Nunavut men forced to roam in tents after COVID-19 postponed hearing dates

Nunavut men forced to roam in tents after COVID-19 postponed hearing dates

Three men from Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, say they were forced to become homeless after being released on bail from the Baffin Correctional Center.

“Fortunately, people came to drop a blanket and a dome tent. I don’t know what I would do if people didn’t help,” said Patrick Kudluarok, 28, of Iqaluit airport.

Kudluarok, who has a six-month-old baby at home, has been homeless in Iqaluit for two weeks. He has lived in a dome tent since that time.

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

Kudluarok said he was flown to Iqaluit on February 20 to face an assault charge, but was released the following day. He said he was told to stay in Iqaluit until his next appearance in March. But due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, this 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 due to an infection in his hand.

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

Patrick Kudluarook stands near the tent in which he and Pujungi Meeko sleep after declaring that they were forced into homelessness by the Nunavut Department of Justice. (Thomas Rohner / CBC)

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

Kowcharlie’s hearing date has also been extended to June. He said that he was told that he could go home to Sanikiluaq, but at his own expense, which he cannot afford.

“It’s a little difficult for me to see Patrick [Kudluarok], what he’s going through, “said Kowcharlie, as tears ran down his face.

“I don’t know what I will do until June,” said Kowcharlie, adding that he had done some light cleaning around Iqaluit.

I have a lot of worries, I took 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 Center. He said he was told to stay in Iqaluit until his next court appointment.

Meeko has seven children in Sanikiluaq, which his mother takes care of.

“I have a lot of concern, I was taking care of them and I am not here. I do not know when it will end,” he said. Meeko stays with Kudluarok in the dome tent.

Very problematic practice, according to legal aid

A very problematic and long-standing practice in the Nunavut justice system is the prohibition of people on bail or probation from their home community, said Benson Cowan, Executive Director of the Legal Services Commission. The board is the legal aid agency of Nunavut.

“The responsibility for these ban orders rests entirely with the [Public Prosecution Service of Canada] and with the courts that ultimately ordered them, “said Cowan.

The lack of funding for programs and resources for people on bail or on probation is “shocking,” said Cowan. (Submitted by Benson Cowan)

Crown attorneys are asking for conditions on bail or probation orders, said Cowan. These requests have a great influence on judges who decide the conditions to be applied to a given case.

Accused or offenders who do not have access to stable housing, family supports, work and their traditional practices such as hunting and fishing can lead them to reoffend, said Cowan.

“[It] places them in a situation where they are more likely to be caught by the law and charged with new offenses, “said Cowan.

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

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

The Nuanvut Department of Justice has confirmed that it is the responsibility of the territorial government to return people on bail or probation to their home communities, unless prohibited by court order.

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