Friday, May 26, 2000
If our justice system has a soft underbelly, it is the field of family law.
This is where we are caught most vulnerable, most afraid, most desperate. This is when lifeıs unpredictable twists throw people up against the system. These are the circumstances when we need help, and turn to an overloaded legal services.
Practising law can be very lucrative, in some cases, almost outrageously so. Yet family law doesnıt generate a lot of income for lawyers relative to other aspects of their profession.
For lawyers, family law can be time-consuming and soul-draining, all for less money than they would get spending an afternoon closing a real-estate deal.
In Yellowknife, there are only two lawyers employed by legal services. When there is more work than they can handle, legal services draws on a pool of lawyers made available by law firms.
Currently in the North, legal services has a backlog of 123 family law cases.
There is a shortage of lawyers available to do the work at any price. Even those for whom money is no object have trouble getting their cases dealt with.
Imagine the public reaction if there was the same kind of backlog for surgery patients.
People who have turned to the law for help in family support cases or child custody suits find themselves trapped in the very system that was built to help them.
We need a revision of the process to resolve these cases. If there are not enough lawyers, then weıll have to do it without them.
As it stands now, our legal system is failing the public it was meant to serve. We canıt legislate students into law school, so we are left with designing a legal system that can be navigated without years of legal training.
Facilitated mediation boards, empowered to make financial judgments, could handle the less complex cases. This is already happening in some instances.
A pilot project to inform people about the legal process they are involved in would at least relieve some of the intimidation. The halls of justice can be a frightening place for the uninitiated.
Any way you cut it, however, it takes money. The GNWT is going to have to think its way through streamlining the system so that matters of family law are addressed promptly. As it stands now, too many children are left in the lurch, too many families arenıt getting the support they need.
If youıre broke, youıve got a few kids, your spouse left you without any cash, you canıt even make the rent, and your case is 123th on the list, you donıt need an excuse, you need an answer. Weıve got to find them now.
The recent selection of Dr. Judith Knapp as superintendent of Yellowknife Education District No. 1 makes perfect sense.
With 25 years of experience as an educator, Knapp not only brings with her a wealth of experience in the North but sheıs already got almost a year under her belt as acting superintendent.
Knapp first arrived in the North in 1975 to work as a teacher in Gjoa Haven. After a decade of working various posts in the Northern school system, she returned to B.C. where she rose in the ranks at several school administration jobs there. Itıs obvious her experience speaks for itself.
We look forward to following her progress.
Deh Cho Drum
By today, it should be settled whether the GNWT will be a part of the Deh Cho First Nations' self-government negotiations and in what capacity.
If it seems like this issue has been dragging on for a long time, it's because it has.
During last week's leadership meeting in Fort Liard, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jim Antoine made reference to a DCFN press release from five years ago stating that the GNWT has no role in the Deh Cho Process. Today, the issue has come to a head. The DCFN negotiations team is on the verge of sitting down at the table with the feds to begin hammering out a self-government agreement. However, the federal policy is to have the territorial government at the table as well. That's where things have not changed much over the past five years.
This dispute clearly has Antoine in a compromising situation. As a Deh Cho Dene and former chief of the Liidlii Kue First Nation in Fort Simpson for more than a decade, last Wednesday alone he admitted a few times that he finds the circumstances extremely difficult. As a minister, he has a job to do and must toe the government line. Yet, having been on the other side of the table in the 1970s and '80s -- and once a very vocal advocate of the Deh Cho Process -- he's torn.
During last week's assembly, Jean Marie River Chief Stanley Sanguez made an appeal to Antoine's sense of cultural pride. He pointed out that Antoine was a signatory of the Deh Cho Declaration, the document upon which the Deh Cho Process is based.
Sanguez said, "You are our relative. You have to listen to us."
Antoine, an astute politician himself, brought up the age-old wisdom of the elders, who have apparently embraced the idea of working together. He applied that advice to the situation at hand.
It's sort of a cart-before-the-horse argument. The GNWT claims they have to be at the table in order to negotiate the transfer of the programs and services the DCFN wants jurisdiction over. The DCFN, on the other hand, wants the GNWT to relinquish jurisdiction over those programs and services and then come to the table on the remaining matters.
It will be most interesting to see how they finally resolve this sticky situation.
It's not that easy...
With a huge chunk of ice at the mouth of the Mackenzie River jamming up the water flow, people started to ask, "Why don't they just dynamite the ice out of there?"
To those who are uninformed, like myself, it sounds like a reasonable solution. However, when putting that same question to the Department of Transportation's Les Shaw, it becomes obvious that dynamite isn't such a viable method under the circumstances.
With the volume of ice in question, practically a truckload of dynamite would be required, he said. Then a qualified person would have to be found to do the job. Because the area isn't accessible (a boat couldn't get there with the low water levels) a helicopter would have to sling the explosives -- not a very safe practice. This would all take a considerable amount of time, too. On top of that, the area where the ice was jammed is a spawning ground for fish, so there would be potential Fisheries violations.
Even though it's an inconvenience, it's probably just best to allow the ice to break up naturally.
One can hardly blame the Hamlet of Arviat for wanting to follow the old adage: If it isn't broken, don't fix it.
The hamlet is proud of its impressive track record in ensuring a high percentage of Inuit supplies and local hires are used during projects it has overseen in the past three years.
Mayor David Alagalak and SAO Darren Flynn are worried local contractors will be overlooked in the tendering process for the construction of six housing units (three duplexes) in Arviat.
They don't want to see an outside company come in and employ a minimum number of local people. You've got to admit they have a point.
Understaffing is a huge problem in our new territory and the Nunavut Housing Corp. is no exception.
The fact that there was not enough time to train staff members on the intricacies of the government's new NNI policy before its implementation is yet another example of the poor planning and execution surrounding many of our new programs.
In fact, in many quarters, the understaffed song and dance is getting very old, very fast.
Too many programs are being rushed through without proper staff in place to properly administer them.
When government decides to train as it goes, logic often goes out the window with it.
And, judging by its superlative track record, the decision not to grant Arviat full project authority over the unit construction project is more than a little disconcerting.
It will be interesting to see who the contract is awarded to and how this project compares to those in the past when it comes to how much money stays in the community of Arviat.