Verdict to decide Arvaluk’s political future

Former education minister awaits verdict on charge of assault causing bodily harm

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

KIRSTEN MURPHY

James Arvaluk’s political future is the hands of the Nunavut Court of Justice.

Justice Earl Johnson is deciding whether the Nanulik MLA is guilty of assault causing bodily harm — related to an incident alleged to have occurred in August 2000, when Arvaluk was Nunavut’s minister of education.

Because it’s an indictable offence, Arvaluk would automatically vacate his seat if found guilty of assault causing bodily harm. He would also be ineligible to run in the next territorial election.

If a member is convicted of another type of offence, it’s up to the legislative assembly to decide if the member should be expelled.

Johnson’s verdict is expected by the end of April.

The assault charge — one that’s already undergone one trial and two appeals — alleges Arvaluk beat Sophie Sangoya, who was then his girlfriend, after a night of cards and drinking in Coral Harbour in August 2000.

Arvaluk stepped down as minister of education, but has remained as the MLA for Coral Harbour and Chesterfield Inlet.

At first, things looked good for Arvaluk. Justice Howard Irving helped the beleaguered politician stay in office by delivering a not guilty verdict in June 2001, after Arvaluk’s first trial.

However, the Crown successfully appealed the verdict, arguing that the trial judge erred in his reasons for judgment on the issue of consent, and the matter returned to court on March 13 in Coral Harbour.

Before making his decision, Johnson must first rule on a voir dire hearing about the admissibility of evidence.

Voir dire hearings are held to decide if certain pieces of evidence should be considered by the court.

“There was evidence admitted at the first trial by the defendant that was not admitted this time so the Crown has to prove it,” said Crown lawyer Steve White.

White did not disclose the evidence in question.

The Legislative Assembly Members Removal and Disqualification Act states that any MLA convicted of an indictable offence must be removed from the assembly and may not run in the next scheduled election.

If removed from office, Arvaluk will be the second MLA since the creation of Nunavut to vacate a seat in the legislative assembly in connection with a criminal conviction.

Levi Barnabas, the former Quttiktuq MLA, and former speaker of the house, resigned in 2000 after pleading guilty to a sexual assault charge.

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