Arctic Canada: Nunavut men left homeless after COVID-19 pushes court dates

From left to right, Pujungi Meeko, Patrick Kudluarok, James Kowcharlie at the Iqaluit Airport. The men say they were left to be homeless after being released from Baffin Correctional Centre. (Thomas Rohner/CBC)
Three men from Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, say they were forced into homelessness after they were released on bail from the Baffin Correctional Centre.

“Luckily people have come by to drop off a blanket and a dome tent. I don’t know what I’d do if the people didn’t help,” said 28-year-old Patrick Kudluarok, from the Iqaluit airport.

Kudluarok, who has a six-month old baby back home, has been homeless in Iqaluit for two weeks. He’s been living in a dome tent for that time.

“Sometimes I thought I was going to die from hypothermia.”

Kudluarok said he was flown to Iqaluit on Feb. 20 to face an assault charge, but was released the next day. He said he was told to stay in Iqaluit until his next court date in March. But because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, that date has been pushed back to June.

Kudluarok said he stayed at the men’s shelter for a week before he was asked to leave because of an infection on his hand.

“I just want to go back home, be with my daughter,” he said.

Patrick Kudluarook stands by the tent that he and Pujungi Meeko are sleeping in after they say they were forced into homelessness by Nunavut’s Justice Department. (Thomas Rohner/CBC)

Kudluarok’s uncle, James Kowcharlie, 53, said he is in the same boat as his nephew — spending time at the Iqaluit airport and stranded by court services.

Kowcharlie’s court date has also been pushed back to June. He said he was told he could return home to Sanikiluaq, but at his own expense, which he can’t afford.

“It’s kinda hard for me to see Patrick [Kudluarok], what he’s going through,” said Kowcharlie, as tears streamed down his face.

“I don’t know what I’d do until June,” Kowcharlie said, adding he has taken odd jobs cleaning around Iqaluit.

I have a lot of worry, I used to take care of [my seven kids], and I’m not there.Pujungi Meeko

Pujungi Meeko, 28, said he was forced into homelessness after a short stay at the Baffin Correctional Centre. He said he was told to stay in Iqaluit until his next court date.

Meeko has seven kids in Sanikiluaq, who are being looked after by his mother.

“I have a lot of worry, I used to take care of them, and I’m not there. I don’t know when it’s going to end,” he said. Meeko is staying with Kudluarok in the dome tent.

Highly problematic practice, says legal aid

A highly problematic and long-standing practice in Nunavut’s justice system is the banning of those on bail or probation from their home community, said Benson Cowan, executive director of the Legal Services Board. The board is Nunavut’s legal aid agency.

“The responsibility for those banishment orders is entirely with the [Public Prosecution Service of Canada] and with the courts who ultimately order them,” Cowan said.

The lack of funding for programming and resources for those on bail or probation is ‘shocking,’ said Cowan. (Submitted by Benson Cowan)

Crown prosecutors request conditions on bail or probation orders, Cowan explained. Those requests are highly influential on judges who decide what conditions to apply to any one case.

Accused or offenders who don’t have access to stable housing, family supports, work, and their traditional practices like hunting and fishing can lead them to reoffend, said Cowan.

“[It] puts them in a situation where they’re more likely to get caught up in the law and get charged with further offences,” Cowan said.

The lack of funding for programming and resources for those on bail or probation is “shocking,” said Cowan. He added that lack of resources means little to no access to restorative justice programs, treatment and support for offenders to stay out of trouble.

“If there were actual programs and supports in place, I think everyone would be more relaxed and less concerned with people returning to their communities,” said Cowan.

Nuanvut’s Justice Department confirmed that it is the territorial government’s responsibility to return those on bail or probation to their home communities, unless banished by court order.

Related stories from around the North:

Arctic: Roundup of COVID-19 responses around the Arctic, Eye on the Arctic

Canada: COVID-19 could hit Nunavut harder than elsewhere, says Canadian territory’s top doctor, CBC News

Finland: Finns continue with ski holiday plans despite travel advisory, Yle News

Greenland: COVID-19: Arctic science expedition postpones flight campaign after trainee tests positive for virus, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Arctic oil plans in Norway and Russia disrupted amid COVID-19 crisis, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Coronavirus: Russia hints it might close its border with Norway, Finland, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Why are Sweden’s politicians taking a different tack for coronavirus?, Radio Sweden

Thomas Rohner, CBC News

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