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Nunavut judge rules blizzards and seasonal hunts are reasonable court delays

A Nunavut judge has ruled for a second time that the "exceptional challenges" in conducting court proceedings in Nunavut constitute a viable exception to unreasonable delays, further highlighting the challenges inherent in the territory's judicial system.

Offenders guaranteed speedy trial, but there are 'exceptional challenges' to that in territory

A Nunavut judge has ruled there are circumstances specific to Nunavut that make it reasonable for court to be delayed longer than would be deemed reasonable in the south. (Nick Murray/CBC)

A Nunavut judge has ruled for a second time "exceptional challenges" in conducting court proceedings in Nunavut constitute a viable exception to unreasonable delays, further highlighting challenges inherent in the territory's judicial system.

Justice Paul Bychok released his ruling on Monday in the case of a young offender, who is not named, from Coral Harbour. The accused was arrested in September 2015 and charged with two sexual offences, and his trial was ultimately scheduled for Sept. 28, 2016.

However, a number of factors put a wrench in that plan. Nunavut's circuit court system — where court is conducted in remote communities infrequently and on a rotating basis — combined with an adjournment at the defence's request and a blizzard that cancelled a scheduled court sitting to delay the trial until March 5, 2018. 

Weather issues, seasonal hunts, medical travel

The defence argued the delay violated the accused's right to a trial within a reasonable time frame — an unreasonable delay has been previously established at 18 months, not including those solely caused by the defence.

The only exception to this rule was for "exceptional circumstances" — and, as he did previously in a separate case, R v Anugaa, Bychok ruled the territory's "unique cultural circumstances and exceptional challenges" constitute those circumstances, pointing out weather issues, difficulties with flying into remote communities, and seasonal hunting as factors that can delay court proceedings.

Bychok also pointed out that despite these challenges, "there is no culture of delay in the Nunavut Court of Justice," noting Nunavut received excellent marks for efficiency in a recent report card examining the justice system of the territories and provinces.

Ultimately, Bychok ruled of the 910 days the trial was delayed, 746 days were deductable — including six months for the blizzard, and seven months for the territory's circuit court schedule, leaving the delays well within the acceptable threshold.

"In Nunavut, blizzards not only happen, they are a way of life," wrote Bychok. "Planes go mechanical. Witnesses and accused persons are often absent on medical travel. Seasonal hunts are a part of the traditional way of life for many Nunavummiut."

"The expanded category of exceptional circumstances ... merely reflects that reality."

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