According to a report, the justice system in Nord-du-Québec must adapt to the local culture and improve access to the courts

The village of Inukjuak is seen on the shore of Hudson Bay Thursday, May 12, 2022 in Inukjuak, Quebec. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian WyldAdrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

According to a new report, the justice system in the Nunavik region of northern Quebec should be better adapted to the local culture and have a more permanent presence in the region.

Jean-Claude Latraverse, who has practiced law in the region for 20 years, writes in his report that technology must also be used to improve access to justice in the region’s 14 communities, none of which are accessible by road.

“It is paramount to recognize that the system, as it currently exists, has failed in many ways,” he wrote in the report released Friday. “Recidivism rates have not decreased, Inuit have not been included, and bridges with traditional dispute resolution methods have not been used.”

Mr. Latraverse, who has worked both as a public defender and as a prosecutor, was commissioned by the provincial government and the Makivik Corporation, the legal representative of the Inuit of Quebec, to study the itinerant court in the region.

There is no permanent court in Nunavik, which comprises approximately one-third of Quebec’s territory. The Provincial Court travels to nine of the region’s communities, while the Superior Court hears cases in three.

These legal proceedings are often marred by delays. In July, hundreds of cases were postponed when a week of hearings in Kuujjuaq was canceled due to a lack of available judges.

“The statistics show that the delays are about the same as in the South, but the inconveniences and impacts suffered are not comparable. When a case is postponed five times, it can mean a delay of more than two years in some communities,” wrote Mr. Latraverse.

Mr. Latraverse said changes need to be made to the way courts are scheduled in the region and that he would like to see the prosecution service and legal aid reopen permanent local offices. Increased use of videoconferencing technology could also help, he wrote.

“Often, in Nunavik, the court does not visit the communities for months at a time, and sometimes up to a year and a half, for all kinds of reasons. It is easy to imagine the pressure this places on offenders, who often have to comply with conditions in a situation beyond their control.

Mr. Latraverse also calls for efforts to divert offenders from the criminal justice system.

In 2019-20, more than 10% of Nunavik residents were charged with an offence, in the rest of Quebec, he wrote, the figure was just over half of 1 %.

One of the changes that Mr. Latraverse would like to see has more to do with the use of conditional sentences in impaired driving cases.

He wrote that those convicted of driving under the influence are often sent to serve short prison terms in southern Quebec. These sentences are too short for offenders to receive treatment and options that are available in other parts of the province, such as serving short sentences on weekends, are not available in the region.

Mr. Latraverse said he would also like to see community justice committees play a more active role in the local system.

Specific training is also needed for lawyers working on child protection cases and a local child protection program should be supported, he wrote, adding that one in five children in the region is under responsibility of youth protection authorities.

“It is indeed essential that the justice system be embodied by the Nunavimmiut themselves,” he writes. “To achieve this, the community must be involved and, above all, its involvement must be valued. Inclusion will only be successful if Inuit interests and concerns are placed at the heart of all actions.

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