An Inuk woman severely beaten by her boyfriend was arrested and jailed for drinking in violation of her bail conditions, after her sister phoned the RCMP to report the assault.
The case is one of two involving Inuk victims of violence arrested after calling the RCMP, mentioned in a scathing ruling this month by a justice of the peace in Nunavut. The second woman, who reported an assault by her stepfather, was arrested and charged, but released on bail.
Justice of the Peace Joseph Murdoch-Flowers called for an immediate end to such arrests and charges, saying they deter women from reporting violence and add distrust between the Inuit and the Mounties.
“You’re sitting here with your face black and blue, beaten,” he told one of the women, so that the severity of the beating would be made clear on the court record. The woman, identified as K, was held in custody over the violation of her no-drinking bail condition. The ruling does not say for how long. “I want whoever hears this in the future to be able to see in their minds what I see from this seat.”
K’s case stems from December, 2018, while the second woman, identified as A, was arrested a year later. The written ruling was delivered on Feb. 5.
The justice of the peace found both women guilty of breaching the bail condition, but gave them both an absolute discharge, which means no conviction is registered against them, and they face no consequences.
“By charging and prosecuting cases like A’s and K’s, the message that police and Crown deliver is ‘call us at your peril,’" Mr. Murdoch-Flowers wrote in his ruling. “Such a no-tolerance approach serves only to dissuade victims, particularly A and K in these cases, from ever calling the RCMP for help.
“Such decision-making by the police and Crown is a failure to properly exercise the discretion which the law grants them to charge or not to charge. More importantly, it is a disservice to some of the most vulnerable people in our society – namely Inuit women who suffer from domestic violence.”
He added: “The police and Crown must cease this practice.”
Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak, media relations for the RCMP in Nunavut, and the Nunavut Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Murdoch-Flowers said the police and Crown’s arrest and charging practices run counter to concerns expressed in the report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
A, he said, is described by her lawyer as a chronic alcoholic. As a child, she was abused and sent to “too many foster care placements to count.” There has been suicide in her family. “It comes as no surprise that she turned to intoxicating substances to cope.” When she can, she works for agencies serving needy people.
When she was in front of him, he told her: “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.”
He added: “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. In both cases, the big picture is simple – a woman is calling for help against domestic violence. Why charge her for violating her bail conditions by drinking?”
Christa Big Canoe, who was lead counsel for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, said the inquiry heard of another similar case. “What we should be talking about is always putting the women’s safety first,” she said in an interview.
Isabel Grant, who teaches at the University of British Columbia’s Allard School of Law, specializing in criminal law and violence against women, said she found the cases appalling.
“It’s hard not to feel outrage,” she said, adding that the B.C. Court of Appeal has said it is wrong to give no-drinking orders to alcoholics in the context of probation orders, and the same logic should apply to bail.