Translation services badly needed if Quebec to fix ‘communications breakdown’ for Inuit in justice system


Leah Unaluk made history this year.

The 35 year old became the first Inuk in in her community of Puvirnituq ,QC to become a court clerk.

“It’s easier for Inuit to have someone, an Inuk who can speak to them if they don’t understand,” said Unaluk

Unaluk does double duty, also serving as a translator for Quebec’s travelling court when it comes to her community.

But according to testimony heard Friday at the Quebec Inquiry into Relations with Indigenous Peoples and Certain Public Services in Kuujjuaraapik, Nunavik, Inuit defendants may have translation during trial, but they are sorely lacking it beforehand and afterwards.

“The defence lawyers don’t have interpreters with them when they have to meet with their clients, and that’s just when there’s the communication break downs, just before the court starts,” testified Phoebe Atagotaaluk, justice committee coordinator for Inukjuak, Quebec.

Justice committees serve as a kind of liaison between Inuit communities and Quebec’s travelling court that passes through their villages. The Quebec inquiry heard testimony from Atagotaaluk and two justice committee coordinators.

During their presentation they laid out several major concerns, including what they say is  excessive over policing of Inuit in Nunavik.

“In the past one of our supervisors at the Makivik Justice department was trying to plead with the crowns and the judges that to always give the condition to not consume alcohol or drugs, it was just setting people up to breach.

The condition to maintain peace and good order, should be enough,” testified Martin Scott, administrator of the Justice Committee of Aupaluk, Qc.

In 2015, APTN News spent a week with Quebec’s travelling court.

Out of the 181 charges on the docket, 31 percent were “breaches of conditions”.

Earlier this week Johnny Anautak of Akulivik, QC testified that police in Nunavik  purposefully target  Inuit with “no drinking” conditions in order to get travel perks that come with accompanying detainees down south.

“When they have conditions right away they arrest them cause they want to send them down south, so they can have a flight , free flight,” said Anautak.  

The justice committee coordinators also testified that the constant travel back and forth between Nunavik communities for trial and detention centres in the south causes emotional stress and eats into resources.

Resources that could go into more permanent funding for alternative measures to keep Inuit from reoffending.

“If it’s women, we ask them if they can do sewing and give back to the community, that’s the first that we ask if they can sew parkas or snow pants and for men if they can go out hunting and share with elders,” explained Atagotaaluk.

Leah Unaluk credits her community’s justice committee with helping her turn her life around.

Four  years ago a drunk driving charge landed her prison time.But a reduced sentence and support from the committee once home led her to where she is today.

“I was going through tough times, but now I’m so proud of myself for working as a court clerk and interpreter,” said Unaluk

As for addressing problems in the justice system up north, her solution is straight forward.

“I would like to encourage Inuit to become workers of the court because we would understand each other more, and help our people,” said Unaluk.

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