Court documents allege victims of violence in Nunavik are largely neglected by compensation regime
In 2020, Quebec awarded $152 million in compensation to victims of violence, aimed at helping them deal with the aftermath of their trauma.
Documents filed with the Superior Court of Quebec show, however, that of the 7,401 beneficiaries of the program, only nine were residents of Nunavik.
The alleged inequity affecting Quebec’s most northerly region, the vast majority of whose residents are Inuit, is the subject of a recent application to authorize the filing of a class-action lawsuit.
Using official statistics, the lawyers behind the application concluded that victims of criminal acts in Nunavik are approximately 40 times less likely to receive compensation than their counterparts living elsewhere in Quebec.
The reason is not that there are fewer instances of personal violence in Nunavik. On the contrary: it is among the regions of the province whose residents face the highest risk of physical or sexual violence.
According to data compiled by the Nunavik police, some 5,000 in-person crimes are committed every year in the region, which has a population of about 12,000.
The application to authorize a class-action suit alleges that victims living in the Inuit communities of Nunavik are being unjustly and systematically deprived of benefits available under the compensation regime.
Abused, but never compensated
An Inuk woman who suffered multiple sexual assaults and violent abuse starting from the age of five is the instigator of the legal proceedings.
Now 24 and the mother of two children, she reported four assailants to the authorities, and they were convicted of multiple offences in separate trials.
According to one of her lawyers, the former Kuujjuaq resident was never told that she might be entitled to compensation under the Quebec regime set up in 1972 with the passage of the Crime Victims Compensation Act.
She was the victim of several violent crimes in Nunavik. She had the courage to report her assailants in every case. […] She went through the entire judicial procedure, co-operated with the public ministry, yet was never informed of her right to apply for compensation.– Victor Chauvelot, lawyer
Victor Chauvelot and his colleague Louis-Nicholas Coupal assert that the government of Quebec has failed in its duty to promote the existence of the compensation scheme to one of the population groups most vulnerable to violence in the province.
“It’s systematic in this region, Nunavik, that victims of criminal acts — even those who are cared for by social services or receive support and guidance from representatives of public authorities — are never told of the existence of the regime, in other words, of their right to receive financial compensation,” Chauvelot said in an interview.
To be entitled to compensation, a victim must prove that they have been subjected to a crime and must show evidence of psychological or physical injury. Under Quebec law, victims eligible for the program have the right to “prompt and fair redress or compensation for the injury sustained.”
Victims of violence living in Quebec who benefited from the provincial program received an average of $20,000 in compensation and services in 2020.
The damages awarded under the regime compensate victims for the abuse they have suffered and help them reintegrate into society. For example, in 2020, the program paid out $9 million to cover medical assistance costs, $22 million for rehabilitation services and nearly $120 million in temporary or permanent disability benefits.
The statistics compiled by Chauvelot and Coupal show that approximately eight per cent of victims of in-person crime reported in Quebec between 2013 and 2019 received benefits.
Among residents of Nunavik, that proportion drops precipitously to an average of 0.21 per cent for the same period.
Based on figures compiled using the postal codes of benefit recipients, there were 86 victims of violent crime compensated under the program in Nunavik from 2013 to 2020, while a total of 45,743 people in Quebec received compensation during the same period.
“Despite these statistics,” the request for authorization of a class action states “the [government of Quebec] is not taking the necessary steps to ensure that victims in Nunavik can benefit from the compensation regime on an equal footing with other victims in Quebec. Left to their own devices, victims in Nunavik practically never receive compensation.”
The application to authorize a class action has been filed in Superior Court but has yet to be authorized.
For the moment, the lawyers are seeking punitive damages of $10,000 per victim who was not compensated under the Quebec regime despite potentially being eligible. The class action is also seeking $1,000 in moral damages for each crime suffered.
New regime coming in October
The Quebec regime was created in the 1970s and modernized in 1988 with the passage of the Act respecting Assistance for Victims of Crime. To help enforce the legislation, the government created a network of assistance centres for victims of crime (known by its French acronym, CAVAC), which spans nearly 200 points of service in Quebec.
Paul-Jean Charest, a spokesperson for the Quebec Ministry of Justice, noted that recent reforms to the compensation regime will come into effect in October. One new measure is a retroactive waiving of the time limit to submit a request for compensation for crimes of sexual assault, spousal abuse and violent abuse suffered in childhood.
“We therefore encourage all victims of crime to file a request with IVAC [the Compensation for Crime Victims directorate], or seek help within the CAVAC network,” Charest said.
He noted that across Quebec, the CAVAC network of assistance centres relies on the expertise of 29 Indigenous workers, with nine serving Nunavik.
Charest added that the ministry would not be commenting on the legal proceedings just instituted.
This story was originally published by Radio-Canada and has been translated from the French.
Related stories from around the North:
Finland: Police response times up to an hour slower in Arctic Finland, Yle News
Sweden: Swedish Security Police: Increasing threat against Sweden, Radio Sweden
United States: U.S. Justice Dept. awards $42 million in tribal grants to fight crime, help victims in rural Alaska, Alaska Public Media