A day in the life of a Nunavik courtroom
“I am tired of men raping me. I am not a piece of meat”
KUUJJUAQ — The cast of Nunavik’s harshest reality show, the traveling court, crammed into an airless courtroom in Kuujjuaq last week to mark the start of a new court season, filled with conjugal violence, child abuse, assaults, impaired driving, drug dealing and judicial absurdity.
Offenders in shackles, witnesses, family members, a baby, heaps of pink court files, police, corrections officers, interpreters, lawyers and a judge were there to witness the rough underside of life on Ungava Bay.
But the only audience, apart from those who had to be there, was a journalist.
When the names of Kuujjuamiut and their leaders aren’t on the docket, local people never come to see what’s happening, a courtroom veteran noted.
Here’s what everyone missed during the first few hours of the court session, when cases for “settlement,” that is, cases when the offender pleads guilty, were heard:
* Jonathan A. slapped his baby on the head. He said his girlfriend was threatening to commit suicide. “What he wants more than anything else is to live a normal life,” his lawyer told the judge. The judge told Jonathan that “the way you behave is not a good way” and that he should call for help if he needs it. She told him “the child must be protected.” He received a conditional sentence, community service, curfew and probation;
* Kevin A. was in an argument with his girlfriend and punched her in the face. “You are going to have to find other ways to solve your problems,” the judge told him. He received a suspended sentence and must make a donation to the victims’ assistance centre in Kuujjuaq;
* Mark E., a taxi driver, was stopped by police for driving drunk in the dark. He received a $600 fine and a one-year suspension of his licence: the minimum under Quebec law. “People in the community want to feel safe in the street,” the judge said.
* Mary I. was brought to the Tulattavik Hospital in an intoxicated state. She punched a nurse in the face. She told the judge she didn’t apologize to the nurse afterwards because she didn’t know her. Now, she’ll have to write an apology. She also received a suspended sentence, conditions, and probation;
* Kathy S. was driving in an intoxicated state and almost hit a police car. She gets a $600 fine, but doesn’t lose her driving licence because she doesn’t have one. But she can’t drive for a year;
* Lizzie A. from Aupaluk assaulted a police officer, drove around town drunk and used her job at Canada Post to traffic drugs. In her house police found 12 packages of neatly packaged marijuana, a list of clients and more than $1,000 in cash. The judge told her “we have to denounce this comportment,” but decided to give her a conditional sentence of three months, with house arrest, curfew, probation and two fines: $100 for hitting the police officer and $600 for impaired driving. She’s also not allowed to drive a vehicle for a year;
* Johnny Akpahatak, the mayor of Aupaluk, pleads guilty through his lawyer to drunk driving on two occasions, one with an alcohol level of 1.64, way over the limit of .08. He’ll be off the roads for a year, but has no legal driver’s licence to surrender;
* Lizzie M. of Tasiujaq kicked two policemen who responded to her repeated calls and threats to kill herself and her child. She received a suspended sentence with conditions, followed by probation;
* Mary K. threw her one-year old down on the floor twice and also beat up her mother, breaking her ribs. “I will give you the chance to do something to help yourself,” the judge said. She gave Mary a conditional sentence and three months of house arrest. Mary must also get help for her alcohol problem — and install a telephone at her home so police can check up on her;
* C. stabbed her boyfriend with a knife. But that was only after he re-enacted a rape she had suffered about a year before, the details of which she had confided to him. Before saying this, C. asked the court to move her rapist out of the courtroom, where he sat waiting in the offenders’ box. “I am truly sorry for what I did,” C. told the judge. “But I am tired of men raping me. I am not a piece of meat.” The woman, who has gone to treatment and stopped drinking since the stabbing, talked about her abusive childhood.
“She has experienced things in her life, things we don’t see all the time in the South,” said the judge before handing her a conditional sentence of two years less a day, followed by two years of probation, as well as a period of house arrest, mandatory therapy and an order to stay off the “explosive cocktail” of booze and drugs. Sending the woman, who has a job, to jail would not ensure her rehabilitation, the judge said, after listening to positive statements about the woman from the Crown lawyer.
For those who missed Day One of the court’s Week One, there are 12 similar weeks scheduled for Ungava Bay communities, and as many more in Hudson Bay and Hudson Strait communities.