The Quebec justice system has failed Povungnituk, say residents of this Inuit community 500 kilometres north of Whapmagoostui on Hudson Bay. Justice authorities have not dealt property with a sudden crime wave that has hit Povungnitik, including an ongoing case involving 116 children who say they were sexually assaulted, residents complain.

“The last straw was the case of six sexual assault charges committed against children that were rejected by the Crown because the children were afraid to testify in front of seven adults they didn’t know,” said a statement from Johnny Oovaut, one of two Inuit Surete du Quebec constables serving the community of 1,300. Oovaut’s statement was printed in full in La Presse on January 10. Only one of the perpetrators in the sexual assaults got any jail-time – 12 months, Oovaut said.

“This individual merits a much more severe sentence for his crimes. He did things to the children that animals would not do to their offspring. During the trial, he didn’t show any remorse and was even supported by his wife,” he said.

A flying judge visits Povungnituk for only a few hours every three months, dispensing justice in a hurried and insensitive fashion, residents say. Criminals receive little rehabilitation and after their sentences often return to the community unchanged, and sometimes even more bitter.

“Quebec is trying to administer justice by remote control from a great distance, by people who have no understanding of our language and culture,” said Zebedee Nungak, who headed a task force dealing with the police and courts in northern Quebec.

Three hundred residents met last week to discuss the problems. They decided to send four young Inuits, who were suspected of vandalizing homes of white teachers away during the holidays, out hunting and fishing with elders to help them develop pride in themselves and their heritage.