Nunavut man asserts language rights in appeal of murder conviction

Peter Kingwatsiak says inaccurate interpretations and ‘unfounded stereotypes’ led to miscarriage of justice

The Nunavut Court of Appeal is expected to deliver what could be a landmark decision after hearing an appeal in September in the case of Peter Kingwatsiak, who was convicted of murder in 2016 in the 2010 death of his step-brother. Lawyers for Kingwatsiak say his language rights were violated during his trial because of “serious inaccuracies in the interpretation” between Inuktitut and English. (File photo)

By Thomas Rohner
Special to Nunatsiaq News

The Nunavut Court of Appeal heard what could be a landmark case last month about Inuit language rights in criminal court proceedings.

A three-judge panel heard arguments in an Iqaluit courtroom Sept. 21 in the case of Peter Kingwatsiak.

Justice Bonnie Tulloch convicted Kingwatsiak of first-degree murder in 2016 for the killing of Kingwatsiak’s step-brother, Mappaluk Adla in Kinngait in 2010.

Last year, Kingwatsiak’s lawyer Alison Crowe filed an appeal of that conviction on three grounds, including that Kingwatsiak’s language rights were violated.

Those language rights are protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and under Nunavut’s Official Languages Act, Crowe argued.

Numerous issues around interpretation arose at Kingwatsiak’s trial because of dialectical differences between Kingwatsiak and the interpreters.

Crowe argued these issues resulted in Tulloch misunderstanding evidence, which resulted in a miscarriage of a justice, according to court documents.

Crowe also argued that Tulloch was wrong to conclude that Kingwatsiak was a non-credible witness while testifying in his own defence.

That’s because Tulloch used inaccurate interpretations of Inuktitut and also used “unfounded stereotypes” to come to her conclusion, Crowe said.

Kingwatsiak elected to testify in Inuktitut but has some fluency in English as well. He corrected the interpreters’ English and Inuktitut translations a number of times during trial.

Tulloch said Kingwtasiak evaded questions, took long pauses and manipulated the interpretation service.

“He deliberately slowed down the proceedings so that he could carefully consider what his answer to the question should be, rather than answering in a forthright and non-evasive manner,” Tulloch’s verdict said.

Crowe submitted a report by linguistic experts who said there were “serious inaccuracies in the interpretation” at trial and that Tulloch “aggravated rather than alleviated.”

For example, her finding that his testimony lacked credibility based in part on his pauses before answering is, “at the very least culturally insensitive,” the expert report said.

But Crown prosecutor Philippe Plourde called the credentials of the two experts who authored the report into question.

Neither expert has any legal training nor conducted any original research in Nunavut, while one of them lives in Paris, France, Plourde argued.

Even if their status as experts is accepted, Plourde said Kingwatsiak’s constitutional language rights were not violated.

Kingwatsiak demonstrated his proficiency in English at trial, Plourde said, pointing out that for part of his testimony Kingwatsiak chose to use Inuktitut interpretation only for individual English words he did not understand.

Plourde said Tulloch always made sure Kingwatsiak was satisfied with any changes in interpretation.

Therefore there was no misunderstanding of evidence and no miscarriage of justice, Plourde concluded.

Plourde also pointed out that the Official Languages Act of Nunavut only guarantees Inuit language rights in civil court, not criminal court proceedings.

Criminal court does facilitate this right, but is not bound by it, Plourde argued: “Although the OLA speaks only to the entitlement in civil proceedings, the practice is facilitated in criminal proceedings in the Nunavut Court of Justice.”

The third ground of appeal that Crowe argued was that Tulloch incorrectly assessed the evidence of Kingwatsiak’s ability to form the intent to murder.

That argument is based in part on Tulloch’s assessment of Kingwatsiak’s state of mind.

At trial Kingwatsiak testified that he had huffed gasoline fumes a number of times leading up to the incident.

But Plourde pointed out that only one witness at trial corroborated Kingwatsiak’s claim, and that witness only noticed gas fumes on Kingwatsiak after spending a couple hours with him after the homicide.

The three-judge panel made up of Justices Kevin Feehan, Frederica Schutz and Karan Shaner have reserved their decision until a future date.

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(7) Comments:

  1. Posted by AMIRITE>? on

    The strategy is to play whatever cards you’ve got to frustrate the system…

  2. Posted by Relative on

    You’re right AMIRITE. The guy killed his brother, and is now manipulating the system to further aggrieve the victim’s family. Nunavut’s dialects aren’t so different for any potential whatsoever for miscarriage of justice based on different dialects. Just what exactly does he hope to accomplish if he wins the appeal? Reduced or even dropped charges? If he doesn’t know yet that killing another person is very wrong he should know by now. He is not a credible witness, no remorse for what he did. Don’t forget the victim’s family. If there were in fact inaccurate interpretations and unfounded stereotypes they would have appealed too. 11 years later it doesn’t look like this guy is on the road to rehabilitation.

  3. Posted by Bracken on

    Thomas Rohner has visited this evil murderer multiple times in Iqaluit. For what a sob story of a boy in a mans body who brutally murdered his own family. He shot him in the head and made that decision on his own. “Oh no Justice for a PK “who inside was a drug taken mess to deal with and wrestle with when high on something. “Poor PK……not fair that he killed someone……not fair for PK……” CMON! He doesn’t deserve this attention and that’s all he wants.

  4. Posted by Check before assuming language on

    I’m sure a lot of non-speaking Inuktitut assume that there isn’t any difference in dialect from one Nunavut Region to another. But there is and you should ask someone from each region in Nunavut how they say the following in Inuktitut.

    Below is just a few words

    Thank you

    I’m not on PK’s side as he surely understands English and should not be given another trail at all.

    But it would be very useful if one were to understand and speak all three Regional Dialect especially within the Federal Government level. As you are representing the Federal Governments for ( All Nunavutmiut )

    • Posted by boris pasternak on

      Being a long time Nunavummiut, I fail to understand your logic. Tv, radio and other forms of media has made us bi-lingual in the Inuit dialects. This killer is just trying to delay time and hoping for a loop hole, good luck you to in the prison institute; what goes around comes around…. Old Devil’s Island in Sothern Atlantic is too good for him although this penal colony has been long shutdown.

      • Posted by Dialects on

        Sorry I wasn’t more clear.

        When I mention that Federal Employees who represents and works as a Public Servant in Nunavut whom are hired to use both English and Inuktitut (should also have the knowledge to understand and speak all three Nunavut’s Regional Inuktitut Language as not all wording are the same or even sound the same.

        This way a narcissist as one like PK cannot in any way use the excuse as he did. That he cannot understand the interpreters.

  5. Posted by Kenn Harper on

    The speech of any person in the Baffin and Kivalliq regions of Nunavut is understood by any professional interpreter used by the courts. Over the last 60 or so years, CBC Radio has been the great “leveller” of dialectal differences. People have learned, through listening to the passive medium of radio, to understand other dialects of eastern Nunavut and Nunavik, while continuing to use their own dialects for their own speech. In much the same way that Canadian English speakers call a truck a truck, but know that people in England call it a lorry, Inuit have learned to understand each others’ dialects while maintaining their own. Give Inuit credit for being able to understand more than one dialect.

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