Levi Barnabas pleads guilty
Calls come for former Speaker to resign seat

Jorge Barrera
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Aug 21/00) - The former Speaker of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly pleaded guilty to sexual assault last week and avoided any jail time. Now there are calls for him to resign.

Levi Barnabas

Just after the guilty plea, Barnabas stood in court with shoulders sagging, head bent. From a crumpled piece of paper, he read out an apology to the court.

The 36-year-old Barnabas is MLA for the High Arctic communities and was Speaker of the Nunavut legislative assembly until he resigned shortly after the charge was laid March 14.

Following Barnabas' guilty plea, the Crown and defence made a joint submission to the court on sentencing.

They asked Judge Rene Foisy to consider a 12-month, conditional sentence with 240 hours of community service, $1,500 donation to the women's shelter, a six-month ban from Iqaluit's Legion and Tulugaq bars, mandatory alcohol- and stress-management counselling.

Judge Foisy agreed, saying Barnabas' actions seemed to be more of an aberration than the rule.

he incident occurred after a night of drinking when Barnabas tried to have sex with an unwilling woman. The victim's name and details of the event cannot be published due to a publication ban.

Some women's groups are now pushing for Barnabas' resignation as MLA.

Simona Arnatsiaq, co-ordinator of women's programs for Qikiqtani Inuit Association, is asking women to press their MLAs to vote for Barnabas to step down.

"It can't be tolerated," said Arnatsiaq.

"If MLAs vote to keep him, it's a bad example. (Barnabas) can't participate fully when discussions on women's issues arise. It would be an embarrassing situation for him and for the assembly."

"We would like to call for his resignation," she added.

Premier Paul Okalik's office said they had no comment until the assembly convenes.

Outside the courtroom Barnabas, head still lowered, said he was deeply sorry for what he did.

"I apologize to the family of the victim and the victim," he said.

Barnabas said the stress from the Speaker's job caused him to drink and added that there should be programs to help people in government deal with stress.

"Although we try to help people, we're still human beings, we're affected."

Barnabas added he did not intend to step down as MLA.

"I will continue to serve as MLA if I'm allowed to do that."

John Quirke, clerk for the legislative assembly, said no decision on Barnabas' status will be made until the assembly convenes on Oct. 18.

According to a section of the Legislative Assembly's Executive Council Act: "where a member is, after his or her election, convicted of an offence ... the Legislative Assembly shall ... determine whether it is necessary ... to expel the member."

"The members have to decide whether to do something earlier," said Quirke.