Sylvia Grinnell Park outside of Iqaluit, NU.
THE NEED FOR NEW ways to address over-incarceration in Nunavut is the focus of a newly published policy paper, Tupiq Nappaqtauliqtuq: Meeting Over-Incarceration and Trauma with Re-Centering Inuit Piusiit. Jessica Black, a recent graduate from the Jane Glassco Fellowship program, reports a growing outcry from northern communities regarding high crime and incarceration rates.
In Nunavut, these rates are approximately seven times greater per capita than Canada’s national rates. The territory ranks second on the national crime severity index and has the highest proportion of violent crimes in Canada.
These numbers reflect the inability of the justice system to effectively address issues experienced by communities. Central to this experience are the impacts of colonialism and the displacement of Inuit law and policy in fundamental societal structures, such as the Nunavut justice system.
The over-incarceration experienced as a result of this is indicative of an implicit value system that favours western thinking over Inuit tradition.
This pattern also has economic consequences. “Crime is costly,” Black writes. “It is costly in the sense that it requires millions of dollars of resources and it is also costly in its inability to address trauma and victimization.”
Four out of every 10 dollars spent on Nunavut’s justice system goes towards incarceration. Black is critical of this because it “perpetuates harm in many areas of society, including those outside of criminal justice, particularly for Inuit.”
Her research finds that many communities often “feel unheard or left with empty promises,” within the territory’s justice system. To examine possible solutions, Black attempts to present the work and perspectives articulated by Inuit.
In Nunavut’s creation, a task force was formed to incorporate Inuit legal traditions and perspectives into the new criminal justice system as a method of reducing crime. There was a sense that Inuit could change the system from one of injustice to one that is culturally reflective of Inuit Nunangat values.
For Black, much of the crime in Nunavut is a symptom of larger systemic issues arising out of colonialism. To truly address over-incarceration, she believes that policy has an important role to play. However, for those ideas to be effective, they must address the displacement of Inuit law and policy. In this, there are two options to move away from the status quo: deliver new rehabilitative programming through correctional facilities, and refocus on criminal justice in the territory to better reflect Inuit culture and values.
Specifically, she believes that over-incarceration in Nunavut could be addressed in part by strengthening Inuit Piusiit – an approach that implements Inuit value systems and conceptions of justice by prioritizing rehabilitation and community-based healing over retribution, deterrence and incarceration.
Black is a Nunavummiut from Iqaluit who has worked professionally within justice administration and formally served on the Nunavut Law Society Executive as a public representative. She recently completed a Juris Doctor of Law at the University of Victoria.
Follow Alternatives Journal’s Northern Perspectives series at ajmag.ca/gordonnorthseries.
The Gordon Foundation is a charitable organization dedicated to protecting Canada’s water and empowering Canada’s North. The Jane Glassco Northern Fellowship is a crucial part of our mission to promote innovate public polices for the North and amplify Northern voices.
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