Sunday, March 30, 2008

Flying Solo in the Flatlands

I am in Arviat, a hamlet on the western shore of Hudson Bay, population: almost 2000. That makes it Nunavut's third-largest community. It's my first cicuit on my own, which also means it's my first weekend on my own in a community. Being on my own, I have relied (much like Blanche Dubois) on the kindness of strangers, though with better results.

I was here once before, for a circuit at the end of January that was plagued by a blizzard. The Community Hall where we held court got so cold that I sat in my parka, snow pants and hat taking notes during trial. A wind chill warning one day kept many at home for fear they would get frostbite in the -60C weather. This weekend has been warmer: a high of -22C today, -32C with the wind chill. I am still wearing snow pants, but at least I can walk around. That's a good thing, because Arviat has some cool spots. The Kiluk Sewing Centre, an arts and craft centre, is right across the road from my hotel. There, women design sealskin clothing, luggage, and wallhangings. There's also some local sculpture, though what gets most of my attention is the sealskin outerwear. The woman working at the Centre takes me on a little tour and explains that much of the new collection is on tour. The cute leather jacket I admire apparently comes in red and burgundy: pretty cool. I mean, what girl would not want to own a burgundy red leather jacket with silver fox fur at the waist, collar, and wrists?

One of the most magical moments in my Arctic experience happened on this circuit. This weekend just happens to be the 5th annual "Hudsons Bay Dog Sled Quest", during which dog-sled teams race from Churchill, Manitoba to Arviat. The teams started yesterday, Saturday March 29th in Churchill. Tonight, the community got word that the first team would be crossing the finish line. The staff at the Coop hotel told me I could go with them to watch the racers. I was in a meeting with defence counsel but headed straight over when we finished--circuit bag and all. It was 7:30 p.m. and the sun was an enormous red ball just dipping below the horizon over Hudson's Bay. At the edge of town, where the baseball diamond is in the summer, was a bright, fire-engine red banner saying "Finish". A crowd gathered as people came from all over town in cars, on skidoos, and by foot. We stood watching the southern horizon waiting from the first team. I got cold and decided to take a quick walk back to the hotel to drop off my bag (after all, it is -30C outside). I had only gone a few steps when a woman pulled up next to me on a skidoo. It was only a 5-10 minute walk, but I could not resist the temptation to ride a skidoo. I loaded the cicuit bag on the back and hopped on. It was a much better experience than the first time, probably because I was wearing warmer clothes and only went around the corner. When I got inside, I dropped by bag and, after a moment to warm up ran back outside, where I could see that almost half the town was now gathered to see the first team arrive. The By-Law truck sounded its siren to call people to the finish line. I could see the team too, a distant kamotik doing its best to stay on course for the finish line. I entered my own race with a couple of local kids, all of us running to get to the finish line in time to see the team cross. I got there when it was only a hundred or so metres away. People cheered and clapped their sealskin-mittened hands. When the team crossed the finish line, the crowd rushed in to hug the musher, David Oolooyak. I rushed back to my room for a hot cup of tea and a bedtime snack.

If I wasn't already in love with Nunavut, I would be head over heels now.

Links and Info:

You can read all about the Hudsons Bay Dog Sled Quest at their official website:
The Kiluk Sewing Centre in Arviat retails at Queen's Quay and the airport store in Toronto. You can also check them out next weekend at Iqaluit's mining sympsoium.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Blizzard Bunny

Spring has come to the Arctic, and with it snow. I returned from circuit on Friday night to find Iqaluit a storm brewing. Saturday morning, most of the view from my window was obscured by snow. I could hear the wind howling a little and the ravens looked like they had trouble taking off.

Fortunately, I spend most of the day right after a circuit lying around my apartment eating food. In good weather, I feel vaguely guilty about this. This weekend, however, I felt like it was not just an indulgence but also a necessity. It`s true that the large snow drifts did not close Northmart or Arctic Ventures, the grocery stores. Cabs still made it out, not as regularly as they might but regularly enough to get me to some serious eating festivals. At one of them, all the guests got little Lindt chocolate bunnies. This is a great thing for two reasons: 1) eating and chocolate are a very important part of Easter in my family and 2) a foil wrapped chocolate bunny makes an excellent Arctic window sill ornament--as you can see.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Prosecutor of the North

I have refrained from writing about work for a lot of reasons. My blog is not a forum for venting work frustrations. Most of what I do is very private and personal. The stories of victims and accused are not mine to tell. In fact, it's part of my job NOT to tell them.

So, before I start getting into the meat of this post, let me just say: nothing herein is attributable to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, the Attorney General of Canada, the Department of Justice and reflect only the views of one individual. Etc. etc.

One thing about being a prosecutor in a small, Arctic town is that what you do surrounds you, not just intellectually but also physically and sometimes emotionally. You cannot separate yourself from what you do. There is no suburban enclave far from those you prosecute into which to retreat. At times, this has a humorous quality--like the time I saw one of the couples I dealt with in a bail hearing at the Northmart checkout. The accused waived to me cheerfully from behind his cart of groceries. I cheerfully waived back. Why not? They looked happy.

Then, there's name recognition. You see a name in the paper and you think, "Hey, I know that person...why do I know that person?...Oh, yeah....Ha." I can tell you, this was not such a common occurrence back when I worked in Toronto. For one thing, I am not sure I ever saw any of the accused I dealt of whose appeals I had carriage. They usually had a very nice lawyer I got to talk to. A very nice lawyer who I might not even recognize because we were always robed and everyone looks different without the robes--especially judges. A fact I discovered when I was out for a run one March afternoon in Toronto in the courtyard behind Osgoode Hall, home of the Court of Appeal, and sped past a group of men walking jumped a chain link barrier and then thought, "those guys look really familiar...oh...uh-oh..."

Here, judges, counsel and court staff are a wee bit less formal. We often stay in the same hotel on circuit, which means we see each other not just in regular clothes, but also sometimes in pajamas--and always in sock-feet. You feel pretty different having a resolution meeting sitting on a carpeted floor in your fleece, jeans, and socks than suited in a boardroom. The challenge, of course, is to guard against this informality creeping into your courtroom demeanour or your approach to the law. But I never put much stock in wearing shoes in the office, as many of you know.

At the end of the day, I think I enjoy the humanity that comes with this kind of work. You are so close to the frailties of the human condition that are so interesting to me. It's fascinating, so fascinating that at times you need to remind yourself to break away from it and do something else. Otherwise, I think you risk losing your own humanity or becoming jaded, neither of which is really a palatable option.