Minister apologizes for remarks about spousal abuse, suicides

Email costs Tapardjuk 'justice; portfolio


Louis Tapardjuk is out as Nunavut's justice minister after an email he wrote appeared to justify domestic violence and blamed the Canadian justice system for causing suicides.

In an email intended to spur discussion on how to incorporate more Inuiut Qaujimajatuqangit in the justice system, Tapardjuk wrote about the conflict between IQ and Canadian common law.

Tapardjuk suggested Canadian law unfairly targets men when domestic disputes turn violent.

"The person who gets physical is charged, even though the other party may have initiated the conflict," he wrote. "Often, the male is charged even though the conflict may have been initiated by the female partner."

Instead, he wrote, elders and parents should sit down with both sides and find a solution. Interference by police and social services, he wrote, is causing more divorces.

Tapardjuk also wrote that the Canadian justice system takes too long and does not focus enough on reconciliation, causing stress for the accused and sometimes leading to suicides.

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"The Canadian justice system has killed more of our young people through suicide than were ever murdered in any given period."

Aariak's office issued a rare Saturday press release Jan. 24 in which the premier condemned Tapardjuk's remarks and announcing she was taking over the justice portfolio immediately.

The release included a copy of Tapardjuk's email Jan. 24, but a version obtained by Nunatsiaq News shows the email circulated to senior government officials, including deputy justice minister Koovian Flanagan, Pheobe Hainnu, deputy minister of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth, and Eileen Kilabuk-Weber, Tapardjuk's executive assistant. A copy was also forwarded to Peter Ma, Aariak's interim principal secretary.

"The Nunavut government does not condone any violence," Aariak said, speaking to reporters outside the legislative assembly this past Monday.

Tapardjuk's comments about the RCMP and social services were also unacceptable, Aariak said.

"For a minister working for the department of justice I felt that that was not an appropriate comment to make."

Still, Aariak said Tapardjuk's effort to find ways to incorporate Inuit traditional knowledge into the justice system "was a very positive step on his part."

In a retraction sent to media outlets, Tapardjuk apologized for his comments and stated that the offending email "was meant to encourage close work with the [department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth] to further incorporate [Inuit societal values] into [the] justice system."

"Spousal abuse is not a simple matter and there is no justification for one party to assault another… I also wrongly accused the Canadian justice system for causing suicides and divorces. I only meant that delays in the justice system cause stress to individuals and families," Tapardjuk wrote.

But Iqaluit West MLA Paul Okalik, a former premier and justice minister, suggested during question period Monday that Aariak overreacted by sacking Tapardjuk from the justice portfolio.

"Everyone has to be able to see both sides of every coin, not just the ones that we like," Okalik said.

Outside the assembly, Aariak said it's not wrong for cabinet ministers to raise controversial ideas with their staff, Tapardjuk simply crossed a line.

"It's the statement that was made by the minister that's the issue," she said.

Aariak said she would not hold on to the justice portfolio when she reshuffles cabinet.

It wasn't clear by deadline when that would happen, but a cabinet shuffle was essentially inevitable following the election of Rankin Inlet North MLA Tagak Curley to cabinet this past Monday.

Tapardjuk, the only holdover from former premier Paul Okalik's last cabinet, retains his jobs as CLEY minister, minister of languages and the key role of government house leader.

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