Charging victims of violence sends message of “call us at your peril,” says Nunavut justice of the peace

“These women … called the police for help and ended up charged themselves”

In a written decision released on Feb. 5, Nunavut justice of the peace Joseph Murdoch-Flowers wrote that police and prosecutors must be careful when charging women who have called the police because they have experienced violence. Here, family members of missing and murdered Inuit women and girls light candles at an Ottawa ceremony hosted by Pauktuutit in 2015. (File photo)

By Emma Tranter

A Nunavut justice of the peace will not convict a woman for breaching her bail condition because she called the police while experiencing violence in her home.

In a written decision released on Feb. 5, justice of the peace Joseph Murdoch-Flowers said he found the case “troubling” for several reasons.

On Nov. 20, 2018, an Inuk woman was placed on bail conditions that included a condition not to drink, Murdoch-Flowers wrote.

To protect the woman’s identity, the written decision refers to her as “A.”

One month after receiving her bail conditions, A called the police one night because of a dispute in her home. When the police arrived, they found that A’s stepfather had been physically mistreating her, the defence told the court. The police also found A to be intoxicated and charged her with breaching her bail condition.

A then entered a guilty plea and on Dec. 19, 2019, in Iqaluit, Murdoch-Flowers found her guilty of failing to comply with her bail condition and sentenced her to an absolute discharge.

An absolute discharge means that although A was found guilty, no conviction will be registered and she will not be given any conditions to follow.

In his decision, Murdoch-Flowers said A’s case was very similar to another involving a woman, referred to as “K,” he had dealt with a year prior. In K’s case, she had also been charged for breaking her bail condition by drinking.

“Like A, K called the police because she was being assaulted by her boyfriend, while A called the police because she was being assaulted by her step-father,” Murdoch-Flowers wrote.

But K, a victim of assault, had been severely beaten and held in custody before appearing in court. In A’s case, she had been out on bail before the case came to court.

“These women, both victims of violence, called the police for help and ended up charged themselves,” Murdoch-Flowers wrote.

Murdoch-Flowers wrote that the purpose of his written judgment was “to provide more fulsome reasons” why both of A and K’s cases deserve “such judicial scrutiny.”

As with A, Murdoch-Flowers also found K guilty of breaking her bail condition and absolutely discharged her. He also cautioned her that his verdict did not mean she should fear calling the police in the future.

“I’m concerned that if I find you guilty of [breaching your no alcohol condition], it’s going to maybe make you think twice about calling the RCMP again in the future.… You should never think twice about calling the RCMP. And you should expect and have every confidence that if you’re in trouble, they’re there to help you,” Murdoch-Flowers said to K at the time.

“You’re sitting here with your face black and blue, beaten. And I’m sorry that I have to say that, but I see that. And I have to say that, because this is being recorded and I want whoever hears this in the future to be able to see in their minds what I see from this seat.”

Growing up, A experienced violence at home, was abused and went through Nunavut’s foster care system, which the case’s defence lawyer noted is often described as “the new residential school.”

“Her life has been tragically touched by suicide in her family. She has difficult relationships within her family. It comes as no surprise that she turned to intoxicating substances to cope.… She has limited education. When she can, she contributes by working for local agencies serving the neediest people in our community,” Murdoch-Flowers wrote.

“In both cases, the big picture is simple—a woman is calling for help against domestic violence. Why charge her for violating her bail conditions by drinking?”

In his decision, Murdoch-Flowers took into consideration the Report of the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, along with the work of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, Qulliit Status of Women Council, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Final Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Supreme Court decisions R. v. Ipeelee and R. v. Gladue.

Murdoch-Flowers noted that in each case, the RCMP had responded to the women’s calls.

Citing the work of the Qikiqtani Truth Commission, Murdoch-Flowers also highlighted the complicated relationship between the RCMP and Inuit in Nunavut.

“All who administer justice in Nunavut must be aware that our uniforms cloak us in that history, whether they are suits in a courtroom, or yellow stripes on police uniforms. Our actions can work towards reconciliation, or against it. To advance the work of reconciliation, we must consider the complex and ongoing relationship between law enforcement, courts, and Indigenous peoples in this country and in this territory,” he wrote.

He also noted the recently released report from Pauktuutit that called for a fundamental shift in how policing is carried out in Inuit Nunangat.

Murdoch-Flowers wrote that by charging and prosecuting A and K, the police and Crown sent a message of “call us at your peril.”

“Such a no-tolerance approach serves only to dissuade victims, particularly A and K in these cases, from ever calling the RCMP for help. Such decision-making by the police and Crown is a failure to properly exercise the discretion which the law grants them to charge or not to charge. More importantly, it is a disservice to some of the most vulnerable people in our society—namely Inuit women who suffer from domestic violence. The police and Crown must cease this practice,” he wrote.

“Inuit women should never feel like they must hesitate to call the police for assistance in Nunavut.”

Correction

An earlier version of this story stated that Murdoch-Flowers noted that Nunavut’s foster care system is often described as the “the new residential school.” In fact, the case’s defence lawyer made that statement.

R. v. A. (M.) 2020 NUCJ 4 by NunatsiaqNews on Scribd

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(11) Comments:

  1. Posted by sad on

    “A experienced violence at home, was abused and went through Nunavut’s foster care system, which Murdoch-Flowers noted is often described as “the new residential school.”

    That is a very irresponsible thing to say. The purpose of residential school was a horrific one, and children were removed from loving, safe homes. The purpose of foster care is to protect children from horrific situations at home. It is a failing, broken system, but without it, there would be a lot of children who would remain in critically unsafe, hopeless situations. The people who become foster families, both emergency and long-term care, are to be commended.

    This does not mean that terrible, sad things do not happen to some kids who are in foster care. But these poor kids would not be in these situations if their home life wasn’t unsafe to start with. The same cannot be said for residential school.

    • Posted by No Moniker on

      Great observation, in my opinion this was a product of a commentary drunk on the aggrandizement of its author. Or to put it in different terms, a person trying to increase their reputation as a luminary through what is in essence a cheap linguistic parlour trick. Shameful.

  2. Posted by Tyrion Lannister on

    The JP and both of the lawyers in this matter are all young, inexperienced newcomers to Iqaluit who very probably do not understand the history and the true horrors of child abuse inside many Nunavut families. The JP and the defence lawyer seem to have got carried away with themselves.

    The judgment is fine. I agree with it.

    But the reference to foster families being “the new residential school” is irrelevant to the judgment and, quite frankly, ridiculous and insulting to the many selfless people who act as foster parents to badly damaged children. Foster families are usually the only hope, the only protection for child victims of severe physical and sexual abuse..

    • Posted by Foster Parent on

      The JP is neither young nor is he ‘new’ to this community.
      I commend him for speaking the truth about the foster care system which is systemically racist and does not centre on the child or on the great foster parents who have to work hard to advocate for the children in care.
      I was personally told by a caseworker that it is not my “job to advocate for the child” If not me, then who?
      Keep up the great work JM!

      • Posted by sad on

        Thank you for sharing your experience and setting us straight. And thanks for your service.

      • Posted by Reckless Comment on

        The epithet racist is thrown around the NN comments way too recklessly in my opinion. A comment like this one should not even be posted unless it is accompanied by something to justify why it was made. Otherwise it is simply incendiary and slanderous. What do you say, Nunatsiaq, isn’t this how your commenting policy was designed to work?

  3. Posted by Sad on

    This is just sad on so many levels. The women called for help and ended up being charged. The RCMP had the option to charge or not to charge. After reading this, I am pissed that the RCMP would lay charges. Power trip??? How many gung ho cops come up here and treat us like shit. I bet if the tables were turned and it was one of their family members they would be pissed off too, or probably wouldnt even happen to them.

    • Posted by Don’t be so quick. on

      I wouldn’t be so quick to judge the rcmp. Try walking in their shoes and put up with the bs they do everyday especially in the communities. Nunavut would last all of five minutes without them. Most violent of all places in Canada. Phones ring off the hook. Cops working all day guarding all night and working all next day. Two person detachments where does that exist in the rest of the world. The poster here and the JP needs to walk in their shoes for a week and attend some of their calls.

  4. Posted by Tulugaq on

    Unfortunately, this is nothing new and the court system is still a colonial court that is looking only at enforcing its own laws. Nobody learned from the Kitty Nowdluk affair in 1991 or 1992 when a victim of crime, Kitty, failed to appear in court and a warrant was issued for her arrest. She had moved to Surrey, BC, and was arrested at her home and spent about a week in jail before being brought to court in Iqaluit. The saga is well documented and a report of inquiry was issued by the RCMP board making recommendations as to how to treat victims of crime.

    The JP is right as well. Many commissions recognized that the court system failed Indigenous people and one of the main concerns was the criminalization of people for breaching probation orders or undertakings. Unfortunately, the RCMP still acts as a colonial police force and so does the court system (here, the Crown). Fortunately though a community JP brings to light these actions that are completely unnecessary and cause more damage than good. That support the fact that local JP’s should have more role in the court system.

  5. Posted by No consequences on

    If she had followed her bail conditions and stayed sober, most likely she wouldn’t have been involved in the altercation which became violent. Bail in Nunavut is a joke, as long as you make some excuse for ignoring your conditions, or happen to be in the vicinity of someone behaving even worse, then of course there is no way you can be held responsible for your own endlessly repeated bad choices. It’s terrible that she was assaulted, and I hope the guy that assaulted her does not get off lightly, but she is still responsible for her own role in the situation, she ignored her bail conditions and decided to keep doing the thing that has always gotten her into trouble.

    • Posted by Refreshing Post on

      Good points and interesting perspective.

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