Appeals court upholds Peter Kingwatsiak murder conviction

Appeals court judges reject argument murderer’s trial was flawed by Inuktitut ‘interpretation issues’

The Nunavut court of appeal dismissed Peter Kingwatsiak’s appeal of his 2016 murder conviction for killing his step-brother. (File photo)

By Thomas Rohner
Special to Nunatsiaq News

The Nunavut Court of Appeal has rejected an appeal by a Kinngait man convicted of first-degree murder who said the interpretation at his 2015 trial was fundamentally flawed.

“The meaning and intent of the interpretation is always clear,” a decision released Oct. 19 from Justices Karan Shaner, Frederica Schutz and Kevin Feehan said.

“The linguistic interpretation does not appear to have affected the understanding of the exchange [between Kingwatsiak and the lawyers and judge at trial]. When Mr. Kingwatsiak identified a concern with the quality of interpretation, the court fully and properly assessed the issue,” the 12-page decision said.

Justice Bonnie Tulloch convicted Kingwatsiak of first-degree murder in 2016 when he aimed and shot a .22-calibre rifle point blank at his step-brother Mappaluk Adla’s head while Adla slept.

The killing occurred in 2010 in Kinngait, shortly after Kingwatsiak had turned 18.

First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Last year, Iqaluit defence lawyer Alison Crowe filed an appeal of both the conviction and sentence.

She argued, in part, that Tulloch’s handling of concerns raised at trial about the interpretation led to a miscarriage of justice.

Crowe filed a report by linguistic experts who said Tulloch’s mistakes “resulted in unfairness towards the accused,” were at times “culturally insensitive” and showed “an apparent lack of understanding of the gulf between any two languages.”

Crowe asked the appeal judges to accept this report as new evidence not presented at trial.

But in their decision to dismiss the appeal, the panel of justices wrote that the “proposed [linguistic] experts are critical of the trial judge far beyond concerns with interpretation issues” and they therefore “pay no attention to these criticisms.”

The report does “demonstrate differences in sentence structure, grammar and some individual word selections,” the decision said.

But this “proposed new evidence does not bear upon a decisive or potentially decisive issue at trial” and is therefore not admitted, they concluded.

Shortly after Tulloch’s 2016 conviction, some legal and language experts raised concerns about the interpretation issues in this case.

For example, Tulloch said Kingwatsiak used differences in dialect between himself and the interpreters to his advantage, was evasive and took long pauses before answering.

“If it’s a non-Inuktitut-speaking judge, how can they conclude [Kingwatsiak] was using interpreters to his advantage? Were they in a position to assess the quality?” Sandra Inutiq, Nunavut’s former language commissioner, and a trained lawyer, said in a 2016 interview with Nunatsiaq News.

University of Toronto law professor Kent Roach told Nunatsiaq News in 2016 that court translation is a “largely unexamined” weakness in Canada’s justice system.

He also said Indigenous groups across the country “have a difficult time being understood by the justice system.”

“Is this a systemic issue or related to this particular case?” Roach asked rhetorically.

Responding to Kingwatsiak’s appeal last year, Aluki Kotierk, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., told CBC North in an interview that the cultural and language barriers Inuit face in the court room “definitely” give rise to miscarriages of justice.

“It’s not an Inuit justice system, so definitely there’s been misgivings in the system and it doesn’t incorporate Inuit ways of understanding and being,” she told CBC in December 2020.

Crowe also sought the appeal on the grounds that Kingwatsiak could not properly form the intent for premeditated murder, in part because of the gas fumes he said he had been sniffing leading up to the killing.

But the appeals judges disagreed again.

Tulloch’s “conclusion that the killing of Mr. Adla was both planned and deliberate is reasonable, supported and without palpable and overriding error,” the decision said.

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(11) Comments:

  1. Posted by Aaron Rogers on

    In other words he still shot him in the head at point blank range and murdered the fella.

  2. Posted by Tulugaq on

    With respect to the language issue, this decision is typically colonial and assess the Inuktitut language the same as foreign languages like Japanese, Mandarin or Punjabi etc. The Appeal Court uses the 1994 Supreme Court of Canada decision in Tran to assess the fairness and quality of the translation as if Inuktitut was a foreign language because in Tran, it was Vietnamese that was the language involved.

    The Appeal Court did not consider the fact that Inuktitut is one of Nunavut’s official languages and should have a special status before the courts since it’s the court that is functioning in a foreign language. In other words, Inuit people are treated like second class citizens that are at the mercy of a court system that works almost entirely in a colonial language (both English and French are colonial languages in Canada even though they are “official”), based on a culture that is often adverse to the Inuit culture and a country that has done everything it could to eradicate Indigenous identities and cultures.

    I can’t believe that in 2021, in an era of so-called reconciliation, the court delivered a judgment that one could have expected in 1950, not in 2021! Worst, the Crown acted like a colonial power in this case with contempt to the Inuit culture and led the Court of Appeal in that mess. It’s time Nunavut takes charge of the crown prosecutors’ office as this is clearly another colonial institution acting in a very colonial fashion. Inuit have the right to their own legal system according to the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People that is now part of the laws of Canada and is international law. Time to decolonize Canada!

    • Posted by MARS on

      Then make your own legal system….. Not sure what the point of your rant is other than to throw around the word ‘colonial’ a bunch of times.

    • Posted by Tuluquack on

      I think I read the word colonial more than five times in this comment. See, It’s now just another word for ‘bad’ or ‘white’ in the minds of many woke people. I mean let’s just call cold blooded murder colonial too.
      This guy knew exactly what he was doing with these language games at trial. He isn’t the first either. Why are we forced as taxpayers to fund these sham appeals to identity politics by the likes of this lawyer and her client, all legal aid and with my tax dollars. Legal Services Board should have its budget stripped in half with how much they waste on appeals over this kind of nonsense.

    • Posted by John K on

      Adequate and effective interpretation was provided and Mr Kingwatsiak’s concerns were addressed promptly.

      This was a good call by the panel. To decide otherwise would have set a problematic precedent of lending credence to frivolous appeals.

    • Posted by Northern Guy on

      You clearly have no comprehension as to how federal/crown prosecution operates in Canada when you assert that it could simply be handed over to the Territorial Government! Your basic lack of understanding undermines your credibility and the assertions you make in your polemic.

    • Posted by Nope on

      Inuktut and all languages that are not English or French are minority languages, period.

      Non-official languages should be supported by the minority groups and no one else. Any other approach means that by rights in this country we should be doing more to support Punjabi, Hindi and other more widely spoken languages.

      If we give Inuktitut such support, then I expect to see equal treatment for German and Ukrainian among other ethnic minority languages.

      • Posted by Southerner in the North on

        Check your facts. Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun are also official languages in Nunavut. By law, services in the Territory must be provided in all four official languages.

        Other than English and French, there are no non-Indigenous official languages in Canada.

        • Posted by Not quite on

          Criminal law falling under the Criminal Code is a federal matter, and thus falls under federal requirements, not provincial. That’s why, for instance, a francophone in Alberta can have a criminal trial conducted in French but does not have that right in a civil trial or a trial for something under the provincial jurisdiction. So whatever Nunavut’s Language Act says in this instance is irrelevant.

          As for the language act itself, section 8(1) says that any of the three official languages can be used in the Nunavut Court of Justice, but the right to have interpretation of everything that’s going on, in section 8(3), is very specifically limited to civil cases, not criminal. And 8(5) makes it clear that translation in the Inuit Language has some discretion on the part of the Court in how it’s carried out. It also doesn’t say that every single dialect needs to be supported. So there’s no support for you assertion even in the Act itself.

  3. Posted by Good on

    Allowing for the appeal to proceed as requested would have created a nasty precedent in the Nunavut courts. Good on the appeals court. This man needs to be behind bars for a very long time/

  4. Posted by Northern Guy on

    The man showed a clear facility with the English language in advance and leading up to his trial and yet opted for Inuktitut translation with the express intent of using that as a means to cast doubt on his guilty verdict. If the issues with translation were as endemic as Mr. Kingwatsiak and his counsel made them out to be, there would be far greater of numbers of court challenges. To my knowledge anyway, there don’t seem to be many appeals based on the quality and accuracy of the translation process which would logically lead one to assume that it is, for the most part, satisfactory for the job at hand. A well reasoned decision by Appellate court.


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