According to Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, a recent court ruling in Nunavut finally acknowledges the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situations that many Inuit women and children find themselves in when it comes to domestic violence in overcrowded housing.
On February 5, Justice of the Peace Joseph Murdoch-Flowers released a statement regarding the “troubling” incident in which an Inuk woman called the RCMP because she was experiencing violence in her home – despite having broken a bail condition to not consume alcohol. As a result, she was charged with breaching her bail conditions.
The Nunavut woman, who was not identified, pleaded guilty to the charge. However, on December 19, 2019, Murdoch-Flowers granted her an absolute discharge despite the guilty plea.
Citing a similar case from a year earlier, Murdoch-Flowers pointed out that the women, both victims of violence, were charged when police arrived.
“I’m concerned that if I find you guilty of [breaching conditions], it’s going to maybe make you think twice about calling the RCMP again in the future.… You should never think twice about calling the RCMP. And you should expect and have every confidence that if you’re in trouble, they’re there to help you,” stated Murdoch-Flowers.
According to Rebecca Kudloo, President of Pauktuutit, this case is all too common. There is an epidemic of women and children trapped in homes with their abusers because they have nowhere to go. It’s not just the high cost of travel in these fly-in communities, it’s the lack of shelters and inadequate housing that makes it difficult for a woman and her children to even move into a relative’s home because of overcrowding.
“Several in the justice system, such as Justice Murdoch-Flowers, are increasingly aware of the ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation Inuit women and their children find themselves in when asking for help to get out of a violent situation,” said Kudloo.
Earlier this year, Pauktuutit, partnering with Dr. Elizabeth Comack of the University of Manitoba’s Department of Sociology and Criminology, released a study examining the need to reverse colonial policing strategies in Inuit communities. Funded by Public Safety Canada, the study analyzed police response to gendered violence in Inuit Nunangat and revealed systemic racialized policing “embedded across institutional policies and practices.”
The report offered recommendations to change policing outcomes for Inuit women. They included competent cultural training, enlisting more female officers, Inuit advisory committees, trauma-informed policing, increasing the durations of RCMP postings, gender-based violence training and others that would lead to more community involvement and language resources.
Kudloo said the RCMP was not surprised by the report but when it comes to implementing the recommendations, it is up to each individual organization to find the means to do so. While Pauktuutit has invited the RCMP commissioner to its annual general meeting, there are, at the same time, talks with the federal government about co-developing a National Action Plan that address the priorities laid out by Pauktuutit.
“The challenges are overwhelming at times and there are many, given that Inuit Nunangat has the highest violence rate in the country. The biggest success yet is that the Inuit approach and system is gaining traction. Our voices are getting stronger in naming the Inuit way of doing things as a solution to moving away from the historical system in place,” said Kudloo.