Quebec court won’t spend the night in Salluit

Numerous groups and individuals in Nunavik are upset over the Quebec travelling court’s expensive decision not to spend the night in Salluit after flying there for court sessions


KUUJJUAQ — The people of Salluit, lawyers, police, corrections workers, regional authorities and politicians are all up in arms over the Nunavik traveling court’s decision not to spend the night in Salluit anymore.

The traveling court includes Salluit in its circuit of Ungava Bay communities four times a year for two days.

But since last fall, instead of staying the night at the Salluit’s lone hostel, the Qavvik Hotel, the entire court packs up its bags, disassembles courtroom equipment, heads to Salluit’s airport, and flies out to spend the night at the newer — and considerably more luxurious — co-op hotel in Puvirnituq.

They arrive in Puvirnituq around 9 pm, eat a late supper, and then early the next morning have to turn around to fly back to Salluit.

The problem is that planes often have trouble landing at Salluit’s airport, which is known for its windswept location.

In January, mechanical problems prevented the court plane’s return to Salluit, stranding some members of the court who had chosen to stay behind in Salluit. They finally had to hop on a scheduled flight to get back.

Residents of Salluit who had been called to court sat waiting for hours. They were finally told to go home.

Police also spent the entire morning waiting for the court party to return, and cases were postponed until the court’s next session, a move that added to the community’s growing frustration over delays in the justice system.

“Our main concern is that people who have to appear at court are referred to another date,” said Salluit’s mayor, Kalingo Angutigirk.

Kuujjuaq’s legal aid lawyer, Jean-Claude Latraverse, doesn’t much like the new policy, either, because it means he can’t meet his clients or witnesses before court sessions begin.

And the Northern Quebec district’s chief prosecutor, Richard Laflamme, said Crown attorneys would also prefer to sleep over in Salluit.

“For us it’s easier to stay in Salluit for the two days, because we can meet the victims and witnesses,” Laflamme said. “When we leave to go to Puvirnituq we can’t.”

But courtroom efficiency wasn’t behind the decision to sleep in Puvirnituq instead of Salluit.

Judge Daniel Bédard was reportedly reluctant to stay in the cramped quarters of the hotel where he would have to share bathroom facilities with the entire court team.

“I travel a lot,” Laflamme said. “And some hotels are better than others, but I stayed in Salluit in Jan. 1999, and I was looked after very well.”

Judge Bédard refused to comment to Nunatsiaq News on his decision not to stay in Salluit’s hotel, saying Quebec’s justice department would respond.

But many are highly critical of the judge’s preference for the posh private rooms and bathrooms at Puvirnituq’s hotel.

And regional organizations have lodged official complaints about the traveling court’s decision to spend the night in Puvirnituq rather than Salluit.

At its recent meeting in Kangirsuk, the Kativik Regional Council passed a resolution, saying the “practice creates undue delays, postponements of cases and reduces the time available to lawyers to meet witnesses or clients.” The resolution added that “there are in Salluit adequate lodging facilities to accommodate everyone who is travelling with the court.”

The Makivik Corporation’s president, Pita Aatami, has also written to Judge Denis Lavergne, the coordinating judge for Nunavik’s traveling court, to complain that the decision to fly out to Puvirnituq is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“It’s ironic that although the Ministry of Justice of Quebec constantly pleads scarcity of funds when they’re requested for worthwhile projects, such as community-based justice initiatives, it can spend our tax money in such a frivolous manner.”

Transporting everyone back and forth from Salluit to Purvirnituq costs the Quebec government at least $2500, and possibly much more when the higher cost of lodging is included.

Judge Lavergne also said he would let Quebec’s department of justice officially respond to local concerns about the decision.

“But I can see that it’s creating waves in the population,” he said.

Many are upset by a related proposal, which would see Salluit handled by the traveling court serving Nunavik’s Hudson Bay communities by next August.

Judge Lavergne said that the decision to move Salluit’s cases from the Ungava Bay circuit to the Hudson Bay circuit isn’t final yet.

“It’s in the plans,” Lavergne said. “But it’s not frozen in cement.”

He said the load on Ungava Bay traveling court is getting too heavy. In 1999, some 343 were criminal files opened on the Hudson Bay coast, while 512 files were opened on the Ungava Bay.

Transferring Salluit to the Hudson Bay circuit is seen as a way to equalize this difference. The time that the Ungava Bay traveling court now spends in Salluit could be devoted to Kangiqsualujjjuaq, a community with a large backlog of court cases.

Lavergne said Salluit was historically served by Ungava Bay’s traveling court solely because the court didn’t visit Puvirnituq for many years, and it was easier to travel to Salluit from Kuujjuaq than Kuujjuaraapik.

Puvirnituq now supplies both health and social services to Salluit.

But the Ungava communities receive correctional support from Salluit’s community reintegration officer, and Quebec corrections officials say they’re not happy about the possible change.

The decision to take Salluit out of the Ungava Bay circuit may also be related to the decision not to stay the night in that community. That’s because, if Salluit is transferred to the Hudson Bay traveling court, the decision to spend the night in Puvirnituq will become much easier to justify.

“If the decision stands, it would be more efficient to have court in Puvirnituq. At least we would be able to work on POV’s files,” said Laflamme.

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