Nunavik police don’t ‘systematically’ detain people for intoxication: deputy chief

Jean-Francois Morin responds to prosecutor’s decision to not charge officers in death of woman in Puvirnituq jail cell

The Nunavik police station in Puvirnituq is pictured here in this file photo. Jean-Francois Morin, Nunavik Police Services’ deputy chief of operations, says jailing people for being intoxicated in public is a measure of “last resort.” (File photo by Sarah Rogers)

By Jeff Pelletier - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Nunavik Police Service tries to avoid detaining people who are publicly intoxicated, says its deputy chief of operations.

Jean-Francois Morin’s comments, made March 3, came in light of a Quebec prosecutor’s decision to not charge officers in connection with a woman’s death in a Puvirnituq jail cell on Sept. 30.

Last week, Quebec’s Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions office ruled officers would not be charged with criminal negligence in connection to the incident.

That evening, a 39-year-old woman was pronounced dead hours after being arrested for what Quebec’s Bureau of Independent Investigations described at the time as a “violation of a municipal bylaw.”

According to a news release from the Quebec prosecutions office, the woman died of “asphyxiation caused by gastric contents.”

The news release also ruled out use of force as a factor in the woman’s death.

With the prosecutor’s decision available to the public, deputy Chief Jean-Francois Morin shared his reaction to the incident publicly for the first time Monday. Morin — who is based in Puvirnituq — declined to comment while the bureau’s investigation was ongoing.

“It’s very unfortunate, the victim in that file is somebody I knew very, very well,” Morin said in an interview.

He did not identify the woman.

Morin said police had responded to calls involving the woman on four separate occasions that day.

After multiple attempts to bring her to social services and take her back to her home, a sergeant made the decision to arrest the woman under a municipal bylaw and detain her to allow her to sober up.

“We don’t detain, systematically, people for public intoxication, we try everything not to put them in the cells. Actually, it’s really the last resort,” Morin said.

“So people that are drunk outside, we’re going to bring them back home, we’re going to find them a place to go if they’re worried or like if there’s issues at home.”

Morin said when a civilian officer — whose job is to act as security and does not have authority to open jail cells — noticed the woman in the cell was not breathing, officers attempted to revive her and get her to hospital as quickly as they could.

He said it’s hard to know when someone taken into custody under these circumstances has stopped breathing.

Morin pointed out that a young man in Puvirnituq died under similar circumstances in 2017, after police detained him and he was later found in his cell not breathing.

The Quebec’s director of prosecutions also chose not to lay charges in that case.

When asked how to prevent future deaths of intoxicated detainees, Morin said he couldn’t give a “crystal ball” answer.

He said Nunavik police have made changes over the years, such as requiring a sergeant to authorize a detention.

However, he pointed to the wider issue of substance abuse in Nunavik communities and said that even if people are not being detained, some are dying in their own homes from excess alcohol consumption.

“Unfortunately, the reality of Nunavik is that the over-consumption of alcohol is an issue,” Morin said.

“Every time it happens we are very affected by it as a police force, because our role is to protect people. We don’t want people to die in our custody.”

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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by Common sense on

    The only way you stop detention deaths is you stop the rampant alcoholism in town accompanies with rampant violence

    It’s also how you stop the 5-10 murders a year

    The 8-20 baby deaths a year

    The 15-30 suicides a year

    For a population of people in Nunavik that would amount to a small town in the rest of the country

    Self accountability, enforcement and stopping the denial of excuses

    • Posted by People rather blame others on

      Yes indeed, common sense, but no sense at all. It’s not my fault said he to her, and then she said not my fault either to him. Then who is at fault said not even one of them. They only know who is to blame: they say it’s police fault, doctor and nurse too, and maybe social worker and dyp for taking our kids said she to him. Then they get support by their family and friends and lots of people in the community who agrees, it’s not their fault, it other people, maybe from south. She ask when coop will open ? He says coop only open for beer and wine , then they both happy, and not blaming until later when they need police and hospital or social worker.

  2. Posted by What to do, what not to do? on

    This is ethically difficult. The police are really in a dilemma. Put an intoxicated person in a locked cell for safety of the person, and or the safety of others. This is not easy, and no police or anyone wants to be in that situation. I mean how can the police just let them go and possibly freeze in our cold temperatures is also on the table of thought. Yes, the society lives in a danger zone with intoxication. Major overhaul needed, or this dilemma continues to contribute to loss of life and limb.

  3. Posted by Say thank you police on

    Police got a tough job, the toughest. Just look at how many people in Nunavik could be working as police, but can’t do the tough job. So, what we see policing are the men and women that are doing what so many cannot, or would not do. That’s big. And then come no appreciation for the job that they’re doing. That’s big too, and it’s not good. The booze situation and drugs are injuring and causing so much premature death, but it has only the police who are out there trying to prevent the craziness from destroying. The call is made all the time for Inuit to join in the war on alcohol and drugs, but no way. It’s left up to the police that are mostly from outside of the territory, and not many appears to appreciate what and who they are. Then it’s the doctors, nurses , social workers and many other professionals that take the call, and still no appreciation! And no one signing up to join the war from the community.

  4. Posted by Puvirnituqmiuk Civilian on

    The cops here are very good people and even lack professionalism due to their kindness. This bunch we got is far better from what we had ten years ago. These cops actually care and I’m sure they will continue to benefit the person and not detain them instantly. I’ve seen how they do it and even asked them if they needed help with someone they were having serious trouble with. They refused but I had a say to calm the trouble maker down. The cops just brought him to his mothers.

    This happens every day! Every day they care enough not to criminalize or even detain idiots.

    These new cops we have, have a big heart, through and through. I couldn’t praise them enough, especially in trying times.

    • Posted by The hardiest job on

      The cop are hero, most of them. Few bad apples in every barrel. It’s a hard job, and not many have the make up to be a cop. Maybe for too many people in Nunavik, taking a job like a cop is not in their character, it’s easier to be passive and complain instead. Service to society takes lots of guts and dedication, when you see a cop going around be kind, it’s them that got your covered.


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