Contemplating my Stay in ᐃᖃᓗᐃᑦ (Iqaluit)

Dominic Bell - HR Picture

By Dominic Bell

I am currently on a First Air flight back to Montreal.

We just stopped for a brief layover in Kuujjuaq after departing from Iqaluit.

I feel like now is as good a time as ever to continue my blog.

Where to begin?

I think my circuit to Pond Inlet is a good place to start.

During their summers, students at Maliiganik sometimes get the chance to travel on what is referred to as a “circuit court”.  As the largest subdivision in Canada, access to justice in Nunavut is hindered by how interspersed the communities are across this great expanse of the far North.  Just to give you an idea of the sheer magnitude, the distance from Pond Inlet to Montreal is about the same as the distance from Montreal to Jamaica; and yet, both are located in the same country.

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I travelled on circuit from July 17-24th.  Our trip began with a short layover in Clyde River.  Thereafter, we continued to our destination.  I am positively confident in saying that Pond Inlet is the most beautiful place I have ever visited.  The view from our hotel (the Black Point Lodge) spanned a large bay of ice blocks drifting gently with the current, and across the blue water stood the mountain range of Bylot Island: a bird sanctuary.  From higher up, Mount Yerodia was visible to the east and the distance to both was underscored by how spectacular the view was.

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The day after arrival, we began preparations for the court circuit by interviewing clients, potential witnesses, etc.  The two lawyers and court worker who I accompanied on this trip, worked tirelessly throughout the weekend to ensure that we were prepared for court on Monday.  In turn, I assisted in interviewing clients and witnesses, and prepared some youth cases as well.  Moreover, when the Crown prosecutors arrived later, I helped negotiate some joint positions.  This was a fantastic learning experience as I spoke to summary matters in court for the first time.

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The beauty of Pond Inlet and the learning opportunity I have described mask the extreme pain which I witnessed during my time in the North. Many of our clients have endured some absolutely horrific events in their lives and some of the trials were difficult to listen to at times. The complexity of the situation is brought into full light when one considers present offences through a neo-colonial lens and sees the court as a continuing vehicle for past colonial injustices.  Indeed, there is a lingering feeling that justice is happening to the Inuit rather than for them. Conversely, I am sensitive to the plight of the complainants who were often women and children.

There is quite simply, no simple answer.

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I am grateful for the time I have spent in the North.  I have been introduced to such a rich culture which was built on the tundra and ice of the Arctic.  Before leaving, I had the chance to visit Qaummaarviit national park, which is a short boat-ride away from Iqaluit across Frobisher Bay.  The ancient Inuit used this rocky outcrop which extends into the bay as a strategic outpost where they could hunt seal and walrus in the sea while maintaining land access to the caribou herds.  Moreover, they developed some ingenious forms of technology to assist in their hunting exploits.  One striking example that comes to mind is the toggling harpoon and float system that permitted the hunting of large sea mammals—such as whales—in open water.  On entry to the target’s skin, the specifically designed harpoon head would turn sideways, leaving the initial shaft to fall away and the attached float to tire out the animal.  I am amazed by the brilliance of this crafty device.

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I head back to the South with mixed feelings.  Sad to leave such an incredible place with equally amazing people, but happy to go home as well.

I have learnt a lot during my stay in Iqaluit and hope to return soon.

Legal Aid on the Tundra (or Amazing Race law)

2014-Chertkow-MarthaBy Martha Chertkow

Working in the arctic is humbling.

That’s the only word that I can think of right now, three weeks into my legal internship with Maliiganik Tukisiiniakvik (Nunavut Legal Aid Services), which accurately reflects the palette of beauty, strength, culture and knowledge that I have been able to experience in my few weeks living in Iqaluit and working at the frontline of its legal aid system.

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Huskies on frozen Frobisher Bay (June 2014)

Maliiganik Tukisiiniakvik is the legal aid organization responsible for providing legal counsel for those unable to afford private legal services in the Baffin region. Working with Maliiganik has been unbelievable, challenging and extremely rewarding. Nunavut, to my knowledge, is the only jurisdiction in Canada which permits law students (not just articling students) to represent clients in bail court.  Thus, less than two weeks into my internship I found myself with my own client files, preparing their entire bail plan and arguing their case in court alone, but accompanied by a lawyer just in case I messed up.

My sister recently described my work as “amazing race law.”

When a person is arrested and is detained by police, the detainee has the right to a bail hearing (a hearing to determine whether or not they should be released until their trial takes place) within 24 hours of his arrest. This makes defence’s job incredibly exciting but also very time-sensitive. Bail hearings are also Maliiganik law students’ number one responsibility.

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My neighbourhood in Iqaluit overlooking Frobisher Bay (June 2014)

Every day I arrive at work by 9am.  Somewhere between 10am-11am I receive disclosure (information from the RCMP about a client’s charges and the alleged facts) for anyone detained by the police anywhere in our region (basically covering all of Baffin island).  It is at this time I also find out how many people I must run bail hearings for that afternoon.

Bail hearings begin promptly in Court at 1:30pm, which means that I have between whenever disclosure comes in and 1:30pm to: run over to wherever my client’s being detained (RCMP detachment or Baffin Correctional Centre), interview them, get their story, double-check their criminal record is accurate, find out if they have any potential surety (legal supervisor) who could supervise their possible release from jail and potentially put up money as a guarantee, contact/find the surety (many people don’t have phones), instruct them on what being a surety means, prepare all of the required surety forms and prepare my legal arguments on why my client should be released. At 1:30pm, Bail Court begins. Some days bail hearings may last 15 minutes each, other days I may be in court running bail hearings until 5:30pm. Oh ya- and the date of birth and full name of a potential surety must be submitted to the Crown Prosecutor by 11am. While not all clients require sureties so the groundwork required for their cases is less, on some days Maliiganik may be responsible for up to 6 bail hearings. Thus – amazing race law.

Bail hearings in the Arctic are also apparently of a particular breed. Bail hearings are run by Justices of the Peace and apparently are more relaxed up North. Justices of the Peace are civilians that undergo some training and decide smaller judicial matters, including bail.  For clients detained in the communities (Cape Dorset, Pangirtung, Arctic Bay …) bail hearings also take place over the phone, which is another experience and can be even more informal. I was representing a client in a bail hearing over the phone and I mentioned that my client has a young child who he has to take care of and this is an element supporting his release, and the JP quickly jumped in and confirmed that he frequently sees my client outside taking care of his child and knows how much he loves and supports her. He was released.

Overall, my past three weeks in Iqaluit with Maliiganik have been exhilarating, challenging and an invaluable professional experience.  I don’t know of any other law student who gets to represent their own clients in bail court this summer and feel extremely humbled and lucky to have this experience.  And that’s just the work side of things- stay tuned for more on my adventures ice fishing, throat singing, Inuit square-dancing and volunteering at the Arctic’s biggest music and arts festival – Alianait.

On Bail and Cultural Questions

2012-Chris-DurrantBy Chris Durrant

There is one topic that my fellow intern and I never fail to get tired of talking about. Weekday evenings or on the weekend, we inevitably will speculate on whether there will be any bail hearings waiting for us when work starts the next day. This speculation is usually tied into an ongoing theory about the weather told to us by one of the administrators of Maliiganik Legal Services: people are far less likely to get in trouble when the weather is nice. The reasoning is that people are more likely to be out of the house and onto the land, meaning people aren’t cooped up and are busy with hunting or fishing. Additionally, they don’t want to risk getting taken into police custody, which would lead to missing out on the nice weather: considering the brevity of Iqaluit’s summer, this makes a lot of sense.

We talk about bail so much, because we really like running the hearings. We certainly feel bad that we hope for bail hearings, because it means at minimum someone has spent a night in an extremely questionable RCMP detachment cell, not mention that some sort of crime might have been committed. However, we enjoy it because for summary or hybrid charges, we are allowed to go before a Justice of the Peace and argue that our clients should be released on bail, while Crown lawyers (some with decades of experience) make arguments that they should be detained.

The process up here doesn’t rely on jurisprudence as much as it does in the south, as far as I understand. There are a few points of the law the lawyers, interns and Justice of the Peace (who are almost without any prior legal training) all are familiar with, and our arguments are generally confined to the fundamental questions which come from those points of law. The likelihood of the accused showing up to court, and the likelihood of the accused committing another crime while out of bail are the two major concerns. The smaller ambit of issues is what makes me feel confident that I can provide my clients with the defense they deserve.

This is important, because not only does the client’s liberty for the two to four months leading up to trial hang in the balance, but a number of statistical analysis have shown that being denied bail makes you significantly more likely to be proven guilty, likely because being remanded to prison limits people’s access to their lawyers, as well as making them look guilty because they will enter the court from the cells and in prison clothing. On top of this, people who have been remanded are more likely to plead out, because they simply want to get their time in prison done as soon as possible.

So, despite my eagerness to get to defend clients in bail court, the high stakes involved make it a serious situation, stressful for the counsel, and even more stressful for the client.

Inuit and the Bail Hearing Experience

I’ve run roughly ten bail hearing so far, and assisted Maliiganik lawyers with others. So far all of my clients have been Inuit. This is interesting for me because one of the things I want to get out of my internship is to get as much understanding as I can about Aboriginal people’s experiences with the Canadian justice system. In one way I am getting a great experience, because I see first hand what their experiences are like. On the other hand, I lack a comparator group to interact with, and see how they approach the bail hearing. Therefore I don’t really ascribe any cultural connection to the way my clients approach things. When I ask a client at the end of discussion about release plan options if they have any questions about the process or anything else, and they say “I want to get out” I just take it as a natural reaction to how unpleasant being in jail is.

This weekend I’ve been fortunate enough to have the time to read some of Rupert Ross’ book Dancing with a Ghost. Ross worked for years as a lawyer in northwestern Ontario. His book is an attempt to examine the Cree and Ojibway worldviews and to show how this effects their interaction with the justice system. Ross is careful to give a disclaimer that he has likely come up short in some of his descriptions, and that his descriptions shouldn’t been taken as applying to all of Canada’s aboriginal populations. I’m certainly conscious of that, but reading nonetheless has made me question some of my assumptions about my client’s behaviour. I wonder now whether the almost obligatory “I want to get out” response to my asking if there are any questions comes from a strong desire to get out, or whether I’m missing something.

One trait that Ross points out in his book is that there exists an ethic of non-interference, which means parents let their children make their own choices. I’m not sure whether this is also practiced by the Inuit, but if it is, I’ve heard Crown attorneys make arguments in court that (very likely unintentionally) exploit this cultural factor. I had a client who was having a bail hearing because he had missed three court dates. To convince the justice of the peace that my client would show up to court, his father was willing to act as a surety (someone who promises the court to make sure the accused attends court and follows his bail conditions).

The Crown raised the point however, that the father had let his adult son miss his previous court appearances while living in his house, why should the court be convinced that he would now make a difference. I responded that he had never made a commitment to do so to the court before, and so this was a fundamentally different situation. The justice of the peace accepted my reasoning, and my client was released. The justice of the peace that day was an Inuit woman however. Would the Crown’s argument been accepted if the JP was a settler that day?

In addition to how it would have affected the outcome of the bail hearing, the fact that the bail system makes demands on friends and families of accused individuals to make demands on them and tell them what to do is certainly at odds with the ethic of non-interference. It must be a sharp reminder to anyone immersed in that cultural ethos that the Canadian legal system is not their own.

Reading Ross’ book certainly means I will be asking more questions to the Inuit lawyers and staff at Maliiganik, and hopefully I will be able to better understand my clients, and even make cultural arguments in their defense. Given how hard it is the pin down what cultural characteristics are, and if ones that existed in the past persist, I understand it is a difficult task however.

Would you commit a crime in this weather?

“You’re going to see the worst of up here. Don’t forget there is a lot more going on.”

2012-Chris-DurrantBy Chris Durrant

It was one of my first nights in Iqaluit, and I was waiting at a bar to meet up with my fellow intern. People up here are friendly (I love how often children say hello to me as I walk by on the street) and so it was not long until I was talking to someone, and telling them what had brought me to Iqaluit. And as I quoted above, my interlocutor hit on one of the downsides of the legal profession: it deals mainly in pathologies. Consequently, for my first blog post, I don’t want to touch on the social problems and legal challenges I’m being exposed to working at Maliiganik Tukisiiniakvik Legal Services. Instead, I’m going to present my top eleven list of awesome things that I’ve done  or have happened since I arrived a month ago.

11. Walking through a Victoria Day snowstorm.

10. Getting invited out by one of my co-workers for one of her favorite weekend activities: Building a fire out on the land, and making tea.

9. Finding what I think is part of a polar bear jaw, and subsequently being informed I would be haunted for taking it off the land.

8. Jogging in the morning through the tundra on ‘The Road to Nowhere’

7. Moving into the official residence of the Commissioner of Nunavut (i.e. the territorial equivalent of the Lieutenant-Governor). (I’m housesitting).

6. Climbing to the top of a small tower to look at a nest of raven chicks, while their parents dive-bombed me.

5. Watching a co-worker cut up an arctic char in the office for the Wednesday potluck, and getting to chew on a piece.

4. Having a beer and a musk-ox burger at the Storehouse pub on Friday with co-workers.

3. Walking through a June the 9th snowstorm.

2. Walking across the frozen bay and hearing the groans, creaks, cracks and bubbling as the tide went out underneath the ice.

And number one: Representing a client in a bail hearing!

Yes, something with law content claims the top spot. While working for the provider of the territories’ legal aid services is putting me in contact with some sad situations, it is also an amazing opportunity in an amazing workplace. I’ll tell you all about it next post.

Warm wishes from the 63rd parallel,

Chris

 

 

Band-aids on gaping wounds?

chiaraBy Chiara Fish

Iqaluit (meaning “place of many fish”) – now including this one – is large, well-equipped and very friendly. I am working at Maliiganik Tukisiiniakvik, the legal aid clinic that serves the Baffin region of Nunavut.

I love working here. There is a strong sense of community and people are very welcoming and friendly. It is shockingly beautiful. The apartment in which I am living overlooks Frobisher Bay and everyday I can see the ice melting, the tide coming in and out and the mountains becoming browner as the snow melts. Soon the first ship (an icebreaker) should arrive.

One of the many advantages of working at legal aid in the North is that they throw their student interns directly into the fray. Right now I am focusing on criminal law and later I will work on family law as well. Nunavut unfortunately has the second highest crime rate in Canada, so there is lots of work to do, especially considering the shortage of lawyers. In addition to research, I interview clients before trials and in my third week I began running my own bail hearings. Everyday is different and exciting and full of learning.

Our staff includes one Inuit lawyer and several courtworkers, but most of the lawyers in Iqaluit are white. It is amazing to see how the Inuit courtworkers can interact with the clients as compared to the rest of us. Not only is there a language barrier, but people who are truly part of this community know one another and relate to each other in a way that an outsider cannot. Clearly there is a need for more Inuit lawyers. I do not understand how it is possible that the Akitisraq law school program has been put on hold for lack of funding (Akitsiraq).

I am shocked by the absence of treatment centers in Iqaluit. People are held in custody at Baffin Correctional Center, which is currently at about twice capacity. This must constitute some sort of rights violation, in addition to violating fire and other safety regulations. Yet the system is seemingly unable to address the underlying problems that lead to offences and recidivism.

Given the extremely high rate of alcoholism in Nunavut, it seems absurd that there is no treatment center in the territory. If people want treatment, they must go south – separated from their families, culture, language and support systems. Many of the sentences include a condition that the individual not possess or consume alcohol or other intoxicating substances. In the absence of treatment, it seems absurd to put an alcoholic or drug user on such a condition – they are basically being set up to breach the condition, which can result in jail time and can go on their criminal record.

Sometimes I think it would be more productive to be a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist working up here because then at least one could address the underlying and long-term issues that people face. As one of my colleagues said, often it feels as though we as lawyers are just putting band-aids on gaping wounds. I find it especially difficult to see youth already trapped in the criminal justice system who are angry, unable to express themselves and unable to get the treatment they need. It seems as though we as a society are really failing…

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