R v Aklok, 2020 NUCJ 37

The Court accepted a joint submission on sentence of 45 days of imprisonment followed by nine months of probation for two counts of assault by an Inuk man against his Inuk intimate partner. While the Court found the test for departure from a joint submission had not been met, it expressed concerns with counsel’s failure to justify this lenient sentence, particularly given the prevalence of intimate partner violence in Nunavut.

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Mr. Aklok is a 39-year-old Inuk from Kugluktuk. Mr. Aklok is a repeat offender with a criminal record that contains 13 entries between 2000 and 2012. Mr. Aklok was sentenced for assaulting his intimate partner according to the terms of a joint submission in which the Court found troubling. The joint recommendation was imposed because of the constraints from rejecting it (R v Anthony-Cook, 2016 SCC 43 [“Anthony-Cook”]).

Cases of alcohol-fueled intimate partner violence against Inuit women and girls consistently dominate the Court dockets across the Territory. Far too often, the same intimate partners in crisis are involved in cases before the Court, as in this matter.

There are Gladue factors that need to be taken into account in the sentencing, and in this context, the effects of historic and systemic colonialism and inter-generational trauma experienced by Inuit. Mr. Aklok experienced significant violence all through his childhood. His memories include as a young child watching his father beat up and choke his mother, leaving her bruised, swollen, and helpless on the floor. Mr. Aklok also experienced physical abuse from his father. He was often bullied and ostracised at school and has struggled to find housing and a full-time job and has spent time in homeless shelters.

The joint submission imposed by the Court was unduly lenient, and counsel failed to justify their leniency as the joint submission did nothing to help dispel the perception that the justice system devalues the lives of Inuit victims of crime. However, in Anthony-Cook, the Supreme Court of Canada established a “stringent” public interest test to guide front-line judges when they consider a “contentious” joint submission. Although troubled, the Court was bound to follow appellate direction, and impose the joint submission.

Inuit women, and all Nunavummiut, deserve a justice system that meaningfully addresses gendered violence. Earlier this year, gender-based intimate partner violence was addressed in a report released by Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada: “Gendered violence against Inuit women is a problem of massive proportions. Women in Nunavut are the victims of violent crime at a rate more than 13 times higher than the rate for women in Canada as a whole. The risk of women being sexually assaulted in Nunavut is 12 times greater than the provincial/territorial average. In 2016, Nunavut had the highest rate of female victims of police-reported family violence in Canada” (Addressing Gendered Violence against Inuit Women: A review of police policies and practices in Inuit Nunangat, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada and Dr. Elizabeth Comack, January 31, 2020). There is a need and a role for Parliament to reopen debate on this vitally important aspect of the criminal justice system.

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