Regional Court, Regular Access to Necessary Legal Services in Nunavik: Report

Criminal defense lawyer Jean-Claude Latraverse submitted 60 recommendations to improve justice and youth protection services in the regions

Nunavik needs a regional court and Nunavimmiut need access to permanent justice services. These are two of 60 recommendations contained in a new report on justice in the region.

The report, which examines the operation of circuit or circuit courts in Nunavik, was released on August 5.

It was written by Jean-Claude Latraverse, a defense lawyer who worked in Nunavik, at the request of the Quebec Minister of Justice and Makivik Corp.

Latraverse looked at what the Government of Quebec can do to reduce the barriers that Inuit face in the justice system and in child protection, including court delays, access to services in Inuktitut, as well as the cost and accessibility to legal aid.

The recommendations were based on several months of field observations and interviews with various people and organizations involved in the Nunavik justice system, according to a press release from the Department of Justice.

According to Latraverse, establishing a regional court in Nunavik to oversee minor offenses and rule violations could help reduce the backlog the court faces, which is moving south to communities in the region.

“Perhaps consideration should be given to a municipal-style court, presided over by a judge appointed under the Municipal Courts Act, and requiring the presence of two Inuit assessors,” he writes.

“The number of cases that could be heard by a regional court would be sufficient to reduce the pressure on the Court of Quebec and prove its usefulness.

Along with a regional court, Latraverse also recommended the construction of a new “more suitable” courthouse in Kuujjuaq, as well as the reopening of the permanent court registry in the village.

Latraverse also issued several recommendations on how the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions should operate in Nunavik.

Currently, criminal cases in Nunavik are handled from a prosecution office in Amos, Quebec. The report notes that the office is currently understaffed, contributing to case delays.

Latraverse recommended that the Director of Prosecutions for Nunavik be centered in Montreal – a city with more Inuit connections than Amos, as well as the home base of many defense attorneys who work in Nunavik.

He also recommended the reopening of an office of the Director of Prosecutions in Kuujjuaq, made up of two or three permanent or rotating Crown prosecutors, as well as Inuktitut interpreters who can work with victims and witnesses.

“[The director of prosecutions’ office] stubbornly pursues the same route instead of making a courageous decision that would ensure the continuity of services in Nunavik,” wrote Latraverse.

Access to legal aid and criminal defense attorneys was also a major motivation for the report’s recommendations.

Latraverse recommended that all Nunavimmiut legal aid lawyers be available at all times in Kuujjuaq, that applications be easy to complete and that legal services remain affordable for all clients.

The Barreau du Québec should also provide all lawyers working in the North with Inuit-specific cultural training, the report says.

“As this report clearly shows, the administration of justice falls far short of Inuit expectations,” writes Latraverse in his conclusion.

“A large number of studies, reports, articles and conferences have clearly identified the problems affecting the administration of justice, but a proportionate response to the needs expressed has not been made.”

Simon Jolin-Barrette, Quebec’s justice minister, thanked Latraverse for his report, saying in a press release that his government will review the recommendations.

“Now, together with Makivik and local social and judicial partners, we will revisit its recommendations to improve justice for Inuit,” Jolin-Barrette said.

Makivik Corp. Chairman Pita Aatami echoed a similar sentiment in the same press release.

“Makivik looks forward to working with all of its partners to ensure that the recommendations contained in the report are implemented in a timely manner,” he said.

The Nunavik Civil Liberties Association sent a statement from spokesperson George Kauki to Nunatsiaq News.

Kauki said the association supported the “vast majority” of Latraverse’s recommendations, but criticized the report’s methodology and the government’s intention to obtain it.

“The mobile justice system as it currently exists still leaves Inuit in many ways to be desired: survivors of crime do not receive the support they should receive, offenders and citizens often wallow in anguish due to a lack of access to justice. In Nunavik, justice is constantly postponed. Justice delayed is justice denied,” Kauki said.

“It should have been time to act a long time ago. The methodology of this report is questionable: it is based on opinions and no evidence has been filed in the file. It appears to be another public relations operation carried out by the state, in an attempt to buy time and dodge bullets.

Elna M. Lemons