Quebec court to hear Nunavik class action on long detention periods
“It is too important an issue to be ignored”
A Quebec Superior Court judge has authorized a class action against the Quebec government seeking punitive damages for Nunavik detainees.
The lawsuit, filed in September 2018, seeks compensation for Nunavimmiut who are held in custody for more than three days awaiting a hearing, due to a lack of correctional facilities in the region.
Quebec Superior Court Judge Gary D.D. Morrison authorized the class action on June 29.
“The Supreme Court of Canada has, on more than one occasion, concluded that the Canadian criminal justice system has tragically failed this country’s Indigenous peoples,” Morrison wrote in his judgment.
“The Court cannot conclude at the authorization phase that such is the case in this present matter … but it is too important an issue to be ignored.”
At the time is was filed, the class action was estimated to include some 2,400 Nunavik residents affected by long detention periods, although it’s unclear where that number could stand today. The action seeks damages of $50,000 for each class member.
Montreal lawyers Victor Chauvelot and Louis-Nicholas Coupal filed the action in 2018 on behalf of Kangirsuk resident Michael Carrier, who was arrested on July 5, 2018, in his home community.
Like many Nunavimmiut who are remanded into custody, Carrier was flown to Kuujjuaq, then onto Montreal where he was checked in as an inmate at the St-Jérôme detention centre.
From there, he was transferred to the detention facility in Amos, where he made a court appearance on July 10 to set his bail hearing for July 13.
But the Crown changed its position on the 13th and consented to Carrier’s release on an undertaking. Carrier finally returned home on July 15, after spending 10 days in custody.
The Superior Court has now appointed Michael Carrier as the representative plaintiff on behalf of all Nunavimmiut who have been charged with a criminal offence in the region after Sept. 4, 2015, and who were detained for a period exceeding three days.
The class action argues that “adjournments beyond three clear days result in unlawful detention, unless there has been consent.” It also alleges that Quebec has failed to provide a justice system in Nunavik that is able to facilitate bail hearings held within three clear days.
“It is this alleged systemic and systematic failure and the unlawful detentions which are said to violate the rights of accused in Nunavik,” the judgment noted.
In rendering his judgment, Morrison also drew on the Supreme Court of Canada case in R. v. Myers, in which Chief Justice Richard Wagner ruled that courts must ensure that people awaiting trial in custody in jail really need to be there.
“Delays in routine bail and detention matters are a manifestation of the culture of complacency denounced by this court … and must be addressed,” Wagner wrote.
The class action will be heard before the Superior Court in Montreal, though no date has been set.