New scheme keeps people out of court

Nunavik hands out tickets to public drunks


KUUJJUAQ – Nunavik wants to ramp up its municipal bylaw program as a way of keeping people out of court, particularly for alcohol-related offenses.

Over the past two years, 164 people in Kuujjuaq and 213 in Puvirnituq received tickets for being under the influence of alcohol in a public place.

Ticketing is a good way to improve safety and security in communities without giving people a criminal record, said Aileen MacKinnon, the interim chief of the Kativik Regional Police Force said at the last meeting of the Kativik Regional Government council in Kuujjuaq.

The KRG has been trying to implement its bylaw program since 1991, pushing the adoption of a peace, order and good government bylaw by all 14 municipalities, called "Northern Villages."

In 2001, the KRG created its "offence management bureau" to supervise all procedures related to the enforcement of municipal bylaws.

The bureau got a boost a year later, when the 2002 Sanarrutik agreement gave communities access to money, which could be used to hire municipal bylaw officers.

However, for the moment, only three communities – Kuujjuaq, Puvirnituq, Akulivik and Kangiqsujalujjuaq – have functioning bylaw officers.

Few of the 12 trained as bylaw officers since 2006 remain on-the-job.

And differences in bylaws adopted by communities also means regional enforcement is tougher.

That's something the KRG hopes to resolve with the region-wide adoption of a standardized municipal bylaw for peace, order and good government.

Tickets mean Nunavimmiut now face hefty fines

In Nunavik, 416 tickets were handed out in 2007 and 1,600 in 2008 for numerous municipal bylaw offenses.

And many Nunavimmiut who received these tickets were subjected to court judgments forcing them to pay their fines.

When a fine goes unpaid, a minimum fine of $50 rises to more than $100 when costs are included.

Tickets do explain in Inuttitut, French and English what to do with these "statement of offence," as the tickets are called in Quebec.

If you plead guilty, you have 30 days to pay your fine at the municipal office. If you plead not guilty, you have 30 days to enter your plea on a form attached to the back of the ticket and to send it in the return envelope to the KRG.

Its office of bylaw management also sends trilingual letters to offenders to let them know their 30-day period to lodge a plea or make a payment has expired and informing them there will be a judgment by default in they do not act.

If they don't pay or don't register a non-guilty plea, the municipality can obtain a judgment by default.

Not responding is taken as an automatic plea of guilty, and when it comes to court, the judge can add court changes, which can sometimes double the original cost – something hundreds of Nunavimmiut have discovered the hard way when they get bills in the triple digits.

Cree use tough bylaw against bootleggers

If Nunavik's municipal leaders want a bylaw to control alcohol and bootlegging in their communities, they could look to the Cree community of Whapmagoostui for inspiration.

Whapmagoostui, a community of about 700 lying next door to Kuujjuaraapik, has a bylaw that effectively controls the "sale, exchange, possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages."

If you're found guilty under this bylaw, you can face a stiff fine, imprisonment and even lose your home if it's owned by the band council.

The bylaw says no one may sell or exchange alcohol in Whapmagoostui.

The bylaw allows police and bylaw officers to lay charges for bootlegging, even when they don't see a monetary exchange between the seller and customer.

And if anyone is caught with a quantity of alcohol, "greater than would be normally consumed by one person," he or she can also be charged under the bylaw, even if there's no other proof that there's bootlegging going on.

The bylaw also forbids selling, exchanging, providing or transferring alcohol to any minor.

It doesn't apply where the alcohol is used or intended for medical or sacramental purposes. But then burden of proof falls on the accused to show this is true.

The bylaw also allows police to seize alcohol and money if bootlegging is in question, and it prohibits public intoxication.

The maximum fine under this bylaw is $2,000 on a summary conviction or, for a more serious offense, a maximum of six months imprisonment as well as a possible fine.

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