In the interest of free speech


It’s refreshing to see that when he’s given a chance to exercise his right to free speech, Paul Okalik, Nunavut’s justice minister, isn’t inhibited by the sub judice rule.

That’s the rule that says you can’t make public comments on matters that are before the courts, especially if you’re a public official. The fancy Latin phrase “sub judice” simply means “under judgment.” The rule’s intent is to protect judges and juries from being influenced or intimidated by statements made by powerful public officials, especially statements that might pre-judge the outcome of a case.

So when Okalik signed a petition urging the expulsion from Iqaluit of Jason Hikoalok, an apparently unrepentant child rapist, he appeared to violate the sub judice rule. The petition’s organizers attempted to present it to Justice Earl Johnson in the middle of a hearing held to decide the terms of a peace bond that would set limits on Hikoalok’s behaviour.

“A breach of the sub judice rule can include, for instance, statements urging the court to reach a particular result in a matter…,” the Ontario attorney general’s office says on its web site.

But Okalik, to his credit, decided to exercise his right to free speech, and rightly so. There are far too many politicians who invoke the sub judice rule as an excuse for dodging debate on difficult public issues.

In that spirit, Okalik should therefore feel free to comment on another big matter that now lies before the courts: his government’s hardball response to the second lawsuit filed against it by people who claim to be victims of Ed Horne, the well-known sexual molester of numerous Inuit boys in the 1970s and 1980s.

Readers with long memories will recall the first group of Ed Horne abuse claimants, who filed their lawsuit in 2001. They will recall that the GN responded much differently then.

Then, the governments of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories used a gentle approach, through a process called “alternative dispute resolution,” or “ADR.” That process, in about a year’s time, produced a $21.5 million settlement.

Okalik, chuffed with himself for his government’s enlightened approach, bragged about it in a 2003 speech before an audience of aboriginal law geeks in Hull, Quebec, citing his government’s use of the ADR process as a glowing example of the GN’s dedication to Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit. (You can find the text of the speech on the GN’s web site.)

Here’s part of what he said in 2003:

Recognizing that the impact on the individuals was reverberating throughout the communities, we sought a holistic solution. For the sake of the victims, we chose to settle out of court in order to spare them the trauma of reliving the experience. By doing so, we followed our traditional practice of quickly solving problems in order to lessen the impact on the general population.

In responding to the second group of victims, however, the GN, along with the GNWT, is not following “our traditional practice of quickly solving problems in order to lessen the impact on the general population.”

Instead, they’re playing hardball – against their own residents. They responded with a standard-issue statement of defence that implies many claimants in the second group may be lying. They suggest that some may have consented to having sex with Ed Horne. They deny that some or even all of them were sexually abused. They deny the territorial government of the day was responsible for Horne’s behaviour, and they deny the claimants suffered psychological damage.

The statement of defence was signed by lawyers working on behalf of Nunavut’s justice department, for which Okalik is the boss.

Now, there is some evidence in the public domain suggesting that at least some of those claimants are indeed lying, and signed onto the lawsuit to cash in on a settlement. However, their lawyer, Geoffrey Budden, has pointed out that the gentler ADR process is still capable of weeding them out.

Whatever the facts may be, Joe Handley, the premier of the Northwest Territories, recently got himself into a heap of trouble when he went on the radio to explain the territorial government’s hardline position.

But over here, Okalik has signaled that it’s now okay to be flexible about the sub judice rule. MLAs should therefore feel free to question him about the GN’s position on the second group of Ed Horne claimants, and to expect coherent answers.

Here’s a sample question:

“Mr Speaker, I have a question for the minister of justice. In 2001 and 2002, the governments of Nunavut and Northwest Territories, in line with the values of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, used alternative dispute resolution to settle a lawsuit by victims of Ed Horne’s sexual abuse.

“But in response to a lawsuit filed by a second group of victims, the government of Nunavut suggests these victims may have consented to having sex with their abuser. Will the minister of justice explain why his department is taking this position?”

All in the interests of free speech, of course. JB

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