Are Nunavut prosecutors failing to protect Inuit from the police?

The Crown office isn’t doing enough to curb police brutality, contends Thomas Rohner

Bernard Naulalik of Iqaluit alleges police used excessive force against him on three occasions between 2014 and 2016. This, Thomas Rohner says, is part of a pattern of abuse that Crown prosecutors are not doing enough to address. (FILE PHOTO)

By Thomas Rohner

When it comes to protecting the rights of Inuit to fair treatment by police and the criminal courts, Nunavut’s public prosecutor’s office is failing Nunavummiut.

Meanwhile, senior members of that office receive promotions within the criminal justice system. It’s business as usual.

As an independent investigative reporter based in Iqaluit, I’ve written two stories in recent months for the Toronto Star about serious concerns regarding Inuit’s fair treatment by police and the courts.

The first story, published in August, found that “instances of excessive force by the RCMP … appear to be on the rise.” The story also alleged a pattern where public prosecutors withdraw or stay charges in cases that involve allegations of police abuse.

For example, the court record shows public prosecutors stayed or withdrew 12 of 19 charges faced by Bernard Naulalik of Iqaluit between 2014 and August 2018. Naulalik alleges police used excessive force against him on three occasions between 2014 and 2016.

The second Toronto Star story, which focused on the high rate of police-related deaths in Nunavut, found that the territory’s legal aid has filed 25 civil cases alleging police brutality in the last three years, 17 of which are ongoing.

“Nunavummiut … are being abused by members of the RCMP, and … absolutely nothing is being done about it by the RCMP, the (Public Prosecution Service of Canada) or the (Government of Nunavut),” a senior legal aid official said in that story.

“Why are they allowing this violence against Inuit to continue?”

You might think these questions would be a wake-up call for the RCMP, the GN and the public prosecutor’s office.

Nunavut MLAs raised questions about the RCMP and the Nunavut Justice Department in the legislature in October, referring to an increase in allegations of police abuse.

But the public prosecutor’s service has been mostly silent on this topic.

For example, for the first Toronto Star story, I submitted to all three agencies requests for written answers to numerous questions. The RCMP and GN sidestepped many of those questions and provided many non-answers. But both agencies at least provided statements to each numbered question.

The public prosecutor’s office responded to 20 questions in seven, mostly short paragraphs. Nineteen of the 20 questions were either not answered or only partially answered.

The public prosecutor’s office prosecutes cases, the office said in its response. It is not an investigative agency, nor does it oversee the RCMP or its investigations into police brutality allegations.

If the prosecutor’s office is contacted for legal advice about an allegation of police misconduct in Nunavut, “the matter is referred either to another regional office … or to a provincial prosecution service.… The Nunavut Regional Office would not be involved.”

As well, “the PPSC does not track statistics on specific issues, so no numbers are available,” the Crown said.

Correspondence captured by an access to information request shows senior Nunavut justice officials in 2015 approved the sharing of a letter with the Crown’s office that raises concerns of patterned police abuse across Nunavut.

When asked if the Crown was aware of these allegations, the office responded, “The PPSC has no record of the letter.”

Well, that wasn’t the question.

The prosecutor’s office did not directly answer whether there is a trend of police abuse in Nunavut or what, if anything, the prosecutor’s office could do if they discovered such a trend. Surely they’d be in a position to observe such a trend.

The office also refused to say whether the stays and withdrawals of Naulalik’s charges in cases involving police brutality allegations amounted to a pattern.

“The PPSC assesses each case individually.”

The office’s mission statements include, “Working within the criminal justice system to make Canada a safe and just society.”

That can’t be done with your head stuck in the sand.

Is the public to understand that, if there were a widespread pattern of police abuse across Nunavut resulting in numerous withdrawn and stayed criminal charges by prosecutors, that the public prosecutor’s office would know and do nothing about it? That’s unacceptable.

The office’s values include “respect, integrity, excellence and leadership.”

The public prosecution’s lack of involvement and communication on this issue implies a profound lack of each of those values.

Meanwhile, veterans in the Nunavut public prosecutor’s office continue to climb the criminal justice job ladder.

Christian Lyons left the Nunavut Crown office after the federal government named him to the Nunavut bench in June. Nunavut judges make $321,600 per year, according to Canada’s Justice Department.

And Marian Bryant is leaving her post as top boss for the Nunavut Crown’s office to become the northern advisor to the deputy director of public prosecution at the Crown’s Ottawa office, according to a recent media response from the Crown.

That change will be effective on Jan. 1. The salary range for the job Bryant is leaving is $171,200 to $205,000 while her new job’s range is $148,600 to $183,000, the Crown’s office in Ottawa said. The office did not specify if those figures include benefits or northern pay benefits.

There is no evidence to suggest that Bryant and Lyons knew about or are directly responsible for the Crown’s silence on the allegations of patterned police abuse emerging across Nunavut.

But our justice system depends in part on appearances: to have the confidence of the public, justice must appear to have been done. And promotions in the midst of apparent indifference to the public interest does not look good.

“We exist to protect the rights of Canadians and uphold the rule of law,” wrote Kathleen Roussel, Director of Public Prosecutions in the Crown’s 2017-18 annual report.

It appears Nunavummiut, and especially Inuit in Nunavut, don’t enjoy those same rights or rule of law.

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(19) Comments:

  1. Posted by Sled dog on

    That is quite the cheap shot at Justice Lyons.

  2. Posted by David on

    The flipside is, according to Stats Can in Nunavut police officers are assaulted at 8 times the Canadian average for police officers and no other province or territory has comparable stats to Nunavut.

    Manitoba has the most assaults of any province, but Nunavut RCMP are assaulted 4 times as often as MB officers.

    This is definitely a 2 way street.

  3. Posted by Padraiguk on

    Thank goodness for the RCMP in Nunavut. 99% of them are amazing people and officers.

  4. Posted by Outraged on

    Anyone can allege excessive force. Where are the stats to prove this opinion piece? When a complaint is made alleging excessive force, the RCMP does investigate and make recommendations as to how to proceed. As David had mentioned before, Nunavut police officers are assaulted more than police in any other jurisdiction in Canada. Is the suggestion now that they do not protect themselves? For example, RCMP are called to a fight, surrounded by intoxicated persons yelling, grabbing at them, cell phones and cameras flashing away in their faces, what do you expect them to do? Lay on the ground and hope people can get themselves under control? These men and women put their lives on the line on a regular basis. They have families and lives beyond the uniform. There are always bad apples in every profession, however, the majority want to protect the public, not hurt them. There is very little context given in this article about the alleged assaults against the community member featured. This article is childish, focuses the salaries of justice officials and fails to give any clear examples of the alleged police brutality. Nunatsiaq News, you should be ashamed for giving this writer a platform. Trying to fan the flames of hate towards police is not beneficial to anyone. Perhaps living in an anarchist state would be better? I think not. Thanks to the RCMP for all they do in our communities.

  5. Posted by Rumpole of the Bailey on

    The author of this article claims to be an “investigative” reporter but this article’s apparent lack of basic knowledge of the subject is disappointing in the extreme, and that is being polite.

    No member of the Nunavut Regional Office of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada would ever be allowed to prosecute a criminal case against a Nunavut RCMP member or be involved in any way in such a prosecution.. This would be against the policy of the PPSC. The policy is that such a prosecution must be handled by another PPSC regional office or by a Crown prosecutor brought in from a provincial prosecution service in order to avoid a conflict of interest or any perception of bias.

    This explains why the Nunavut PPSC does not prosecute Nunavut RCMP members. They are not allowed to.

    That is my first point. My second point is that nowhere does this article acknowledge the social dysfunction that leads to these unfortunate incidents between police and citizens, the early childhood abuse, the substance abuse, the poverty and inequity, the poor education and the lack of economic opportunity. These are the root causes of the mental disorders that lead to “suicide by cop” incidents and incidents of acting out inside holding cells or while being arrested. The failure to acknowledge this is a serious and highly unfair omission.

    RCMP members are thrown into these situations with little preparation and often with little experience. To pin all the blame on RCMP members for these social problems is reprehensible. To attack the PPSC for somehow failing to prosecute RCMP members is more than reprehensible, it is truly despicable.

    Thank to the Nunavut RCMP for your courage and dedication to service.

  6. Posted by Tundra T on

    Thomas Rohner you clearly have a limited understanding about the roles of the various parties involved in the criminal justice system. Your casual personal attacks are potentially defamatory and certainly journalism at its worst. That Nunatsiaq News published such an amateurish piece is a poor reflection on its journalistic standards.

  7. Posted by Arctic Wolf on

    So Justice Lyons was appointed (not promoted by PPSC) to the position of judge, and Marian Bryant was “promoted” to a position where she makes $20,000 a year less than what she’s making now? What a ridiculous attempt to smear two fine and highly competent people for the purpose of making a point that doesn’t exist. You need to get over yourself Tommy, you’re not helping as much as you think you are.

  8. Posted by Garbage Dump on

    Journalism at its worst. Getting really tired of the Thomas Rohner BS and quite frankly so is everyone else. Facts are always wrong because of his one sided nonsense. I’m more disappointed with Nunatsiaq News in that they’d agree to publish for this moron. There are far more credible outlets than this. PPSC and RCMP deserve an apology. Shame on you both for this garbage.

  9. Posted by Nevada Bob on

    “Bernard Naulalik of Iqaluit alleges police used excessive force against him on three occasions between 2014 and 2016.”

    I am in my 50’s and have somehow managed not to have any dealings with police in my entire life. Perhaps Bernard Naulalik need to take a look at his life choices. People who obey the law, respect police and their job, and are a constructive member of society typically do not have trouble with law enforcement. Just a thought.

  10. Posted by Lets get real… on

    Mr. Rohner’s comments are vexatious at best. I like many others on this thread am very surprised Nunatsiaq would publish this article. Yes, we know he used to be a report for you but come on he is clearly makes several unfounded assumptions about police and those who serve in the judicial body. Mr. Rohner’s article is inflammatory and does not assist residents of Nunavut in any way – it is completely self serving. He has made a name for himself as a caped crusader of police brutality however he can offer no factual backing to his position. I’d suggest you focus your efforts elsewhere Mr. Rohner, perhaps the funny pages as it appears your level of journalistic integrity is humorous to say the least.

  11. Posted by New low on

    “Well, that wasn’t the question”

    “That can’t be done with your head stuck in the sand”

    This new editorial tone you’ve adopted is sophomoric. Please stop.

  12. Posted by Smarmy on

    Thomas Rohner, you write stories about things that matter but your comprehension of the subjects you write about is poor and your reasoning is weak and unsupported. You allege that members of the PPSC are using Nunavut for economic enhancement, but you use Nunavut for identity enhancement. Consider that your attacks on the PPSC apply to you: being a journalist in Nunavut benefits you far more than your work benefits Nunavummiut. The opportunities you’ve accessed as a journalist have little to do with you and your writing and everything to do with where and who you’re writing about. As you’ve moved from journalism to faulty moral judgements, remember it is much more important that you are able to fix your own problematic behavior than it is for you to identify it in others. If you want to help, start there.

  13. Posted by Well you learn something new every day… on

    Hmm, interesting, I didn’t realize until now that Nunatsiaq was the Fox News of the North.
    New agencies need to take responsibility for what, and who, they publish.

  14. Posted by Enough on

    This was hard to read… and not because of the subject matter. The author’s bias was so palpable that it completely detracts from any meaningful discussion about an important subject. Please stop providing this type of prejudice a platform.

  15. Posted by my name on

    Thank you Tom, we don’t have a voice, if we do, ppl like the above commentors will try to shut us up. Thank you, your values are needed in Nunavut, ppl who care. Those ppl above don’t care for nothing but the money in their pockets.

  16. Posted by Kerry on

    Mr. Rohner’s snide tone, coupled with his use of rhetorical comments, make this seem more like a letter to the editor than a news article. The swipes at Justice Lyons and the PPSC are nasty. Poorly done Nunatsiaq.

  17. Posted by Phil on

    “Is the public to understand that, if there were a widespread pattern of police abuse across Nunavut resulting in numerous withdrawn and stayed criminal charges by prosecutors, that the public prosecutor’s office would know and do nothing about it? That’s unacceptable.”

    Of course, if Mr. Rohner was actually able to establish that there was “a widespread pattern of police abuse across Nunavut resulting in numerous withdrawn and stayed criminal charges by prosecutors” he wouldn’t be asking a hypothetical like that.

    Mr. Rohner asked the PPSC if there was a pattern, and they declined to answer. Mr. Rohner is trying to cover up his lack of evidence and build a case using rhetoric and alleging a conspiracy.

  18. Posted by tulugak on

    This op-ed sets a new low for Nunatsiaq News.

    There are many important questions about police oversight in Nunavut. Unfortunately, Thomas Rohner asks none of them. Instead, he assails prosecutors with unfounded personal attacks. The best outcome from his op-ed would be that the only thing damaged is his own credibility as a journalist.

    Mr. Rohner laments that Nunavut’s prosecutors aren’t doing any more than staying or withdrawing charges where there is alleged police brutality. He argues that prosecutors need to do more. According to his own words, the prosecutor’s office has told him that it is “is not an investigative agency, nor does it oversee the RCMP or its investigations into police brutality allegations.” Mr. Rohner contends that this isn’t enough. He thinks that prosecutors need to do more.

    Mr. Rohner doesn’t seem to understand – unfortunate, given that the prosecutor’s office has apparently told him this and the information is also available freely online – that prosecutors don’t do investigations and they don’t supervise the police. They don’t do this because, according to the law, they don’t have that power. The RCMP and PPSC are two completely different organizations, which is reflected in the totally separate pieces of legislation that created them.

    Shockingly, Mr. Rohner thinks that prosecutors should go beyond the authority that they have under the law and exercise non-existent powers in order to supervise police officers. Why would he suggest that the prosecutor’s office oversee the police? If he’s concerned that the prosecutors are in bed with the police, his proposal to give one organization oversight over the other would surely be more harm than cure. Ironically, he doesn’t understand that.

    Mr. Rohner ignores the fact that the PPSC has prosecuted police officers charged with “police brutality” offences. For example, both Nunatsiaq News and the CBC reported earlier this year on the charges against Sergeant Paul Marenchuk (Google it, Mr. Rohner!), was accused of assault with a weapon after he pepper-sprayed an inmate in a cell. That case, of course, involved the PPSC prosecuting a charge (likely handled by an outside prosecutor not from Nunavut), not doing an investigation.

    Mr. Rohner’s personal attack on Justice Christian Lyons’ appointment is an insult to the members of the committee that would have recommended his appointment as a judge to the government. The majority of people on that committee, as reported by CBC News in June 2017, were Inuit. Unfortunately, Mr. Rohner apparently doesn’t read the news and instead insinuates that the appointment was part of some conspiracy against Inuit’s legal rights.

    As another commenter has pointed out, surely Mr. Rohner is the only person who could call a five-figure pay-cut “climbing the ladder.” Apparently unemployment, with an income of $0.00 per year, would be the ultimate promotion. I wish him all the success in achieving that goal himself.

    Whether or not Nunavut should have an independent, civilian-led oversight body (like the SIU in Ontario and comparable bodies in other jurisdictions) is an important question that should be considered and debated. Saying that prosecutors should supervise police is not a useful answer to that question, however.

    Hopefully all that is damaged from this op-ed is Mr. Rohner’s own credibility as a journalist. This outrageous op-ed is a shame for Mr. Rohner, a shame for Nunatsiaq News, and very unfortunate for all Nunavummiut.

  19. Posted by Shameful on

    I’m reading this travesty and only getting angry. According to statistics the Nunavut RCMP typically handle in excess of 7,000 prisoners annually and yet here stands the Great Rohner and his “Man of the Year” (for all that he’s done for humanity) Bernard Naulalik telling us about this great plethora of excessive force and violence against the Inuit. I know of Bernard Naulalik, and I know the misery, pain and suffering he’s caused to others. I can’t imagine for one-hundredth of a millisecond what would come of Nunavut without the RCMP, PPSC and Judiciary. It is absolutely excruciating to read this pathetic non-sense that somehow brings into question the very professional and competent Marion Bryant and Christian Lyons who work so tiredly every day to make society a better place. The RCMP will deal with the one or two bad apples in it’s ranks, and will continue to do so as examples provided in this post. 7,000 prisoners annually is one fifth of our population, and having the highest rates of just about everything imaginable is no easy task for police. I feel for them having to do everything for everyone and not one thing positive from Mr. Rohner but his one sided bias. So for Thomas and Nunatsiaq News – “Fake News” at it’s best. Despicable journalism.

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