MLA to ask for review of police oversight in Nunavut, Arctic Canada

Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone asked the Legal Services Board for recommendations on a new police oversight model for the territory on Tuesday. (Nick Murray/CBC)
Nunavut MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone said he will be asking the territory’s Department of Justice to review how police oversight is handled in Nunavut.

The Iqaluit-Manirajak representative used the legislature’s first time questioning the Legal Services Board in standing committee to raise the issue on Tuesday.

The board is responsible for ensuring Nunavummiut have access to legal representation through legal aid and public education initiatives, per the territory’s Legal Services Act.

In 2015, it wrote a letter to then-minister of justice Paul Okalik to raise a concerning trend among its clients of visible injuries the clients said were the result of excessive force by RCMP officers.

Madeleine Redfern, the board’s chair, said it began keeping track of clients who sued the police for damages in the 2014/2015 government fiscal year. In the first year there were nine cases, in the following year, seven, then nine, and in 2017/2018 there were 11 cases.

Madeleine Redfern is the chair of the Legal Services Board. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

The letter noted that not all — not even the majority — of those who felt they had been subject to police abuse chose to sue.

The board decided to bring the issue of excessive force to the territory’s justice minister, Jeannie Ehaloak, because of the multiple problems it created, according to Jonathan Ellsworth, the board’s chief operating officer.

The minister of justice is also responsible for contracting the police for the territory.

‘Jeopardizes justice’

“It jeopardizes the whole face of justice, when [family members] are victimized by police,” Ellsworth said, noting Nunavummiut might become less likely to trust the police and legal system.

If a case against a person is dropped because the police were found to be in the wrong when arresting them, that person’s victim “never gets their day in court,” Ellsworth said.

People who feel victimized by police can sue, file an application with Nunavut’s human rights tribunal or contact the national RCMP’s complainants commission.

Each of these courses of action draws on the already limited time of the courts and the legal aid lawyers the board oversees, he said.

Complaining to the police commission is also not very effective. According to the letter, a complaint can take a year or more to get a response from the RCMP, Canada’s federal police.

“The complaint process has proven frustrating due to the amount of time it takes to receive a determination,” the letter said.

Problems when police investigate police

In cases of police misconduct in Nunavut, the RCMP has an agreement with the Ottawa police to investigate, but some say police shouldn’t be investigated by other police.

“Generally speaking, if a body has done wrong, investigating oneself can be problematic, having a similar outside agency, with a similar attitude and mindset can also be problematic,” Redfern told Lightstone.

The issue has been raised before in Nunavut, but so far, no changes have been implemented.

A report by the Department of Justice released in March 2017 looked at alternative oversight models across the country.

It found that Nunavut and the Northwest Territories are the only jurisdictions in Canada that don’t have some form of civilian oversight of police.

Redfern said Nunavummiut should also be involved in deciding what form of police oversight should be adopted.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Policing infrastructure rejig in Canada’s northwestern Yukon territory, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Police in Arctic Finland overstretched, says retiring officer, Yle News

Russia: Service reindeer for police in Russia’s Arctic, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Cross-border Nordic policing would better serve Arctic: politician, Radio Sweden

United States: Police officers in Alaska villages hired despite criminal record: report, Alaska Public Media

Sara Frizzell, CBC News

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