Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavik September 21, 2012 - 10:35 am

A topsy-turvy day at the Kuujjuaq courtroom

United by a foreign language: English

JANE GEORGE
Kuujjuaq's courthouse is one of only three courthouses in Nunavik.  (FILE PHOTO)
Kuujjuaq's courthouse is one of only three courthouses in Nunavik. (FILE PHOTO)
Renovations are now underway at Kuujjuaq's police station. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)
Renovations are now underway at Kuujjuaq's police station. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

The start of the Sept. 17 Kuujjuaq travelling court sitting Sept. 18, featured topsy-turvy day of proceedings.

There were handcuffed detainees from Nunavik held in Amos, 1,500 kilometres to the south, who appeared in court via video conference, while members of the court, who all live in southern Quebec, attended the Kuujjuaq court session dressed in the elegant black and white robes of their profession.

And everyone spoke a foreign language: English.

The Inuit spoke English, although an interpreter was on hand in Kuujjuaq, while the French-speakers in the courtroom also used English.

Judge Claude Bigué and lawyers tried to figure out what to do about the challenge presented by the closure of some Kuujjuaq police station jail cells due to construction work and the attempted suicide of a detainee Sept. 14.

Because of all that, Quebec’s correctional services decided not to send about 10 detainees from Amos to Kuujjuaq to appear in court.

A ripple effect produced by this decision contributed to a number of postponements and a decision by the court not to travel to Kangiqsujuaq later that week.

During the afternoon of Sept. 17, it was easy to see how the travelling court system has become so overloaded that some cases can take years to pass through the system.

The main accomplishment of the court Sept. 17 was to hand out fines of $200 or more to about two dozen non-beneficiaries of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement for illegal fishing and to process several impaired driving cases.

These drivers received fines ranging from $500 to $1,000, along with an order not to drive for a year.

But these cases revealed another shortfall in the judicial process.

The fines for drunk drivers are a financial inconvenience but hold no legal clout.

Not one of the convicted drivers actually held a valid Quebec drivers license and, at least one of them, had previously been stopped for the same offense.

Among the two found guilty of impaired driving: the mother of a three-month old baby who would have been pregnant or possibly breastfeeding when she was stopped in an intoxicated state May 24 in Kuujjuaq. She received a $500 fine.

Another 23-year-old pregnant woman receeived a $1,000 fine for impaired driving in addition to a $400 fine for telling members of the Kativik Police Force who stopped her that “I will murder you guys.”

And while the cells at the police station seemed too risky for the Quebec correctional services, one man who appeared in front the court for breach of probation was sentenced to spend the rest of the week at the Kuujjuaq jail.

That’s so he can fulfill the terms of a seven-day detention sentence and make it to the first day of a job that starts Sept. 24.

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