Lowdown on the law
Inuit trying to understand justice system

by Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

RANKIN INLET (Mar 19/97) - Criminal law, arrests, court proceedings and jailing have many Inuit scratching their heads in the Kivalliq.

So, elders and justice committee officers from across the Keewatin met in Rankin Inlet last week to debate, ask questions and to try and make sense of just what "justice" is.

"It's very stressful for individuals who have lost their loved ones to the jail system," said Manitok Thompson (left), Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs.

She was on hand for the first day of the meeting.

"It's hard not knowing how the system works," she said.

Participants from each of the communities represented at the meeting shared Thompson's sentiments.

Some members, who speak only Inuktitut, shared deep, personal experiences of having sons who were caught up in the legal system.

They said they felt helpless as they sat back and imagined why police were hauling their sons away and where they were going.

"If there were more information, Inuit would have a better understanding," said Joe Issaluk, a spokesperson for Chesterfield Inlet's hamlet council.

Besides not having enough information about justice, some participants also complained about the lack of proper counselling in their communities.

They said there should be more Inuit counsellors who can speak and understand the language, making it easier for people to come forward and speak comfortably about their problems.

A young woman at the meeting said she wished there was someone there for her when she had problems as a young girl.

Letting the tears go, she openly described her personal battle with sexual abuse 15 years ago when a grown man forced himself on her, fondling her body.

"To this day I'm still angry at this man," she said, wiping away her tears. "He doesn't know how much he ruined my life."

Rankin Inlet justice committee member, Mariano Aupilardjuk said counselling services and other forms of help have to be made available to both the victim and the accused.

He also said it's necessary, as a justice committee, to find out what is causing the sexual abuse, to prevent it from happening.

"I feel that if a man is left at home when the woman is out gambling for many nights, he starts to turn to other means," he said.

"This might be one of the causes of sexual abuse."

By the end of the three-day workshop, justice committee chair, Cathy Towtongie said she will review all of the information gathered and make recommendations for justice committees to pursue in the future.