Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavik September 16, 2016 - 7:00 am

We want changes to Nunavik’s justice system, Quebec bar association says

"Frankly, we're talking more of injustice than justice in the North"

Members of the Quebec Bar address Kativik Regional Government council meetings Sept. 14, where they became a sounding board for problems with the region's justice system. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)
Members of the Quebec Bar address Kativik Regional Government council meetings Sept. 14, where they became a sounding board for problems with the region's justice system. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

KUUJJUAQ— High lawyer fees, delayed court appearances and poor communication—these are just a few reasons why Nunavimmiut have little trust in Quebec’s justice system.

Muncy Novalinga said he’s heard it many times before: while the travelling court is visiting his home community of Puvirnituq, residents complain to him that they see defence lawyers and prosecutors having dinner together at the local restaurants.

“People hear them making fun of their clients,” said Novalinga, the Kativik Regional Government councillor for Puvirnituq.

“They are speaking in French without knowing that other people can hear them. This is very wrong and has to be corrected.”

Other regional councillors meeting in Kuujjuaq this week complain that Nunavimmiut pay high prices for legal representation, only to face long delays and a lag in information.

“Our region is very frustrated with the justice system,” said KRG chair Jennifer Munick. “We’re penalized for a lack of human resources. We can’t wait [any] more.”

Those comments were directed to members of the province’s professional order of lawyers, the Barreau du Québec, who visited KRG regional council meetings in Kuujjuaq Sept. 14.

This was the Barreau’s first visit back to the region since it released a report in early 2015 highlighting a multitude of issues facing Nunavik’s court, which it said was poorly adapted to the cultural and administrative realities of the region.

In 2013-14, Barreau members followed the travelling court to Inukjuak and Puvirnituq, and later Salluit, to take stock of how cases there are handled.

“Frankly, we’re talking more of injustice than justice in the north,” said the Barreau du Québec’s Bernard Synnott, a Montreal-based lawyer.

“The most important observation I made was the court docket was overloaded,” he told regional councillors.

“And that means that there are many, many postponements. It’s unacceptable to wait three, four years for a trial. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

And those postponements are in addition to the delays caused by bad weather, which frequently grounds the travelling courts flights.

Synnott said the Barreau’s position is that the accused should be acquitted in cases that are not heard within 18 months.

The Barreau’s report made a number of other observations, noting an insufficient number of para-legal advisors and interpreters, a lack of facilities to host court proceedings, a shortage of detention facilities—an issue flagged by Quebec’s ombudsperson earlier this year—and a complete absence of Inuit lawyers.

There are currently 50 Indigenous students studying law in Quebec, Synnott said—none of whom are Inuit.

To address that, members of the Barreau visited Jaanimmarik high school earlier in the day to encourage students to consider a career in law.

Synnott said the Barreau is also working on a pilot project to provide mentoring to Indigenous law students in the province.

Another issue that doesn’t fall under the Barreau’s mandate but struck its members who visited the region was the prevalence of bootlegging, Synnott said, and its inevitable link to the region’s justice system.

Synnott said the Barreau is advocating to have the provincial government give powers to municipalities that would allow them to intervene and adopt their own anti-bootlegging bylaws.

That would give Northern Villages the ability to issue fines on the spot, he said, rather than the police waiting on warrants before they can act.

“One of our biggest problems is bootlegging,” said Kangiqsujuaq regional councillor Charlie Arngak. “We have so many broken homes, destroyed by alcohol.

“The police don’t have the necessarily tools. They wait for warrants, and by the time they receive them, the bootlegger has already done his job and there’s chaos,” he added. “We see that on a daily basis.”

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