Quebec court decision suggests Nunavik correctional services may improve
"It puts pressure on the government to provide better services"
Nunavik’s Makivik Corp. is hopeful a new Quebec court decision will put pressure on the provincial government to improve justice and correctional services in the region.
A Quebec Superior Court judge ruled last month 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 ruling found that the lack of detention facilities in the region violates the rights of Nunavik detainees, who must travel outside the region to be incarcerated.
But the decision could be the push the government needs to remedy that, said Makivik lawyer François Dorval.
“It doesn’t come as a surprise—it was just a matter of time before someone raised this,” Dorval said.
“We know there are gaps in the justice and correctional services. It puts pressure on the government to provide better services, so that’s a positive thing.”
In September 2017, a Kuujjuaq woman, Suzie Jonas, pleaded guilty to a charge of driving under the influence, for which she had been arrested days earlier.
A judge sentenced her to 40 days of detention, less the nine days of equivalent time she had spent in custody.
Jonas’ lawyer requested that the woman be able to serve that sentence intermittently—over the weekends—so she could keep her job and care for her children.
But the judge refused, noting the facility where Jonas would be detained was located more than 1,200 kilometres away in Amos.
Jonas appealed the decision and was released from detention with just three days left to her sentence.
The appeal argued that Nunavik detainees should have the same rights as other detainees who have access to facilities to serve intermittent sentences for minor offences.
Quebec Superior Court Judge Richard Grenier called Jonas’ scenario a “flagrant injustice.”
The judgment also noted that detainees from Quebec’s Magdalen Islands were able to serve intermittent sentences at jails in the Gaspé region, with their travel covered by the province.
The court gave Quebec’s Ministry of Public Security six months to comply or it would order a stay of proceedings in Jonas’ file.
Dorval said he is not optimistic that Nunavik will have its own detention facilities in that time period, but said it will help push the provincial government to looks at its options.
“For sure, the approach would be to provide [detention] locally,” Dorval said. “Anything in the region would help.”
Reports prepared in recent years by Quebec’s bar association and the province’s ombudsman have flagged serious gaps in Nunavik’s justice system, including the financial and emotional toil involved in flying detainees south.
The Kativik Regional Government declined to comment on the new court decision. That organization is overseeing the construction of new police stations and court facilities across the region, which are slated to include more and bigger detention areas.
Nunavik inmates could see other changes to where they are detained in the months to come.
As the province completes work on the new detention centre in Amos in Quebec’s Abitibi region—expected to open this fall—the region’s initial plan was to group all Nunavik inmates in the new facility.
But Makivik pushed back on that idea, as it would isolate Nunavik inmates from Inuit-specific services that exist in the Montreal area.
Instead, detainees awaiting court dates and sentencing will be housed in the Amos jail, while Nunavik detainees will serve sentences in either St. Jerome’s men’s jail and Leclerc’s women’s jail, both just north of Montreal.
“We already have a network of services in Montreal,” Dorval said. “It makes sense.”