NEWS: Nunavut December 07, 2017 - 11:00 am

Nunavut small claims process hurts non-Iqalungmiut, Arviat man alleges

“Iqalungmiut have more legal protections than people in the communities”

STEVE DUCHARME

An Arviat man defending himself in a Nunavut small claims matter is refusing to attend his next court date in Iqaluit, calling a judge’s order to travel to Nunavut’s capital at his own expense akin to “violating my human rights.”

“I do not and have never had any intention of attending the Jan. 3 court date,” Arviat resident Peter Scholz told Nunatsiaq News by email from the West African country of Ghana where Scholz, his pregnant wife, and two small children are currently visiting as of this week.

Scholz is being sued for about $1,400 by Qairrulik Outfitting Ltd., and represented himself by phone during the matter’s last court date, this past Nov. 17 at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit.

Transcripts from that hearing indicate that exchanges in the courtroom were tense at times between Scholz and Nunavut Justice Paul Bychok, who presided over the case that day.

Bychok adjourned proceedings in the matter to Jan. 3, and ordered Scholz to attend the matter in person if he intends to continue representing himself.

“If you wish to defend this action, you can either hire a lawyer or you can make arrangements to have someone appear in court on your behalf for trial,” Bychok told Scholz.

Bychok added that “the Nunavut Court of Justice is not a telephone court and I think if you made inquiries you would find that it might not be quite as expensive as all of that to change your travel.”

Scholz is returning to Arviat, from Ghana, on the same day as his court matter, Jan. 3, but will arrive with his wife and two children in Montreal on Dec. 29, before continuing on to Winnipeg two days later.

Scholz alleges that the added expenses to cancel and change flights for his family to travel to Iqaluit, additional nights in hotels, and to book a return flight to Arviat from Iqaluit would “cost almost $13,000.”

“The facts of the case are very simple, and a lawyer would charge more than the case is worth,” he said.

Scholz added that the judge “basically said that if I did not come, I would lose the case.”

According to transcripts of the Nov. 17 court hearing, Bychok did not talk about any future decision he might make on the issue, but said “the matter would proceed in the usual fashion” when it reconvened on Jan. 3.

While not an official policy, most judges at the Nunavut Court of Justice will grant requests by parties to attend court by phone for administrative court appearances.

But parties are generally requested to attend court in person—or designate another to appear on their behalf—for more important events, like trials or decisions.

Nunavut’s legal assistance funding, which is granted through the Nunavut Legal Services Board, is rarely applied to small claims matters.

Scholz wrote that he is “concerned” by the court order, because “if people from communities must travel to Iqaluit for even minor court cases, then in effect, Iqalungmiut have more legal protections than people in the communities.”

The Nunavut Legal Services Board represents approximately 98 per cent of persons involved in family and criminal law matters, according to its 2015-16 annual report.

There were a record 131 applications for coverage under the board’s civil practice wing, up from 90 in 2015, according to last year’s annual report. But only 13 matters were categorized as small claims issues.

The board spent more than 99 per cent of its $11.8 million budget in 2016, closing the year with a surplus of about $77,000.

The overwhelming majority of the board’s expenses are related to services provided in criminal matters, amounting to about $5.5 million in 2016.

Family law matters accounted for another $1.6 million of the board’s expenses, while civil law expenses were recorded at about $450,000.