An Iqaluit justice of the peace has granted an absolute discharge to a woman who violated the terms of her bail conditions by drinking alcohol because she had contacted the police after allegedly being assaulted by her step-father.
The woman, whose identity is not being revealed by the court, pleaded guilty to being intoxicated despite a court order not to consume liquor. However, justice of the peace Joseph Murdoch-Flowers chose not to convict the woman because he found the case to be “troubling.”
Murdoch-Flowers noted that he had dealt with a similar case a year earlier. The previous woman too came into contact with police after being assaulted. In her case, she was “severely beaten” by her boyfriend and then held in custody by the RCMP after they found her drunk.
“The police and the Crown must guard against what I would characterize as ‘institutional indifference.’ They must be sensitive to the big picture, and they must not allow legal papers to get in the way of decency and common sense… by charging and prosecuting cases like (these), the message that police and Crown deliver is ‘Call us at your peril,’” the justice of the peace stated in a December decision circulated to media on Wednesday. (It’s) a disservice to some of the most vulnerable people in our society – namely Inuit women who suffer from domestic violence.”
Although Murdoch-Flowers found the women guilty, he decided not to put the offences on their criminal records because “it’s going to maybe make you think twice about calling the
RCMP again in the future… you should never think twice about calling the RCMP. And you should expect and have every confidence that if you’re in trouble, they’re there to help you.”
The second woman came from a childhood in a violent home, where she was abused. She was placed in numerous foster homes in and outside of Nunavut, which the defence lawyer said is often described as “the new residential school.” She also had to cope with “difficult relationships” and suicide within her family.
“It comes as no surprise that she turned to intoxicating substances to cope,” Murdoch-Flowers wrote in his decision.
The woman has sought counselling and has expressed interest in undergoing more therapy. Despite her limited education, she works with local agencies that serve the neediest people in the community.
Murdoch-Flowers cited the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and
Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in his December ruling.
“During the truth-gathering process, families and survivors talked frankly about their reasons for not reporting violence to the police or not reaching out to the criminal justice system – even in cases where there had been severe acts of violence against them… Jennisha Wilson described how prior negative experiences with police make Indigenous women reluctant to report violence or trafficking: ‘There is a significant reluctance for Indigenous women, specifically Inuit, to engage with police because of prior experiences of being seen as a criminal, being blamed, being seen as not a victim, causing it on themselves,’” reads a passage of the final MMIWG report that Murdoch-Flowers highlighted.
He pointed out that Nunavut Mounties did indeed respond to both women’s calls.
“The RCMP face such calls every day in Nunavut. It is physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually exhausting work,” the justice of the peace stated. “RCMP officers throughout the territory serve and protect our citizens with integrity, honour, dignity and compassion.”
Nevertheless, the RCMP and Inuit in Nunavut have a complex history that has
led to distrust towards police from some Inuit and a process of reconciliation to improve relations is underway, Murdoch-Flowers acknowledged.