Iqaluit resident Pitseolak Peter, found guilty of manslaughter in July 2014, is set to be released in January 2023.
After eight years in federal prison, Peter will have served two-thirds of his sentence, making him eligible for statutory release.
According to the Government of Canada’s website: “The law requires that federal offenders who have served two-thirds of a fixed-length sentence be released from prison under supervision.”
Some Nunavummiut are already worried.
Rachel Seepola Michael, the daughter of Kathy Michael, one of Peter’s victims, said, “the impact his mindless actions has had on my life, my family and my community is irreparable.”
In February 2013, Kathy Michael was found unconscious and naked in a bathtub in the home she shared with Peter. She died 14 days later from her injuries, at the age of 52.
According to the court report, it wasn’t the first time Peter’s actions led to violence, even after convictions and prison sentences.
“For 12 years he has a record that is spattered with spousal assaults, at least four recorded convictions for assaults of his previous spouse between 1990 and 1995, and then at least two before this event with this most current spouse,” the court document reads.
Judge Neil Sharkey went on, explaining the lengthy sentence.
“Offenders, such as this (one), go out, don’t follow the restrictions and, in spite of them… flaunt the restrictions and their respect for the law and… break those restrictions… This man was restricted from using alcohol and he is a time bomb when he has alcohol.”
Nicole Etitiq is a concerned member of the community, worried about Peter’s accessibility to alcohol in Iqaluit.
“We now have the beer and wine store. What safeguard do we have that he won’t consume alcohol? Having it as a part of his conditions is one thing, but there are other ways to access alcohol,” she said.
Esme Bailey, senior media relations adviser for Correctional Service Canada (CSC), said there is a plan in place, which includes close supervision.
“Supervision in the community includes meeting with offenders in a variety of locations, assessing their home/work environments, making referrals to community services and programs, as well as liaising with other community partners, police and collateral contacts,” stated Bailey.
Etitiq, who’s afraid the measures aren’t enough to protect the community, said the programs and services CSC is referring to are lacking.
“We simply don’t have the infrastructure or resources to support people coming out of the criminal justice system. Our territorial jails barely have the capacity to rehabilitate and provide a successful transition back into society,” she said. “There’s a lack of trauma-informed care. We simply aren’t there yet.”
Proximity to victims
She is not the only one who feels the Northern justice system requires improvements. A community advocate worker who asked not to be identified, said, “There should be a better process for people to not be allowed to return to a community if they’ve terrorized and murdered someone. There should be Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (Inuit traditional Knowledge) laws followed and Elders consulted.”
She added, “Correctional Service Canada needs to uphold and consider that jurisdictions across Canada are not one in the same cookie-cutter approaches. Victim impact statements should carry a lot of weight.”
In a community much smaller than most Canadian cities, the advocate worker worries about the constant proximity of victims and their families to the perpetrator.
But Bailey insists the process of choosing an inmate’s conditions upon release in smaller communities is thoughtful.
“Victim impact statements and concerns will be taken into account in this evaluation and in recommending conditions, while taking into account the specificities of small communities,” she said.
When choosing the community or city an offender is to be released in, CSC tries to find the location where they have the best chance of full rehabilitation and re-integration into society.
Some local residents don’t feel like Iqaluit would be the best rehabilitation city for Peter due to the damage he’s done here.
“Many people have made victim impact statements that the community isn’t ready to welcome him. He will feel ostracized,” said Etitiq.
“What about the rehabilitation of the victims?” adds Seepola Michael.
An ex-Baffin Correctional Centre correctional officer, who also asked to remain anonymous, thinks the victim’s impact statement should hold a lot more weight than it currently does.
“It should almost be a deciding factor because we have to take the family’s mental health into account. They’re going to bump into each other. If the victim doesn’t want to see the offender, I think that should be honoured. How can you respect a restraining order in a community that’s almost as small as the order itself? Everything is magnified in Nunavut, including the trauma,” the former correctional officer said.
Just four months before Peter gets out of jail, his victims and their families still don’t know anything about the restrictions he’ll have to follow or where he’ll be released. For now, the CSC has refused to provide any further information.
Félix Charron-Leclerc, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunavut News