Sexual assault charge dropped after 54-month delay
IQALUIT — The case of a Kangiqsualujjuaq man accused of committing a brutal sexual assault have been stayed, after a judge ruled that various delays prevented the man from being tried within a reasonable time.
Kenny Angnatuk, 51, was charged with sexual assault and “with threats to use a weapon in doing so,” in connection with an incident that occurred in 1983.
In that incident, a man raped a women who had recently given birth. The assault was so violent that the stitches the victim had received after giving birth to her child split open. The victim, nonetheless, did not file a complaint with police until 1995.
Quebec court judge Daniel Bédard ordered a stay in the proceedings against Angnatuk because his legal right to a trial “within a reasonable time” hadn’t been respected.
That’s because 54 months and eight days separated the date of Angnatuk’s arrest from the date first scheduled for his trial.
Bédard said that delays related to weather, lack of permanent and adequate facilities, and other conflicting events in the community were to be expected.
Quebec’s travelling court is supposed to visit Kangiqsualujjuaq six times a year, but, in 1998 and 1999, the court was never was able to sit in Kangiqsualujjuaq because of bad weather conditions, a funeral, the January 1 avalanche, and a resulting lack of court facilities.
Bédard said these were “inherent” delays, due to the realities of northern life and Inuit customs, and could not count against the accused.
But Bédard said that there were many procedural factors that slowed down the progress of Angnatuk’s case, such as legal actions and congestion in the court docket.
“The responsibilities taken by the accused for these delays need to be substantially mitigated,” Bédard said.
Bédard said that these delays in the proceedings could have been avoided.
In his judgement, he criticized lawyers for both the prosecution and the defense for not finding ways to streamline the judicial process in Nunavik for those accused of crimes.
He counselled lawyers to be “more efficient, less strategic and less procedural.”
“In many instances, the court deals with the offence many months after the accused has settled the matter with the victim and the family members… harmony is often restored before the arrival of the court,” Bédard said.
“The court considers that very long delays combined with the limited knowledge of the criminal system creates for an Inuk person stress, anxiety that increases beyond normal levels to a point where they become prejudicial.”
Bédard said that the court needs to take Inuit culture, tradition and practices more into account and that these “must colour the approach of the crown prosecutor and the defense lawyer when the issue involves an Inuk person.”
He said that the court system needs to adopt a new approach to eliminate the kind of delays suffered in Angnatuk’s case.
Because “notion of time and the passage of time is not appreciated, understood and lived in the same manner by an Inuk person”, the time that a person waits for trial can’t be looked at in the same way.
“The court is convinced of the prejudice suffered by the accused,” Bédard said.
Bédard accepted the accused’s “honest and genuine” testimony and took into account the fact that Angnatuk no longer drinks and is employed.
Crown prosecutor Christian Leblanc told Nunatsiaq News that he intends to file an appeal in Angnatuk’s case.