Should Arvaluk stay or go?
In most other parts of the world, James Arvaluk, the 54-year-old MLA for Nanulik, would simply be stating the obvious when he offered this sheepish comment to reporters: “I’m not worried about the sentence, but my political career is over.”
This may be the most honest thing he’s said in four years. But he’s wrong. His political career, we regret to say, is not over.
Because he was convicted in a summary conviction process, Arvaluk will keep his seat. (“Summary conviction” is a fancy legal term to describe a simplified way of trying less serious charges, without a preliminary inquiry or jury.)
Had the Crown prosecuted Arvaluk by way of the more complex indictment route, Arvaluk, would have lost his seat the moment the judge said “guilty.” That’s what the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act now says.
So Nunavut MLAs are stuck with the same problem they faced in 2000, when Levi Barnabas, their former speaker, was convicted of sexual assault, also by way of summary conviction.
After Barnabas, in August of 2000, vowed to stay on as a member, MLAs who happened to be in Iqaluit for committee and caucus meetings threatened to recall the assembly and expel him. Rather than face an embarrassing public expulsion, Barnabas resigned.
But a few months later, he was back, contesting the by-election held to find a new member to fill the seat he had vacated in disgrace. Barnabas finished a close third, behind David Roberts of Resolute Bay and Rebekah Williams, who became the new MLA for Quttiktuq.
Given the number of candidates who ran in that by-election, and the large number of people who voted for Barnabas in spite of his conviction on a crime of violence against a woman, vote-splitting was probably the factor that led to Williams’ victory and Barnabas’ defeat. With a different mix of candidates, Barnabas may well have won.
Nunavut’s political class has a long and sordid history of criminal convictions for a variety of stupid, childish and vicious crimes involving booze, drugs, and violence against women and children. And many Nunavut voters – and political leaders – don’t care much about it.
That’s why Barnabas believed, accurately, that he stood a good chance of winning the Dec. 4 by-election in Quttiktuq – and that’s why Arvaluk’s political career is far from over.
His own career is proof of that. He may be a wash-out as an MLA, but all by himself, he’s served as a one-man make-work project for northern lawyers.
In 1995, while a member of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories, Arvaluk was convicted of two sexual assaults, related to incidents that occurred after a hot-tub party at his residence in Yellowknife. He had already served a brief stint as the NWT’s minister of education before that time, but was forced to resign from cabinet because of yet another sexual assault allegation dating back to 1980. After a trial in Rankin Inlet he was acquitted of the 1980 charge.
But on the newer charges he was sentenced to five years in jail, two and a half years on each count.
After an appeal, one of those convictions was overturned, but the other was upheld, and Arvaluk served out the two-and-half-year prison term attached to it.
He was out of jail in time to contest Nunavut’s first territorial election. Despite his record as a convicted rapist, Nanulik voters picked Arvaluk to represent them.
With no regard for Arvaluk’s well-known personal history, Nunavut MLAs rewarded Arvaluk by electing him to cabinet. And then, in what may be the worst political decision he’s ever made, Premier Paul Okalik appointed him as Nunavut’s first minister of education. As we all know, that posting didn’t last long.
Because of the appalling errors that Justice Howard Irving, an aging fly-in judge from Alberta, made in his first trial, Arvaluk was not convicted on the Coral Harbour assault when he should have been – in June of 2001.
So should MLAs remove Arvaluk now?
Maybe. But what’s the point? They’ve decided to hide behind the “case-still-before-the-courts” excuse for their failure to take action or even issue a denunciation, in general, of public officials who commit crimes of violence against women and children. So we’ll have to wait at least several weeks to find out if MLAs plan to remove their thumbs from their anal cavities and actually do something.
By then, the campaign period for Nunavut’s next territorial election will be only six or seven months away, and there will be no justification for holding a by-election in Nanulik.
Besides, it’s not as if Arvaluk did anything bad, like vote against a pension plan or something. His victims were only women, after all. In Nunavut, that’s no crime at all. JB