Blue Line

Nunavik police don’t ‘systematically’ detain people for intoxication: deputy chief

March 7, 2023  By Jeff Pelletier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Mar. 7, 2023, Nunavik, Que. – Nunavik Police Service tries to avoid detaining people who are publicly intoxicated, says its deputy chief of operations.

Jean-Francois Morin’s comments, made March 3, came in light of a Quebec prosecutor’s decision to not charge officers in connection with a woman’s death in a Puvirnituq jail cell on Sept. 30.

Last week, Quebec’s Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions office ruled officers would not be charged with criminal negligence in connection to the incident.

That evening, a 39-year-old woman was pronounced dead hours after being arrested for what Quebec’s Bureau of Independent Investigations described at the time as a “violation of a municipal bylaw.”

According to a news release from the Quebec prosecutions office, the woman died of “asphyxiation caused by gastric contents.”

The news release also ruled out use of force as a factor in the woman’s death.

With the prosecutor’s decision available to the public, deputy Chief Jean-Francois Morin shared his reaction to the incident publicly for the first time Monday. Morin – who is based in Puvirnituq – declined to comment while the bureau’s investigation was ongoing.

“It’s very unfortunate, the victim in that file is somebody I knew very, very well,” Morin said in an interview.

He did not identify the woman.

Morin said police had responded to calls involving the woman on four separate occasions that day.

After multiple attempts to bring her to social services and take her back to her home, a sergeant made the decision to arrest the woman under a municipal bylaw and detain her to allow her to sober up.

“We don’t detain, systematically, people for public intoxication, we try everything not to put them in the cells. Actually, it’s really the last resort,” Morin said.

“So people that are drunk outside, we’re going to bring them back home, we’re going to find them a place to go if they’re worried or like if there’s issues at home.”

Morin said when a civilian officer – whose job is to act as security and does not have authority to open jail cells – noticed the woman in the cell was not breathing, officers attempted to revive her and get her to hospital as quickly as they could.

He said it’s hard to know when someone taken into custody under these circumstances has stopped breathing.

Morin pointed out that a young man in Puvirnituq died under similar circumstances in 2017, after police detained him and he was later found in his cell not breathing.

The Quebec’s director of prosecutions also chose not to lay charges in that case.

When asked how to prevent future deaths of intoxicated detainees, Morin said he couldn’t give a “crystal ball” answer.

He said Nunavik police have made changes over the years, such as requiring a sergeant to authorize a detention.

However, he pointed to the wider issue of substance abuse in Nunavik communities and said that even if people are not being detained, some are dying in their own homes from excess alcohol consumption.

“Unfortunately, the reality of Nunavik is that the over-consumption of alcohol is an issue,” Morin said.

“Every time it happens we are very affected by it as a police force, because our role is to protect people. We don’t want people to die in our custody.”

– Nunatsiaq News

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