The unique cultural context and circumstances of Nunavut amount to a third category of exceptional circumstances with respect to the application of R v Jordan and its presumptive ceilings for trial delay.
This case involved two allegations of indictable historic sexual assault alleged to have happened in Sanikiluaq between May 2, 1977 and May 2, 1978. The accused, Lukasie Anugaa, was charged on July 8, 2013. Mr. Anugaa elected to be tried by a judge and jury. However, it turned into a case about pre-trial delay, in which five different jury trial dates were scheduled. Mr. Anugaa’s fifth and latest trial was scheduled to start on January 15, 2018. Over 54 months passed between the day Mr. Anugaa was charged and the anticipated end of his trial. Mr. Anugaa made a pre-trial application to the Court based on section 11(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Supreme Court of Canada decision’s in R v Jordan, arguing that his right to a trial within a reasonable time had been violated. Mr. Anugaa sought a stay of proceedings on this basis, which would have brought the case to an end. The Crown opposed the stay.
The Nunavut Court of Justice decided that the delay in the circumstances of this case had been reasonable. In 2016, the Supreme Court revisited its previous interpretation of section 11(b) of the Charter in Jordan. The Supreme Court set out presumptive ceilings in terms of the amount of time that would generally amount to an unreasonable delay between the issuance of charges and a criminal trial. The Supreme Court also discussed exceptional circumstances to the strict application of these presumptive ceilings. Two examples of exceptional circumstances listed in Jordan are “discrete events” and cases that are “particularly complex”. The delay caused by “discrete events” can be deducted from the remaining net delay. Where the case is particularly complex, no deductions are needed and the Court will instead consider if the complexity justifies the time spent on the case.
Central to the Nunavut Court of Justice’s analysis was the statement in Jordan that the list of exceptional circumstances is not closed. There are exceptional circumstances that surround access to justice in Nunavut as it sprawls over Canada’s vast northern landmass. Just to name a few, 38,000 people live in 25 remote communities scattered over Nunavut’s 2,093,190 square kilometres. There is only one courthouse, the Nunavut Court of Justice, located in Iqaluit. Outside Iqaluit, the Court travels regularly to each one of the other 24 far flung communities and the distances between them are immense. The circuit sits in school gyms, community halls and even council chambers. Many of the community halls lack functioning washrooms and heating systems fail leaving court participants to conduct court in their winter parkas and mittens. The harsh arctic climate is unforgiving, therefore flights are delayed or cancelled as blizzards are a regular occurrence. The cancellation of a court circuit has an impact out of proportion to a similar cancellation in the south as it means the possibility of no court in the community for an entire year, unless a jury trial has been scheduled. Jordan does not account for the impact of Nunavut’s tremendous infrastructure deficit, as the taxpayer money available to the Government of Nunavut is woefully inadequate. This level of service will continue despite the new Jordan rules.
In the Court’s view, Jordan is also problematic as it does not consider the unique cultural context in Nunavut. There is central importance of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit. Nunavut’s communities are small and very closely knit. The Court stands down for burials and funerals and sentencing hearings are delayed in order to permit offenders to participate in seasonal hunts. The Court avoids scheduling jury trials during the extremely short arctic summers because it is a time when many Nunavummiut return to the land. This seasonal reality cannot be overstated and will continue in the future. Jordan only enumerates two subcategories which permit delay: exceptional discrete circumstances and exceptional case complexity.
In Mr. Anugaa’s case, the Court felt that the above was not enough to be described as “discrete events” as contemplated by Jordan. Rather, the way these events were dealt with reflected the very ethos of the approach of the delivery of justice in Nunavut. To apply Jordan justly in Nunavut, the Court held that there must be a third subcategory of exceptional circumstances which reflects the territory’s unique cultural context. The Court took the position that Jordan did not account for the need to respect and incorporate Inuit culture and experiences into the delivery of justice to Nunavummiut. The delivery of justice in Nunavut poses unique and unavoidable challenges in circumstances found nowhere else in Canada. Therefore, Mr. Anugaa’s application for a stay was rejected and the case was ordered to proceed to trial.
The parties were also at odds over where another trial should be held if the stay was not granted. The Crown brought an application to move the jury trial to a different community. It was argued that every eligible adult in Sanikiluaq had already likely been summonsed at least once to serve on the jury and fair trial interests required a change in venue, due to Mr. Anugaa being notorious in the community. The Court accepted that it was necessary to hold the trial in a different community in the unique circumstances of the case, as Mr. Anugaa is entitled to a jury of his peers but not entitled to a jury of his neighbours.