Criminal charges down in 2013, but Nunavut courts still busy: report
Youth crime creeping up again
Fewer adults in Nunavut were charged with criminal offenses last year than in 2012, but the number of youth criminal charges seems to be creeping up again, says a report from the Nunavut Court of Justice released Feb. 24.
The report, called “Ingiravugut Suli: Our Journey Continues,” contains many statistics on the Nunavut court’s operations in 2013.
A follow up to last year’s Ingirranivut (Our Journey) which covered crime rates and court operation statistics in Nunavut from 2000 to 2012, the 2013 report uses stark numbers to describe the impact of Nunavut’s crime rate on lawyers, judges and administrative staff within Nunavut’s justice system.
The report said 6,854 charges were laid in Nunavut in 2013 — roughly one charge for every five people in the territory.
The good news is that this number is down from the approximately 8,000 charges laid in 2012.
“However, the court closed a total of 8,356 criminal cases [in 2013],” the report says in its introduction. That’s because many charges are laid one year, but not closed until a subsequent year.
“Thus, while the total number of charges laid in 2013 declined from 2012, the number of cases closed by the court in 2013 increased from the previous year.”
The report contains other interesting figures.
Because of an “increasing number of youth criminal charges laid in the last three calendar years,” and pre-sentence reports that lawyers must complete before sentencing, the average amount of time it took to complete youth criminal cases increased from 120 days in 2012 to more than 180 days in 2013.
The number of youth criminal charges laid in 2013 appears to be about 800 from the report’s graph — actual figures are not given. That figure has remained fairly steady since 2006, with the exception of 2010 when the number exceeded 1,000.
In response, the report said the court “plans to double the frequency of youth court sittings in Iqaluit” to streamline more youth through the system in 2014.
Nunavut’s senior judge, Justice Robert Kilpatrick, plans to create a special committee to look into the issue of increased processing times for youth cases, the report said.
The report based its findings on Statistics Canada numbers and the NCJ Court Information System, comparing statistics that go back to 2000.
For adults, the court wrapped up more cases in 2013 than in any previous year — nearly 7,500 cases.
At the beginning of 2013, there were 14 homicide charges in “various states of completion,” winding their way through the court system.
Eleven homicide cases were completed in 2012 and 2013. Seven charges of homicide were laid in 2011 and five laid in 2012.
The report does not say how many homicide charges were laid in 2013.
In Iqaluit, the largest community by population, 1,808 criminal charges were laid in 2013. Rankin Inlet saw 812 criminal charges and Cape Dorset saw 630.
Grise Fiord, Nunavut’s smallest community, had the lowest raw number of actual charges laid, at 17. Three communities in the Kivalliq —Repulse Bay, Whale Cove and Chesterfield Inlet — and the Kitikmeot community of Kugaaruk all saw fewer than 60 charges laid in 2013, giving them the next lowest absolute counts.
For convicted offenders in Nunavut, 53 per cent, or 2,612 people, were given probation and 35 per cent, or 1,738, were given custodial sentences.
The average time an adult accused of a crime spent in remand — pre-trial custody for those facing more serious allegations — was reduced from 70 days in 2011-12 to 54 days in 2012-13.
That’s the lowest average since the 2005-06 fiscal year, when the average was 43 days.
However, the total number of people held in remand increased by almost 100 last year — 412 in 2012-13 compared to 313 in 2011-12.
The report says monthly video courts held in Iqaluit for Kitikmeot prisoners residing at the North Slave Correction Center in the Northwest Territories has “substantially” reduced time for accused persons in custody, for processing time, and has saved money on transportation.
The report said the court plans to do the same for the Kivalliq docket in 2014.
Court diversion — a program that diverts low-level cases away from the courts in an effort to resolve them through reconciliation — can greatly reduce court costs as well but, the report says, not every community has the capacity to offer diversion programs and some are more successful than others.
Iqaluit, where most charges are laid, had no diversion option available in 2012-13, for example, but the report anticipates a program will be in place by spring 2014.
Several other “systems” will “greatly improve court efficiency and operations in 2014.
Some of those systems include:
• an electronic filing system;
• an online means for paying court fees and fines;
• an electronic archive to store and back up files;
• a new multi-line recording system for Justice of the Peace Court
• an upgraded sound system in the Iqaluit court house
• upgrading all courtrooms in Iqaluit to allow for video conferencing, and an upgrade in bandwidth to allow two video courts at the same time;
• a new portable video conferencing unit to be used on court circuits in different communities.
Another statistic contained in the report is the number of custom adoptions processed in 2013: 282. That’s more than the total number of custom adoptions in 2011 and 2012 put together.
However, the report cautions that those adoption cases which were concluded in 2013 could have begun in previous years but were somehow delayed.
A number of committees met in 2013 to develop new policies, the report said, including the Fetal Spectrum Disorder Action Committee which, “met with representatives from health to discuss creative ways to respond to increasing concerns that arise when the court is asked to sentence accused persons with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.”
In an unusually blunt criticism contained in a Sept. 2013 written judgment against an FASD man who had pleaded guilty to sexual assault, Kilpatrick called on the Nunavut government and lawyers to advocate for those who suffer from FASD.
Downloadable versions of the report in all four languages are available here.