No judge? No trials. Court cancelled in 2 Nunavik communities this week
People expecting to have criminal cases heard now have to wait until November
Court has been cancelled in Kuujjuaq and Kangiqsualujjuaq this week because no judges are available to fly up to oversee criminal case proceedings in those communities.
Isabelle Boily, a spokesperson for Quebec’s Ministry of Justice, confirmed the situation in an emailed statement to Nunatsiaq News, but did not offer an explanation for why no judges were available.
Defendants expecting to have their cases heard will have to wait until the court’s next scheduled trip to these communities — in November. The delay is impacting their right to be tried in a reasonable time, said defence lawyer Daphnée Creighton.
Creighton, who works for Yves Ménard Lawyers based in Montreal, has clients in Nunavik’s Ungava Bay communities.
Along with other lawyers who serve Nunavik defendants, Creighton said she has been scrambling to book new court dates for clients, including some who have been in detention for close to a year.
“There’s nothing I can do for them to have a closer trial date or to force the court to hear the trial, because the court term is cancelled,” she said.
“As their lawyer, all I can do is postpone the case to the next court date.”
There is a permanent courthouse in Kuujjuaq, but other communities have to set up a makeshift courtroom in school gyms, community centres and other rented facilities.
Judges, clerks and Crown attorneys who serve the region are usually based in Amos, Que., and fly in for court.
Court delays and cancellations are common in Nunavik, Creighton said. There are a number of issues that can arise, including infrastructure problems and weather.
Earlier this month, court was cancelled in Kangiqsujuaq after the school gym where it was supposed to be held was flooded.
“It’s sad, first of all, that we’re unable to give them the justice system that people have down south, and it’s also sad that people don’t get to be tried in a reasonable time,” Creighton said.
She said Nunavimmiut are stuck with a “second-class” justice system. Exacerbating the delays, Crown attorneys tend to prioritize people facing higher-level charges, such as sexual assault and others involving violence, forcing those charged with lesser offences to wait.
Following the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2016 ruling R. v. Jordan, which put ceilings on how long a trial could be reasonably delayed, some of these years-long cancellations and postponements result in charges being stayed or dropped.
“A lot of these people are on strict conditions, awaiting their trial, and even accused individuals want to see their matters resolved quickly because it kind of puts your life on hold,” Creighton said.
“There’s so many files in Nunavik that finish with the Crown just withdrawing the charges, because the delays in which trials should be done is not respected in Nunavik.”
Creighton said she is expecting a heavy docket when court returns to Kuujjuaq and Kangiqsualujjuaq, with what she described 32 hours worth of cases to be processed in a single day.
Some of these cases could be postponed again, she said, and some of her clients will be forced to wait until the next scheduled trip to those communities, in June 2023.
“We’re just kicking the rock further and further down the road,” she said.
“Most of the time, nothing ends up happening because the dockets are overcrowded and we’re not giving these people the level of justice system that they deserve.”
Back at the Department of Justice, Boily said her department is working on a number of initiatives in an attempt to improve access to justice in Nunavik.
In a French-language email, she said her department is working with Makivik Corp. to improve timelines and conditions of court sittings in Nunavik; help court staff prepare ahead of sittings; work with Inuit communities to encourage community-level participation in conflict resolution.
A report examining justice system improvements in Nunavik, written by lawyer Jean-Claude Latraverse, will be published soon, Boily said.