Mother left hanging
Woman frustrated at long wait for legal aid

Jorge Barrera
Northern News Services

Yellowknife ( May 17/00) - She hasn't heard Glenna's voice for three months. Her last words screamed, "babe come, babe come," as police lead her out of Stanton Regional Hospital, leaving her 15-year-old daughter behind.

Goretti Inutuinaq sits in a side office at the Yellowknife Women's Centre. St. Francis of Assissi's Serenity Prayer hangs on a tapestry behind her, letters woven into the fabric, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change..."

"I called legal aid," she says, an unlit cigarette in her right hand.

"That was in March, and I still haven't talked to my daughter."

Inutuinaq, who is from Pelly Bay, doesn't know where her daughter is or why she can't talk to her.

"Social Services took her away," she says, looking down at her fingers.

"I think she's in Edmonton...but I don't know."

In March, Inutuinaq signed a form consenting that Glenna undergo six months of counselling.

But she didn't know that her access to Glenna would be severed.

She says she never agreed to give up contact and is hoping legal aid can help her hear Glenna's voice again.

"It's been frustrating, it makes me cry. This is the longest time I have ever gone without talking to her," says Inutuinaq.

She keeps a picture of Glenna pinned to the headboard of her bed. She's wearing a denim jacket and burgundy pants, her dark brown hair is pulled up, kept in place by a headband. She's sitting on a hospital bed, smiling.

Waiting, that's all Inutuinaq can do. There's a family lawyer shortage in Yellowknife that's creating a crisis for the legal field.

Greg Nearing, executive director of NWT Legal Services, is troubled by the crisis.

"People can't put their problems to rest," he says.

The problem isn't a new one. The signs of a coming crisis have been on the horizon for years.

It finally hit. There are 123 backlogged cases. And life doesn't stop for many families because there aren't enough lawyers.

"It affects single mothers, especially those fighting for child support," says Women's Centre advocate, Kathy Hrynczuk.

"A lot of women don't complain about it," she says. "It'll be months before they say they haven't received legal aid."

Hrynczuk says lawyers are part of the problem.

"They meet their legal aid quota and move on to their higher-priced customers," she says. "That has to change."

"(This) isn't the kind of practice that will make you rich," admits Yellowknife family lawyer Elaine Keenan-Bengts.

You do this because you like it."

There are programs in the works to alleviate the stress. The focus of these programs will be to keep cases out of the courts and have one lawyer handle divorce cases.

Whether these programs will work is uncertain. What is certain is the stories will continue.

It was a March morning when Inutuinaq received a phone call to inform her that her daughter was in the hospital.

She rushed in to see her. The nurses said that she couldn't go outside with her daughter to have a cigarette. Her daughter was under social Services jurisdiction.

Inutuinaq got upset. It was her daughter.

The nurses called the police. Inutuinaq was taken into custody.

"I yelled, 'babe come' twice," says Inutuinaq. "And I never talked to her again."

"I tried to get a private lawyer," she says. "But I couldn't afford it. I had to wait for legal aid."

Inutuinaq believes her daughter should be with her right now.

At 15, Glenna is going through a lot of changes and sometimes only a mother knows best.

She says Glenna wishes the form consenting for her counselling wouldn't have been signed.

"My daughter and I are really close," says Inutuinaq. "I know she misses me."

"She's really close to my family in Pelly Bay -- my father, my brothers," she says. "She should be with her family."

Inutuinaq's story took another turn on May 11 when her case was finally picked up by legal aid.

"The wait has been frustrating," say Inutuinaq. "I couldn't sleep. Sleep only came when I drank."