Quebec under pressure to solve shortage of judges serving in Inuit communities

The Inuit and legal communities of Quebec are calling on the government of Premier François Legault to increase the number of judges who can sit in the north of the province, following the cancellation of a week of hearings that were scheduled in Kuujjuaq , the largest community in Nunavik.

According to Makivik, one of the main players in the justice system in northern Quebec, the Inuit are suffering from a shortage of judges in the judicial district of Abitibi, which manages legal services in Nunavik.

The Inuit group fears not only the effects of the cancellation of a week of court hearings which was due to begin last Monday, but also of a planned reduction of 20% in the number of hearing days during the year in come.

Instead of planning to sit 128 days as was the case this year, the Court of Quebec has only planned 101 days in 2022-2023 in the Inuit communities of Ungava Bay.

“It is clear that Nunavimmiut [people of Nunavik] are unfairly penalized,” Makivik said in a statement.

In the document, Makivik specifically calls for “the appointment of new judges” who can serve in Nunavik.

2 additional judges needed

According to sources in the legal community, the new calendar of the Court of Quebec also raises concerns among lawyers working in Nunavik.

The Inuit population faces a much higher level of judicialization than the rest of Quebec, and the justice system is already struggling to process the number of cases in the current number of hearing days.

According to its spokesperson, the Barreau du Québec supports the Court of Québec’s requests for two new judicial positions in the district of Abitibi.

“The Bar has been recommending for many years the appointment of additional judges to the Court of Quebec to serve the Nunavik circuit court. The Barreau also reiterated its request to the government in this regard during the pre-budget consultations earlier this year,” said Barreau spokesperson Hélène Bisson.

The village of Kuujjuak in Nunavik saw all legal proceedings suspended this week. (Eilis Quinn / Eye on the Arctic)

“High degree of vulnerability”

There are 13 judicial positions in Abitibi, but one position is not filled and two judges are currently on leave. Substitute judges visit the region regularly, but there is also a shortage in this regard.

Due to a lack of judges, the Court of Quebec was forced to cancel the hearings scheduled for the week of July 18 in Kuujjuaq. Hundreds of cases have been postponed, in some cases until June 2023, and defense lawyers are preparing applications to dismiss a number of these cases based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Jordan on unreasonable delays.

“Due to the high degree of Inuit vulnerability to the justice system, Nunavik cannot afford to reduce court presence,” Makivik said.

“The current delays are already having a detrimental effect, increasing these delays only increases the level of vulnerability by prolonging the wait for a decision. During this wait, Inuit offenders may remain in custody and receive very few culturally appropriate services,” Makivik said. .

The office of Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said it was up to the Court of Quebec to coordinate the assignments of its 319 judges and 61 deputy judges.

“Each judge has jurisdiction over the entire territory of Quebec and for all the jurisdiction of the court, regardless of the chamber to which he has been assigned,” said spokesperson Pascal Ferland.

As other Nunavik communities will see fewer circuit court appearances, offenders, witnesses and victims will have to travel, sometimes together, to Kuujjuaq (above) for trials. (Olivier Plante/Radio Canada)

Reduction of services

Makivik is concerned that with fewer court days in several Nunavik communities, a greater number of alleged perpetrators, victims and witnesses will have to go to the Kuujjuaq courthouse under difficult conditions.

The shortage of housing and hotel rooms in the north makes it difficult for these people to find accommodation when they have to appear in court. In some cases, defendants and their alleged victims must travel on the same plane, which can “exacerbate tension and/or trauma”, according to Makivik.

Makivik asks the government to upgrade the premises of the various communities that host the circuit court. Composed of a judge, prosecutors, lawyers and government employees, the circuit court travels to the different communities of Nunavik to hold hearings.

Makivik also wants each community to have access to a videoconferencing system to speed up the processing of various files.

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