Some justice workers in the territory are calling on the government to ensure Yukoners who are released on bail can make it to their home community.
Currently when an accused person is released on bail there is no funding to help them get home.
Defence lawyer Jennifer Cunningham remembers representing a client from Old Crow a few years back.
“At the bail hearing the judge — when it was brought to his attention that (the client) had no transportation home — put him on the court plane and brought him back to Old Crow,” she said.
But while this quick fix worked in that case, Cunningham thinks the territory should find a more permanent solution.
“I think it’s an issue that needs to be addressed urgently by those involved in the justice system,” she said. “I also think that it’s not acceptable if it’s still the model in the Yukon.”
Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation justice coordinator George Filipovic told the News about a case last year involving a young accused person from Dawson who couldn’t find a ride home after being released.
The young woman stayed with relatives until she could make it home.
“All that we care about is funding so that they have transportation (to get) home safely,” he said.
The Department of Health and Social Services — which oversees young people involved in the justice system — told the News that there was funding available for arranging transportation. The Youth Criminal Justice Act also requires that youth be released into the care of a “responsible person.”
But community workers are not necessarily aware of that possibility.
Filipovic himself didn’t know about that policy and remains skeptical.
“Where’s the evidence that policy existed?” he asked.
The department doesn’t know how many times it paid for transportation for youth released on bail, saying it doesn’t track that information.
Filipovic said while some accused will have relatives in Whitehorse, they don’t necessarily want to get involved. That can mean youth end up being kept longer in jail while waiting for their transportation to be arranged.
A health department spokesperson told the News that on at least one occasion a youth had to wait at the young offender facility because flight arrangements hadn’t been made or because “a responsible person” had not arrived in town.
Being detained and sitting in a cell can put youth at risk of further trouble, Cunningham said.
“After that traumatic experience, if you get left in Whitehorse then they’re at risk for all (kinds of) different reasons.”
It’s a bigger problem with adult offenders, Filipovic said.
Legal aid lawyer Amy Steele confirmed that issues of bail transportation were common for her clients.
The Yukon Department of Justice told the News it didn’t offer any assistance to adults who need financial assistance to get home.
“We do not ensure they can return to their home community but nor do we prevent it,” spokesperson Catherine Young said.
Young added that the territorial court users subcommittee was looking into the issue. “The subcommittee has not reached any conclusions or recommendations on that topic to date,” she said.
But while the issue of transportation was raised at the subcommittee, it’s not what it is tasked with, said Andrea Bailey, a legal officer with the territorial court who sits on the subcommittee.
The committee was created in 2014 after a Canadian Civil Liberties Association report found the Yukon had some of the most restrictive bail conditions in the country.
The subcommittee did some research of its own and found different results than the CCLA report, but is working on a best practice document for bail.
The issue of bail transportation is an issue of money and human resources, Bailey said.
“The people who need to be at the table are the ones who can commit dollars and people,” she said. Only lawyers, crown prosecutors, court and justice workers and the RCMP sit on the subcommittee.
It’s not clear how often this problem arises.
Accused detained in a community can appear in the Whitehorse bail court via telephone, said John Phelps, the Yukon’s chief federal prosecutor.
But in cases where the offence is particularly serious or the accused has a history of not complying with court orders, the bail hearing might be postponed to gather more information.
“The challenge you face there is that there is a lack of resources around the territory to facilitate holding individuals,” he said.
Individual RCMP detachments don’t have enough guards on call to be able to supervise detainees 24/7, so the accused are often brought to Whitehorse.
“Whose responsibility should it be to deal with that individual once they’re in Whitehorse?” Phelps said. “If you put on the hat of the victim or society, these individuals have allegedly committed a criminal offence, it’s very serious or they have a history of non-compliance.”
In the two other territories, both governments cover the cost of transportation for accused after bail hearings, a criminal defence lawyer told the News.
Peter Harte, who practices law in Yellowknife, said he was shocked when he learned about the practices in the Yukon.
No funding for transportation would likely mean that some accused would end up living on the street in Yellowknife, he said.
“People would likely know Yellowknife a little bit but they would end up sleeping at the Salvation Army or living on the street,” he said. “The other difficulty would be how on Earth they would get the funds together to get back to the community they were arrested in?”
Contact Pierre Chauvin at firstname.lastname@example.org