'A misunderstanding': Northerners question failing grades on new justice report card

Some northern officials are questioning the validity of a new report evaluating the country's justice systems, citing "significant flaws" in methodology.

Nunavut, Yukon, N.W.T. receive Fs for victim support, costs and resources

Justice Minister Brad Cathers says researchers need to look at all the unique challenges that come with running a justice system in the North. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Some Northern officials are giving a new report evaluating the country's justice systems an A for effort, but say it inaccurately reflects the reality in Yukon, the N.W.T. and Nunavut due to "significant flaws" in methodology.

The report, co-authored by associate professors Benjamin Perrin and Richard Audas of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, is based mostly on data available from Statistics Canada.

Each territory and province is given a letter grade for "five major objectives" of the justice system, according to the authors: public safety, support for victims, costs and resources, fairness and access to justice, and efficiency.

Out of all 13 provinces and territories, Yukon placed 13th. Manitoba placed 12th, followed by the N.W.T. and then Nunavut.

The three territories were the only regions in the country to get Fs — they got two each.

One for the high cost of running the justice systems — everything from the cost per inmate to the number of RCMP officers per capita — and the other for a lack of support for the victims of crimes.

'Misunderstanding... of reality'

Some people say the authors were too quick to fail the North.

Brad Cathers, Yukon's minister of justice, says the authors shouldn't assume investing in the justice system — and spending more money — is necessarily a bad thing.

Cathers says his department deliberately hired at least 10 more RCMP officers "to better improve our crime reduction measures." He sees that as a positive move.

Cathers says the calculations don't paint an accurate picture of justice in the North.
"To cast the spending on policing as a negative when in fact it's something that we've made a choice in response to the needs identified by the RCMP... is, in our opinion, quite frankly, a misunderstanding of Yukon reality."

Cathers also takes issue with the failing grade given to Yukon for its support for victims.

The report calculates that grade based on the number of victims that receive restitution, and by the number of victims who were referred to a support program by a group that would track that, like the RCMP.

Cathers says that calculation simply doesn't paint an accurate picture.

"Those referrals can come in through other departments and through NGOs as well as through self-referral.

"Not to capture those numbers in the report is, from our perspective, a flaw in methodology."

Nunavut is 'fundamentally failing'

An official in Nunavut says an F for victim support is accurate for her territory.

Madeleine Redfern, the chair of the legal services board of Nunavut and the mayor of Iqaluit, says the territory is "fundamentally failing" when it comes to support groups for victims as well as offenders.

Redfern says Nunavut is 'fundamentally failing' when it comes to providing support to victims of crime. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

"The reality is we don't have resident mental-health workers in every community, there are no addictions treatment centres. 

"The support services are absolutely needed and necessary."

Redfern does agree that it's hard to completely understand the North's justice systems through a report that compares the territories to southern provinces.

She argues that there are many additional considerations — such as the high cost of flying judges and lawyers around the territory to do their work. 

"While I do think the grades for most of the different criteria were accurate, it is very difficult, as I said, to have a fair, comparative analysis with the other regions."

The authors of the report — the first of its kind — hope it will become an annual exercise for the territories and provinces across the country.

Yukon's report card: 

  • Overall: C
  • Public safety: C
  • Support of victims: F
  • Costs and resources: F
  • Fairness and access: B+
  • Efficiency: B+

N.W.T.'s report card

  • Overall: C
  • Public Safety: C+
  • Support for victims: F
  • Costs and resources: F
  • Fairness and access: B+
  • Efficiency: A

Nunavut's report card

  • Overall: C+
  • Public safety: C
  • Support for victims: F
  • Costs and resources: F
  • Fairness and access: A+
  • Efficiency: A