NOTES/QUOTES #13: Courts and COVID-19; housing plan perplexes; and cute cat snaps
‘Twas the time before the virus, when all through the courthouse
Not a creature was stirring, not even a crook;
The notices were hung by the doorways with care,
In hopes that COVID-19 soon wouldn’t be there.
With apologies to 19th century poet Clement Clarke Moore, his Yuletide poem helped me express my thoughts as I wandered through the Yellowknife courthouse this week.
It was pretty quiet most days. The prisoners were nestled all snug in their cells in places such as the North Slave Correctional Centre. If visions of seeing a judge in person had been dancing in their heads, that was all but dashed over the weekend when the chief judges issued notices for the territorial and supreme courts.
Courts across the NWT will be quiet for the next couple of months, as all proceedings outside Yellowknife are cancelled until June 1, unless a video link for someone in custody can be used. And those video links are quite quirky, especially when combined with a lawyer calling in on a noisy cell phone from a different place.
In fact, video links will be utilized as much as possible for the next while and here are a just a few other aspects of the COVID courts clampdown (with some commentary by me) that caught my eye:
Territorial Courts, directed by Chief Judge Robert Gorin
- Wellness Court and The Domestic Violence Treatment Options Court (DVTO Court) proceedings are cancelled until following May 31. I certainly hope people making great progress in the Wellness Court won’t be hindered by the lack of being in front of a judge. The other alternative court process, DVTO, allows people who have used violence against a spouse to take responsibility for their behaviour and receive support and counselling. It’s designed to provide opportunities for therapy and counselling that can reduce the risk of re-offending. I hope that with all of the increased home time the COVID crisis will impose on all of us, that incidents of domestic violence won’t increase.
- All matters that are presently scheduled for trial, preliminary inquiry, sentencing or otherwise for hearing in Yellowknife are to proceed as scheduled until further notice. That’s good news for journalists such as myself, who need something to write about other than the damned virus.
- All individuals who are at liberty and who have matters scheduled before June 1 and who have matters other than trials, preliminary inquiries, sentencings or hearings are to be re-summonsed to the first available scheduled docket day following May 31. This might place an increased onus on folks not to increase their legal burdens by doing something illegal before they have dealt with the charge they are facing. Some people need to have contact with a judge — for many, it scares the bejeezus out of them — to stay on the straight and narrow.
- All accused who are released following bail hearings — which are proceeding by video or audio — will for the most part be required to attend court on a date after June 1. Again, this will really put the pressure on some of those accused to be extra vigilant not to re-offend. Will this be placing the community at increased risk? I hope not.
Supreme Court, directed by Chief Justice Charbonneau
- All criminal court sittings outside of Yellowknife, (jury trials, non-jury trials, and sentencings) are cancelled until May 1. Yellowknife Jury trials are cancelled until May 1. Judge alone trials scheduled in Yellowknife between now and May 1 will remain in place for now. We’ve already had a challenge this year for alleged unreasonable delay in proceedings (the Darcy Oake furanyl-fentanyl case) and these cancellations could see some cases stretched to those fair justice limits.
Those moves by the courts look reasonable and well-founded. I just hope that it doesn’t leave too many accused waiting for a resolution to their criminal matters with too much time on their hands.
The dumbest thing to do would be to free certain classifications of prisoners — such as those in for non-violent crimes — as is being done in a couple of American cities. The reasoning is to protect the cons from any possible COVID-19 in the jails. I just don’t get it. A jail or prison by definition is having someone in quarantine. It would be quite easy to keep any infected individuals away from the non-sick herd.
It is just an example of how some politics — in this case, left-wing — are creeping into the virus. Sorta like a idealogical disease taking advantage of a pandemic.
The GNWT this week suspended inmate visitations. If corrections staff and support workers are coronavirus clean when they come to work, then there should be no infection of the inmates, correct?
As for the new arrivals, they are being quarantined. Which is fine, as long as there are enough individual quarantine areas to handle the intake.
I’m not too happy with a limit of two reporters in a courtroom at one time, but I guess I’ll just have to be there first.
A HOUSING … HUH?
I was reading through an excellent Cabin Radio deep-dive story on housing wait lists across the NWT and clicked on a link of Whati’s housing plan. That community of 500 is the first to have a plan completed, so I wanted to see what one of these looked like. Yup, I read dry government reports for fun.
This was actually a readable document, with some pretty images and graphics. The info was bite-sized and understandable. Even for me.
Before I continue, housing across the territory is in pretty bad shape. As Ollie Williams’ story stated, almost a thousand residents are waiting for public housing to become available in their community. As unemployment is generally pretty high in places outside of the major centres, many people are on public assistance and rely on government housing.
From the Whati Housing Plan:
- When discussing home design, the idea of log homes and the traditional way of life was talked about as a desired form of housing. When talking about this type of unit, stories were told about the community coming together to build a house, supporting one another, using local skills, and mentoring young people.
- A key learning from the discussions is that appropriate home design in Whati must consider both elements of traditional life and modern life.
- When designing a home for the community, input from elders and youth is crucial. There is a need for greater understanding on how Whati residents use their homes and what design changes are required to suit lifestyle as well as climate considerations.
- Characteristics of a Tlicho house (according to elders) is a place that is safe for elders and young people. A place where people share: food stories knowledge skills. A place where people can observe other people working so they can learn.
- A house should have at least two doors, one for the meat to come through and another for menstruating women to use. This latter door should be the backdoor, be near the bathroom and away from the meat.
Huh? That last bullet point kinda caught me by surprise. I can’t offer comment, nor should I. But if anyone can educate me as to the reasoning, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll post anything helpful in an update her later on.
The NWT Housing Corporation will use the community plans to outline what each community’s housing needs are, where gaps exist, and how funding could be directed to most quickly address the problems.
I will read these documents when they become available. They will help me understand this place better, as it’s unlikely I will ever get the chance to see more than a handful of the communities. My plan is to visit as many as I can, but it’s expensive as you just can’t drive to most of them.
And perhaps I’ll discover some more interesting — albeit perplexing — nuggets of info, as I found in the Whati plan.
NO COVID CAT-ASTROPHE
In these uncertain times, I take heart knowing my cats’ only concerns are being loved, fed and warm. So simple. So to offer some cheer to readers, here are a couple of cute pics of Adele and Chardonnay. Just because.