Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut March 22, 2013 - 8:19 am

Report shows Nunavut’s high violent crime rates stretch court resources

Number of cases, judges, sittings continue to increase

The Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit faces an increasing number of serious cases, a new report says. (FILE PHOTO)
The Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit faces an increasing number of serious cases, a new report says. (FILE PHOTO)

Nunavut’s rates of assault, sexual assault, homicide, and violent crime continued to be the highest in Canada from 2000 to 2012, says a review of crime and court operations in Nunavut.

The report from the Nunavut Court of Justice, called “Ingirranivut: Our Journey,” says Nunavut’s “unprecedented level” of serious violent crime shows “no sign of slowing.”

And this means that the Nunavut Court of Justice will continue to struggle to provide additional — and more efficient — court operations.

The Ingirranivut report, which was completed this past January, considered Statistics Canada data and court activities from 2000 to 2012.

Most of the court’s time is spent on dealing with criminal cases, as opposed to civil or family law cases, with more than 7,000 criminal charges in 2011-12.

These included complex cases involving homicide charges: from 2009 to 2012, RCMP laid a total of 15 homicide charges.

At the start of 2011, there were still 14 homicide charges before the Nunavut court.

And, at one point during that year, the court carried 16 open homicide files.

The Nunavut Court of Justice still managed to conclude about 2,000 criminal cases a year.

And it lowered the time between the first and last court appearance in adult criminal cases to 100 days, down from 140-plus days in 2005.

The average number of adult admissions to remand also dropped by about 100 from 2009 to 2012.

But the time they now spend in custody has increased — from 30 days in 2002 to 70 in 2011.

The number of inmates in remand at the Baffin Correctional Centre and the complexity of their cases puts “additional demands upon the Court’s sitting time in Iqaluit,” the Ingirranivut report said.

Last July, the frequency of trial weeks was doubled in Iqaluit “in an effort to reduce the growing backlog of serious cases involving citizens in custody from this community,” the report stated.

In Nunavut, Iqaluit now leads with special sitting weeks for larger, more serious cases and more than 45 non-jury sitting weeks.

Outside Iqaluit, more than 60 weeks of court sittings take place.

Cambridge Bay’s high crime rate means court circuits are more frequent. After Iqaluit, Cambridge Bay receives the most weeks of court — eight weeks of sittings in 2012.

But a monthly remand video court now means prisoners from the Kitikmeot region who are at the North Slave jail in Yellowknife no longer have to return to their communities for what is typically “a brief five-minute appearance in court.”

Even sentencing hearings have taken place through videoconference.

This saves time and money, the Ingirranivut report noted.

To deal with the increasingly heavy load of criminal cases, between 2009 and 2011, Robert Kilpatrick, the court’s senior judge, recruited an additional 33 deputy judges, raising the total number of judges who can sit in Nunavut to 91. 

Deputy judges, who normally serve in other jurisdictions, use their vacation time or judgment-writing weeks to come to Nunavut. But deputy judges can’t be employed for longer trials because they won’t be in town long enough, so that heavy workload still falls on the permanent resident judges.

Of these deputy judges, 49 presided over cases in 2012.

While the Ingirranivut report shows how much violent crime Nunavut courts deal with and how the Nunavut Court of Justice attempts to deal with it, that’s only part of the story.

Kilpatrick, the senior judge at the Nunavut Court of Justice,  wrote an open letter to Nunavummiut in May 2011, urging more community efforts to prevent crime.

The letter, which was sent to every hamlet in four languages, concludes the Ingirranivut report.

“There remains much we can do as individuals to help our families and communities find harmony and peace,” Kilpatrick writes.

“Real crime prevention, and meaningful suicide prevention begins at home. No amount of social programs can substitute for a caring and committed family,” he said in his letter called, “The importance of traditional values in the 21st century.”

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