misplaced". Then, he changed his mind. He promised me that I could ask conduct a questionnaire. Dan emailed me saying; "I would be allowed to conduct my study and that any citizen should be allowed to ask inmates questions". I told him that I was conducting my study on behalf of The Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada. I started to keep regular contact with Cathy Johnson at NCW. She was extremely helpful by providing information about the cruel treatment of Native inmates. Prison guards demeaned inmates by attacking and demoralizing the Native way of life. Inmates are granted similar outdoor times as US, death row inmates - 1 hourperday. One Native inmate served 2 years for vagrancy (without home ormoney) - it's a crime in the Yukon to be poor (if you're Native). I meet with a Human Rights Lawyer, anonymously, who confirmed that racism is rampid in the Yukon prison system. He detailed how prison staff referred to Native inmates using racism slurs. Meanwhile, Cathy told me she visited the jail daily and that she would look to see if the ads were posted. She double-checked but she didn't see them (in this very small prison). She asked inmates who said they hadn't seen the ads. I contacted Dan Cable by email. He said that he photocopied and posted 9 ads. Dan suggested the inmates ripped them all down, but Cathy disagreed. Cathy told me that, instead, the Justice management had its own advertisement posted to conduct its own study. These were not my ads. Dan contacted Matt Held at TheTruth Commission into Genocide in Canada (study sponsor) and stated that my study was invalid based on my lack scientific methodology - his original argument. What happened to "a citizen should be allowedto ask inmates questions", as Dan stated more recently. Obviously,my study is social science based involving case study analysis. Eventually, Dan, The Yukon Justice Communications Coordinator stopped communicating with me. Cathy Johnson at NCW dropped contact with me. This is a small town and NCW is funded by local political groups by way of federal funding. Looking back at my interviews with the Yukon Justice personnel, I recall what Sherin Hickey (top level Yukon JusticeAdministrator) confided. She said: "The justice system factors in 'social worth' when sentencing people. If a person is deemed `a benefit to the community' then their sentence is reduced significantly. For example, in the 1990's, a Yukon Pastor went crazy living in the woods became homicidal and killed his wife. He received only 4 years in prison because he was Pastor - a productive member of society. In contrast, a Native Canadian woman killed her husband in self-defense, after he physically endangered her life. He had a history of victimizing her and one day she fought back. She received 8-10 years in prison, double what the Pastor received.

1 "Klondike Gold Rush," Yukon Territory 1897.http://www.questconnect.org/ak_klondike.htm

2 Brett, Dawn. "Report Condemns Whitehorse Prison". The YukonNew, March 26, 1997. http://www.yukonweb.com/community/yukon-news/1997/mar26.htmld/#report

3 Chomsky and Barsamian. 1994. Keeping The Rabble In Line:Interview with David Barsamian. http://www.zmag.org/chomsky/rab/rab-1.htmlby elliot saunders