Class action suit seeks compensation for Nunavik offenders

Excessive waits before bail hearings violate offenders' rights, says lawsuit


You won'f find a jail today in Inukjuak on Nunavik's Hudson Bay coast, but the community was selected as the site for a regional correctional facility before that idea was dropped in 2006 in exchange for $300 million from Quebec. (FILE PHOTO)

You won’f find a jail today in Inukjuak on Nunavik’s Hudson Bay coast, but the community was selected as the site for a regional correctional facility before that idea was dropped in 2006 in exchange for $300 million from Quebec. (FILE PHOTO)

A class action lawsuit has been launched against the Quebec government to seek compensation for Nunavik residents who, due to the lack of correctional facilities in their region, are held in custody in the south for unreasonable periods of time.

Lawyers Victor Chauvelot and Louis Nicholas Coupal-Schmidt, on behalf of Michael Carrier, 28, of Kangirsuk, and others, filed the statement of claim in Montreal on Sept. 3 at Quebec’s Superior Court.

The suit seeks damages of $2,500 per day for all Nunavik residents who are forced into “inhumane” jails in the south, leaving them with feelings of abandonment, solitude, anxiety and despair.

This experience should merit each claimant an additional $50,000 in punitive damages, the statement of claim says.

The statement of claim, which is for now available in French only, requires that the Quebec Superior Court first accepts this as a class action.

It seeks compensation for anyone accused in Nunavik of a criminal offence since Sept. 4, 2015—three years before the statement of claim was filed—and held for a period of more than three days between their first appearance before a judge and a bail hearing.

According to Section 515 of the Criminal Code of Canada this wait should be no longer than three days, unless those arrested have consented to the extra time in jail.

The parties held responsible for the breaches of the claimants’ rights include Quebec’s ministries of justice and public security.

In the statement of claim, Carrier, 28 and a father of two, alleges that his rights and those of others were violated after arrest.

Carrier was arrested this past July 5 but was detained until July 13 when he was released. It took him two more days to get home, amounting to 10 days in all.

Every person detained in Nunavik should have the right to the “full protection of the law,” as other Canadians and Quebecers do, says the statement of claim.

However, that wasn’t the case for Carrier and others in Nunavik who saw this this time frame violated due to the “indifference and negligence of the state,” says the statement of claim.

As well, Nunavik offenders can’t remain in the region while the investigation is taking place, because there is no jail.

The lack of a regional jail means, like Carrier, people who have been arrested must travel to correctional facilities in Amos or St. Jerôme, on a long and costly journey that can take up to two weeks.

The statement of claim states Quebec acted “in full knowledge of the immediate and obvious consequences of its actions” in allowing this to happen.

Plans once existed to build a jail in Nunavik, which was called for in the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and the 2002 Sanarutik Agreement, but “these promises were unfulfilled,” states the statement of claim.

By 2005, a $40-million jail was to be built in Inukjuak that would house 40 detainees.

But in 2006, Nunavik leaders, Maggie Emudluk of the Kativik Regional Government, and Pita Aatami of Makivik Corp., traded that jail in the region for $300 million in crime prevention money from Quebec over a 22-year period, and the Sanarrutik Agreement was amended.

Chauvelot told Nunatsiaq News that even though Nunavik leaders renounced a jail in favour of the money that led to the establishment of Ungaluk Safer Communities Program, that doesn’t mean Quebec can continue to break the law.

The idea that the correctional system needs to change isn’t new: the Quebec ombudsman’s report in 2016 revealed that the annual number of Inuit admitted into the province’s correctional facilities stands at about 900 per year and that the average stay for Inuit awaiting trial is 17.6 days longer than for the rest of the inmate population in Quebec.

The inequities due to the lack of a jail in Nunavik were raised again earlier this year at the Viens commission, which is looking at Quebec’s track record with respect to Indigenous people.

And more recently a Quebec Superior Court judge ruled that a Kuujjuaq woman does not have to complete a jail sentence until the province can provide a facility for her to serve an intermittent sentence in Nunavik.

The Superior Court is likely to say within six months where this class action suit can move ahead, Chauvelot said.

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