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Justice (25-42)

Nunavut judge’s denial of bail to repeat offender gives rare look into court proceedings

July 10, 2023
The courthouse in Iqaluit on Oct. 7, 2020.EMMA TRANTER/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Globe and Mail: The case of a Nunavut man with a dozen convictions for beating up his intimate partners is raising questions about how federal authorities address violence against women in the North, after the RCMP and a prosecutor supported the man’s release from custody on multiple new charges.

The man, known as A.I., had just finished serving a 75-day jail term last fall for assaulting a former intimate partner when he was charged again – and then, a month later, yet again. Both times, the RCMP released the 29-year-old on a simple promise not to go near his former intimate partner. A.I. has 49 criminal convictions over the past nine years, including a dozen for violating probation and bail orders.

And even when the Mounties finally balked this winter at letting the accused man go – after his third set of assault charges in six months – a federal prosecutor consented to his release on bail, with his mother as his supervisor. It is highly unusual for a court not to accept a joint agreement of the Crown and defence, but Justice of the Peace Amanda Soper said no to the man’s release.

Chief Justice Neil Sharkey of the Nunavut Court of Justice upheld her decision. His written ruling on May 30 in A.I.’s case provides a rare window onto how bail works in Canada – unlike most bail hearings, it was not covered by a publication ban.

“I am of the view that the position taken by the Crown before the JP showed an indifference to the plight of a vulnerable Inuit female victim of crime,” wrote Chief Justice Sharkey, a former prosecutor who has worked in the North for 40 years.

Christa Big Canoe, the legal director of Aboriginal Legal Services, which was not involved in the case, said both the RCMP and the Crown prosecutor had ignored the concerns of Inuit women.

“The behaviour of both the police and Crown in this case appears to have little regard for the victim,” she said. “Knowing what we know about violence against Inuit and Indigenous women, you think there would be a greater effort to protect them from the law enforcement and prosecutorial systems.” Ms. Big Canoe was commission counsel to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

A.I., an Inuk, is alleged to have confined, choked and punched his former intimate partner and thrown down and punched her female friend who came to her aid on one occasion. In March, his former partner’s mother called police, alleging that A.I. had entered her home and punched her daughter in the face until she begged him to stop.

At the time of all these alleged incidents, he was living with his mother – the surety or bail guarantor proposed by the Crown and defence.

Chief Justice Sharkey’s ruling affirmed that under some circumstances, justices of the peace have the power to deny bail even when Crown and defence lawyers have agreed that an accused should be released.

Nathalie Houle, a spokeswoman for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, which handles all Criminal Code offences in the North, said she could not comment on a specific case, but that in every bail hearing, the prosecution considers the facts and the law to assess if a release is appropriate. The Mounties in Nunavut declined to comment. A.I.’s lawyer at the hearing before the chief justice, Matthew Eaton-Kent, declined comment.

The right to reasonable bail is protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But the bail system has come under fire in the wake of high-profile crimes allegedly committed by repeat offenders who were free on bail. In May, Ottawa introduced proposals to toughen the bail law, partly by putting a “reverse onus” on some accused to show why they should be released.

A.I. had a reverse onus under the law as it stood already, which is why Ms. Soper had the authority to say no, Chief Justice Sharkey ruled. The chief justice expressed concern that the Crown and defence lawyers expected their agreement to be “rubber-stamped.”

He is not the first to voice this concern. In 2016, Ottawa Justice of the Peace Julie Lauzon made that complaint in a newspaper article, which led to her suspension; Ontario’s Court of Appeal said last week in finding the suspension unjust that justices of the peace “must not be seen as mere ‘rubber stamps’ for Crown prosecutors.”

But Ms. Soper was far from a rubber stamp. She said she had “huge” public-safety concerns about the proposed release and was shocked that the RCMP let him go twice based on a mere promise. “From what I see, A.I. is not good on bail,” she said in a ruling in March denying bail.

Since 2019, federal law has instructed judges to pay particular attention to the circumstances of Indigenous accused people and other marginalized groups when making decisions on release.

But Chief Justice Sharkey said he had to keep the community’s protection in mind, too. “I do so, of course, within the context of public safety – and in particular the safety of [the complainant],” he wrote.

SEAN FINE, JUSTICE WRITER, Follow Sean Fine on Twitter: @seanfineglobe