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Rights of the accused in jeopardy?

The following is an open letter to Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik from Grant Liddiard, president of the inmate committee at the Baffin Correctional Center.

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

Dear Premier Okalik:

Throughout my incarceration at the Baffin Correctional Instititute I have consistently heard stories of police brutality, coercion, blackmail and other unethical procedures involving law enforcement officers and members of the court. Originally I was willing to put aside the veracity of the stories as simple exaggerations however, I have been in this place for a year now and the stories are still coming.

They come from Cape Dorset, they come from Rankin, they come from Qikiqtarjuaq — they come from all over the place — and they are all disturbingly familiar.

There are stories of severe beatings at the hands of RCMP officers, and stories of legal-aid lawyers who advise their clients to plead guilty even though they avow their innocence.

I know young men charged with abuse or rape who have done no more than try to defend themselves from serious harm by drunken women, on the basis of statements made by persons who were under the influence of intoxicating substances. Although such statements have no legal standing in a court of law, I have heard that they are used by Crown prosecutors to coerce or blackmail the accusers into appearing in court to restate such accusations while sober.

I believe there are far too many supposed victims who have been threatened with personal prosecution if they try to change their statements, and that they are coached by “victim counsellors” as to what to say in court.

All of this results in the criminal conviction of many innocent men who are no more guilty than their accusers. Criminal records haunt them for life and label them as women abusers, while accusers are left with a sense of having no control over over their own lives.

It astonishes me how prevalent such miscarriages of justice are in Nunavut. Mr. Premier, you yourself are a victim of the system and at the same time, trained in the ways of the courts. As a lawyer you know that at present there is very little justice being handed out.

Legal aid lawyers generally advise their male clients to plead guilty to lesser charges and get things over with rather than defend their innocence in court. But men have just as many rights as women. Too often, the courts are used to air the political correctness of the abused woman rather than to exact justice.

Another type of injustice we see constantly in Canadian courts is the prosecution’s tactic of duplicating charges against the accused, or charging a person with more than one criminal offence at a time. Such charges are not justified, but intended simply to terrify the accused person into believing that they are in far worse trouble with the law than is truly the case. The accused is then offered a deal if he agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge and get things over with.

This practice also tends to make the police seem much more effective and reliable than they truly are. In many cases the accused are not guilty of anything at all, but the Crown and the defence lawyer merely wish to dispense with their cases as quickly as possible. There is no real concern here for the accused person’s rights.

It seems that what is really important to the lawyers is getting as many people as possible through the court system, regardless of the quality of justice dispensed.

The Nunavut Government recently signed a long-term law-enforcement contract with the RCMP. Most of your constituents with whom I have spoken, even before my incarceration, have very little faith in the integrity of the police.

There are in Iqaluit two lawyers who have been documenting questionable activities of the RCMP, but have done nothing to date with this file, I believe, because of a lack of funding. The recent case of Mathew Petooloosie is just the tip of the iceberg and should be looked into by an independent group that is sure to get to the truth.

Mr. Premier, if your government is going to pay the RCMP, I suggest that you demand a higher quality of peace officer. I think you would be wise in reviewing the qualifications of all officers who put in for duty in Nunavut, even if this means forming a review committee specifically for that purpose.

I am sure you are aware that the RCMP are already admitting to improper procedures during the last fifty or so years. I do not agree with their statement that the federal government is partially to blame. If the Mounties were not able to properly police the Northwest Territories in the first place, then they should have had the decency to admit it and ask for help.

I am sure that the elders at the time would have been more than willing to explain things to them had they been humble enough to admit to their ignorance right away. They have implied that they have since corrected their shortcomings, but this is not true.

I will admit that not everybody here at the Baffin Correctional Centre is as pure as driven snow. There are, in my opinion, however, inmates with criminal records they did not deserve.

Nunavut is in the rare position of instituting a new government in a peaceful environment with the backing of an already established justice system. The people’s representatives have the opportunity now to ensure that this system reflects the principles of individual self worth and integrity for all who live here.

But it cannot change unless you yourself are prepared to act.

I believe that there is a great deal that can be done to increase the effectiveness of the Corrections system.

as well as making it self supportive and this is what I really want to talk about. I am in a position I believe to be of some assistance. I have a number of ideas that I would like to discuss with you Mr. Anawak and Mr. Strader, but this does not change any ofmy ranting I Respectfiifly,

Grant Liddiard
Baffin Correctional Center Iqaluit

Signed by 33 other inmates

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