Nunavut Court of Justice Decision Expands Pre-Trial Delay Allowances in Nunavut

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On February 1, 2018, Justice Paul Bychok of the Nunavut Court of Justice has released his written reasons for denying a stay of proceedings in R v Anugaa. The defence requested a stay on the grounds that the pre-trial delay was longer than allowed for under R v Jordan framework. R v Jordan allowed for pre-trial delay due to defence delay or exceptional circumstances. Justice Buychuk’s decision adds delay due to the unique cultural circumstances and exceptional challenges faced by the Nunavut courts to this list.

Justice Bychok’s decision notes three factors particular to Nunavut that were not accounted for in R v Jordan: Nunavut’s size and weather, the Nunavut’s lack of funds for infrastructure development, and Nunavut’s overwhelmingly Inuit population and closely-knit communities.

First, the physical realities of Nunavut – its large size and harsh weather conditions – have a real effect on the court’s ability to serve Nunavut’s communities. The court is based in Iqaluit, and travels regularly to the other communities in the territory. Travel can be costly and time consuming even when blizzards or mechanical problems do not delay or cancel court circuits. A cancelled circuit might result in the court not visiting a given community for up to a year (para 29).

Second, Nunavut’s there is not much room in Nunavut’s infrastructure budget to help speed cases through the court. Among other things, the territory lacks a residential treatment centre, food insecurity is common, and few communities have safe houses for families in crises (para 33). There is little money to increase the frequency of court hearings (para 35).

Third, the court has amended its procedures to account for the realities of Nunavut’s communities. 86.3% of Nunavummiut self identified as Aboriginal as of 2011, and in 2012 over half of Nunavummiut “spoke their primary Aboriginal language ‘well or relatively well’.” The Nunavut Court of Justice avoids setting trials during the summer when “many Nunavummiut return to the land” (para 43). The court also takes account of the small, close knit communities it works in when setting time for trials, standing down for funerals and allowing offenders to participate in seasonal hunts.

Justice Bychok’s decision stated that he was “confident the recognition of a new third Jordan subcategory in Nunavut will not result in a greater tolerance for delay” (para 50). Despite the above considerations, and the fact that the court carries more criminal charges per capita than any other Canadian court, the Nunavut Court of Justice had the second lowest number of adult criminal matters which lasted more than one year in the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 sessions.

The amount of time spent pre-trial, excluding defence delays, exceptional circumstances, and delays owing to the unique cultural circumstances and exceptional challenges faced by the Nunavut courts, fell within the amount of time allowed by the Jordan framework. Accordingly, Justice Bychok denied the requested stay of proceedings.

Justice Bychok’s written reasons for denying the stay of proceedings comes following the jury’s decision on the case. The accused was acquitted of all charges.

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.

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