A Summer of Luck

By Curtis Mesher

While it has been difficult for me to sit down and write out blog posts during this summer, this should not be taken as a lack of experiences to be shared, in fact it is the opposite. This summer has been transformative, both professionally and personally.

The difficulty in writing blog posts over summer came primarily from the overwhelming amount of experiences worthy of their own entries (coupled with a lack of wifi and computer access throughout the summer!). Part of the difficulty is properly presenting my experiences, as much of what I ended up writing was more akin to journaling or poetry writing, than anything professional or in-depth and explanatory.

I experienced so much in such a short period of time that I did not know where to begin. I learned a lot about the field of criminal law, I learned a lot about Nunavut, and I learned a lot about my own family. I saw the famous print studios of Cape Dorset and Pangnirtung, places I had long wished to visit as an amateur artist.

Throughout the summer, I have been grateful of this experience. Everything I have seen has inspired me in various ways. I made many new friends, and deepened my own family connections. It was a summer of change and understanding. I began my summer anxious about what the experience would entail, and I quickly felt at home here in Nunavut.

While I arrived knowing few people, awestruck by my new surroundings (and getting chastised by airport workers for stopping to look around on the tarmac!), I left awestruck by how familiar everything felt (with some of the same airport workers, now my close friends, yelling out goodbyes on the tarmac!). Over the summer I volunteered at Parks Day, Nunavut Day (the territory’s 20th anniversary!), and the Iqaluit Food Centre, and I got to meet what feels like everyone in town.

I got to spend time living with family I had not seen in years, and left after deepening connections with them, as well as forging new bonds with their young children. I got to make friends of my coworkers, and found out that some of them at Maliganik (as well as court house interpreters!) are my relatives as well.

Pleasant personal experiences like these are often what people find in the north, where you never know what to expect. I did not expect to feel so connected to people, or to the land around us. While it is difficult to leave Nunavut and Maliganik, I am lucky to have spent time here.

I am lucky to have seen the energy of Iqaluit and its people, and a summer of siku (sea ice).

I am lucky to have experienced the cozy hospitality of Apex and its residents.

I am lucky to have seen the beauty of Kinngait and the beautiful work of their world-renowned artists.

I am lucky to have shared fresh country food such as raw beluga and caribou brains with wonderful people.

I am lucky to have seen the majestic mountains of Pangirtung.

I am lucky to have seen the arrival of northern lights as the north transitions from summer, after a summer of daylight during the night.

I will miss Nunavut and all I have met during my time here. I am glad to have spent time in Nunavut this summer. I got to see what it takes to work in smaller communities, I got to experience the collegiality of law in the north, and I got to imagine what my future work in law will be, as I attempt to work in criminal defence in Nunavik. While I had always pictured myself working in Northern Quebec, I now easily see myself returning to work in Nunavut in the near future.

 

A Summer of Change

By Curtis Mesher

As my flight to Iqaluit took off at the start of summer, change was on my mind. I tried to picture what my summer would be like, as I had never been to Nunavut before.  I wondered what my summer would be like at Maliganik Tukisiniarvik, (Nunavut Legal Aid), and what living in Iqaluit would be like. Summer began like every summer had since I began studying law: returning to Kuujjuaq to see my family.

While in Kuujjuaq I decided to go to the court house as it looked to be in session (Kuujjuaq, like nearly all of Inuit Nunagat, has an itinerant court system and court is only held during certain weeks). My visit to the court began like every one of my visits to the Kuujjuaq courts: with the white staff assuming I was there for my own matter as an accused. I approached the right worker and used all the right legal terms when asking to see the docket. Despite this display of understanding, I was assumed to be charged with my own criminal offences. Even if it was court within Inuit Nunagat, I had approached non-Inuit in their world, the world of (Euro-Canadian) law. And in their world, Inuit can only ever attend court when forced to attend for a matter we are personally implicated in.

This wasn’t the first time I was assumed to be an accused in Kuujjuaq’s courthouse. The change this time around was that it was stated plainly and out loud whereas in the past it was implied through the scornful eyes of the white sheriffs who watched me closely, like how one would be on-guard in the presence of a wild animal. This experience set the stage for an interesting summer working in law, and it underscored being the first Inuk student sent North from McGill to Nunavut Legal Aid for this placement.

From Nunavik to Nunavut

Part of the summer of change was flying north from Kuujjuaq, rather than returning south to Montreal, or flying out to one of the other communities in Nunavik. Flying north across the bay to Iqaluit was a wonderful change as the ice had just broken up for the summer, making the ocean more icey-white than deep blue. Kuujjuaq has the largest and most modern airport in Nunavik, but it could not prepare me for the recently-built airport of Iqaluit, where massive murals of acclaimed Inuit artists such as Kenojuak adorned the entirety of walls.

I had never seen such a massive display of Inuit culture in one place before, and this truly demonstrated how Iqaluit is the capital of Inuit Nunagat in Canada. I drove through Iqaluit, marveling at the difference of the landscape compared to Kuujjuaq. All around me were rolling hills, even across the water all I could see were hills. The size of Iqaluit stunned me, despite coming from the largest town of Northern Quebec.

This summer I lived in Apex, a community where in the recent past only Inuit lived when Americans and other white people were the only people allowed to live in Frobisher Bay(now Iqaluit). Apex alone reminded me of entire communities I had seen in Nunavik. Once I had dropped my suitcase off in Apex, I returned to town, where my 1st stop was the court house.

In court, predominantly Inuit sheriffs staffed the doors, and their first thoughts were not to treat me like a criminal. This was a drastic change from all of my experiences of court in Nunavik, and it comforted me to receive this sort of reception. The courthouse itself also set me at ease: instead of the standard (and rather drab) layout of Kuujjuaq’s tiny basement courthouse, all courtrooms in Iqaluit featured architectural elements taken from traditional Inuit items such as iglus and qamutiit. There were Inuit clerks with traditional face tattoos, Inuit interpreters, and even Inuit counted among the justices of the peace and members of the prosecution.

This truly was a change from my experiences of Nunavik.

I quickly acclimated to this new locale, just as I quickly acclimated to my coworkers at Maliganik. It was such a drastic change to see how the office functioned in comparison to Legal Aid Quebec’s branches in Kuujjuaq: the staff was larger, and many Inuit were integral to the function of the office.

Within a short time, I felt at home. It felt great to be living and working up north (even when woken up early by noisy ravens and the bright light outdoors during ‘nighttime’!), and to be respected for my contributions over the summer. I was given important tasks and even spoke in court several times for matters such as contested bail hearings and modifying bail conditions on consent with the Crown.

It was fulfilling to begin gathering experience of what it is like to work up north, as I hope to eventually practice in Nunavik one day. I learned how to help Inuit clients navigate the criminal justice system, as many people have English as a second language.

From the Capital to the Circuit

Beyond these localized experiences, it was truly rewarding to be valued by the staff at Maliganik, as the lawyers were welcoming and open to furthering my knowledge of criminal law. This rewarding and welcoming behavior was exemplified by their willingness to send me on circuit to the community of Pangirtung, where I was integral to the work of the lawyers on circuit. I met with clients and prepared material essential to their files. While I did not get to speak on circuit (because of typical circuit court delays, which meant court was in session from 9:30 am until 9:00 pm!), what I prepared was presented verbatim by the lawyers, and it was pleasure to contribute to our clients’ cases in meaningful ways.

This experience on circuit was yet another change from my experience in Iqaluit: the glamourous courthouse was replaced by the community centre recreation room, my modern office at Maliganik was replaced by the community centre boiler room, where I had jammed in folding chairs amongst their old boxes to take their information and discuss their files. This change taught me invaluable experiences on how to manage criminal files in circumstances unlike the typical setting for professions such as law down south. The resourcefulness required while on circuit will surely guide my future studies in law, and I am grateful to have experienced it.

Furthermore, I am grateful to have seen the beauty that is the land around Pangirtung. Where I once marveled at the hills of Iqaluit in comparison to Kuujjuaq, I am now truly awestruck by the mountains of Pangnirtung. Between the massive mountains, a deep fjord snakes its way past the bay, through the sheer cliff faces and beyond into Auyuittuq National Park. Landing in Pangirtung was magical, and the entire time I was there I was amazed by the land. The first day of the circuit, I had arrived promptly at 9 am, only to find out the first day of circuit starts at 11 am. While normally I would be upset to miss a few more hours of sleep (and a bigger breakfast, of course!), I was lucky enough to see two bowhead whales swim from the bay and up the fjord. There were many whales in the area during the course of the circuit (mostly bowhead and narwhals pushed into the area by the presence of killer whales), and while those were the only I got to see with my own eyes, the excitement of the town was palpable.

I returned from Pangnirtung to find that landing in Iqaluit was now a familiar and comfortable experience, rather than a new and exciting one like it was at the start of the summer.

Are We Really Surprised?

By Cassandra Richards

During my time at Maliiganik Tukisiiniakvik Legal Services in Iqaluit, a riot broke out at the Baffin Correctional Centre in June. Baffin Correctional Centre, known colloquially as BCC, carries a reputation as an abhorrent facility, among the worst prisons in North America.

BCC is a men’s territorial medium security prison in Iqaluit and the largest correctional facility in Nunavut. Anyone in Nunavut who is detained will be immediately brought to this facility. This has widespread implications for individuals who do not live in Iqaluit. For example, if you are arrested in Cape Dorset, you will be flown to Iqaluit (1hour flight). For many family members of individuals who have been detained in Iqaluit yet who live in other communities, visiting is not an option for multiple reasons, particularly travel time and costs.

There are no federal prisons in Nunavut. Therefore if a person must be detained at a federal prison (determined by the crime they have been found guilty of committing and their sentence for the latter), they will be flown to a prison in Ontario.

BCC was designed in the 1980s by Bruno Freschi. It was constructed to hold a maximum of 41 inmates. However, since it’s original construction it has been upgraded. The most recent upgrade targeting the amount of inmates the facility could hold was in 1996, during which the capacity was increased to 66 beds with two segregation cells. The prison is constantly over its 66 bed capacity.

There are three other prisons in Iqaluit. Accordingly: Makigiarvik Correctional Centre (men’s prison), Nunavut’s Women’s Correctional Centre, and the Isumaqsunngittukkuvik Youth Facility. Before having gone to Makigiarvik (Maki) or BCC, many people in Iqaluit had described Maki as a hotel compared to the “shit hole” of BCC.

Unfortunately, after my first and many repeated visits to BCC, it lived up to the “shit hole” reputation it has received. What is most frustrating is that many people have long known about the appalling conditions at BCC. A 2015 Report to the Auditor General of Canada stated that “Housing inmates at the Baffin Correctional Centre compromises the security and safety of inmates and staff” and that the “Department of Justice has not addressed its most critical facility needs.”[1] Justice Cooper of the Nunavut Court of Justice has previously called the jail “intolerable” in R v. Uniusaraq, 2015 NUCJ 16.[2]

There are numerous issues with BCC I could speak of, however it would take up a lot of space. Briefly, BCC is constantly overcapacity. The facility itself is severely under resourced and unsafe.  Inmates have often be said they are given 30minutes outside their cell  per day. The facility equally lacks adequate programming for its population.

[Picture taken from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/baffin-correctional-centre-inmate-riot-iqaluit-1.4715657]

BCC houses some of the most vulnerable people in Nunavut. Accordingly, many individuals who are detained at BCC live with serious mental health issues, substance abuse, and/or trauma that must be properly treated. The facility itself and the programs  it offers (or lack thereof), fall completely short of offering many individuals detained at BCC the treatment they need and deserve. It is also important to remember that many of the people detained at BCC are still presumed innocent, therefore have yet to be convicted of a crime.

Prior to the riot in June, I had used an interview room to speak to a client about their upcoming court appearance. The client I was seeing struggled with serious mental health issues. As him and I sat down in the interview room, I noticed someone had engraved words into the wall saying: “Kill yourself so you don’t need to live in this shit hole.” The situation was extremely upsetting. As I sat with my client with severe mental health concerns the words on the wall reconfirmed to me that BCC and many other facilities across Canada, are doing more harm than good to people in serious need of support. An ethos of rehabilitation has not yet been fully embedded in our prison systems.

The riot which occurred in June 2018, was the second riot at the Iqaluit jail in less than a year. Last September, multiple inmates had damaged 85 per cent of the building’s medium-security bed space. There have been various other riots at BCC since it was first constructed. Inmates have stated that they lashed out in June again to bring attention to the deplorable conditions in the jail.

In an interview with CBC, Director of BCC JP Deroy and Satah Smith a policy analyst at BCC, made statements about the riot and the prison:[3]

“It’s going to happen again. It will. As long as we have this building, and we’re dealing with these issues, it’s going to happen again.”

 “Now, take the same inmates and put them in a proper facility. Different story. Completely different story. In general, they want to help themselves,” Deroy said.

 “For the sceptics who want to put this on the inmates and say the inmates are bad people, or maybe even the staff are bad people, we’ve seen the success,” Smith added.

 Smith, too, added as long as BCC is open, riots will happen again.

 “This building has far exceeded its life-cycle, and we’re just seeing the repercussions of it now. It’s not like our inmates are getting more bad, or savvy, or whatever,” she said.

If we know riots will continue to occur, what are we doing to change this reality?

Prisoners remain human, with human rights that cannot be violated. Accordingly, prisoners have the right to be safe from cruel and unusual punishment. It is imperative that facilities which house those who have been detained seek to rehabilitate, not punish or ignore basic human rights. Prisoners detained at BCC will one day return to their communities. Nunavut Corrections and the Canadian Department of Justice are currently failing these inmates and these communities.

 

[1] http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/nun_201503_e_40255.html

[2]https://www.canlii.org/en/nu/nucj/doc/2015/2015nucj16/2015nucj16.html?autocompleteStr=R%20v.%20Uniuqsaraq&autocompletePos=1

[3] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/baffin-correctional-centre-jail-conditions-riots-1.4720831

Kinngait (ᑭᙵᐃᑦ)

By Cassandra Richards

In mid-June I had the opportunity to travel to the island of Kinngait (ᑭᙵᐃᑦ), Nunavut for circuit court. Kinngait is known as Cape Dorset in English and is located on the southern tip of the Baffin Island in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut.

   

[The Community Hall of Kinngait where the circuit court took place for the week. The Hall was painted by local youth.]

Kinngait is the epicentre for Inuit art, world-renowned for its prints and carvings. The carvings are largely made from serpentinite stone which ranges in beautiful green hues. The stone is quarried from Korak Inlet and Markham Bay approximately 200miles from Kinngait. The sheer success of Inuit carvers in this region is exemplified by the quantity of rocks quarried each year: approximately 40 tons of serpentinite is quarried each summer and transported to Kinngait by boat or snowmobile.

Community members of all ages engage in carving as it has become an important mechanism for people to engage in the wage economy within Kinngait, Nunavut, and throughout the world.  Importantly however, carving is a direct expression and embodiment of Inuit culture and the land that surrounds them.

  

[Picture 1: Nocturnal Presence, Artist: Pudlo Pudlat. Picture 2: Stone Carving: Dancing Bear, Artist: Pudalik Shaa.]

The dancing bear is perhaps one of the most prominent subjects within Inuit art and first developed in Kinngait. The dancing bear symbolizes the strong relationship in Inuit culture between the natural and spiritual world. When shamans seek to communicate with those no longer living or community members in faraway places, they dance while playing drums in order to summon thetuurngaits (spirits). When a tuurngait arrives, the visible appearance of the shaman alters and his tarniq (spiritual essence) and arnirniq (breath of life) merge together with those of the tuurngait. This nexus causes the shaman to act like a bear or adopt the form of a bear while playing the drums and dancing.

The dancing bear is also one of the most difficult carvings to create as the bear is often balancing  on one limb. Palta Sala was the first artist to create the dancing bear. Throughout the years artists have been inspired by his creation and continued to create the dancing bear adding their own personal artistic touch.

During my time in Kinngait I was fortunate to visit the Dorset Fine Arts studio with numerous prints and sculptures created daily by local artists. While walking around the town I was also able to view sculptures created by local people in their homes. The art in Kinngait is truly amazing, as is the community, and land surrounding it. It is incredible to think that in a community of approximately 1,500 people their art can be found throughout Canada and the world.

  

[Picture 1: The bay of Kinngait. Picture 2: Kinngait at its darkest hour.]

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.

map2

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.

 fig437

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.

martha-iqaluit-DSC_0018

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.

martha-iqaluit-IMG_0113

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.

“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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