Inuit girls and women in Nunavik preyed upon by some workers from the south, police say

Almost every day, police in Nunavik hand out rape kits to victims who request them. Most alleged assailants are other Inuit, but a former police chief says workers doing stints in the north all too often take advantage of vulnerable people living in isolated communities.

Former Kativik police chief compares stint in Quebec's far north to what he witnessed on U.N. missions

An Inuk woman looks out over the water in Salluit, in Quebec's Inuit territory of Nunavik. (Josée Dupuis/Radio-Canada)

Almost every day, police in Nunavik, the Inuit territory in Quebec's far north, prepares rape kits for victims who request them.

The majority of the alleged aggressors are Inuit, says Michel Martin, the former chief of the Kativik regional police force.

However, Martin says, a number are workers doing stints in the north who take advantage of vulnerable people in isolated communities.

Take the case of Kathy Papigatuk.

Papigatuk told Radio-Canada's investigative program, Enquête, how she went out with her sister one night in 2013, when she was just 15. The siblings agreed to go for a ride with a construction worker who offered them alcohol.

What started as a polite ride turned into a nightmare.

"He turned out to be a monster," Papigatuk recalls."I got raped in the car."

Papigatuk filed a complaint with police a few days later. The worker, Daniel Bilodeau, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of sexual assault of a minor.

Bilodeau said that Papigatuk had told him she was 20 and alleged she initiated the sexual contact and that there had been no penetration.

He was sentenced to 240 days in jail.

According to Kativik regional police, in 2017 alone, there were 220 cases of sexual assault against minors and 226 cases of sexual assault against adult women in Nunavik.

Nunavik has a total population of slightly more than 12,000.

(Hélène Simard/CBC)

'Profiting off young women and men'

Martin, who just ended his mandate as head of the Kativik police force, has participated in United Nations missions in the past.

He compares his experience in Nunavik now to what he witnessed on those international missions.

"We saw this sort of behaviour in international operations. People go to an isolated area for a short period of time," he said.

"There are a lot of opportunities, less competition and they are in the presence of a vulnerable clientele, especially when they are offered alcohol or drugs."

"It's a way of attracting and profiting off young women and men."

Code of ethics

Radio-Canada's Enquête contacted the main construction companies working in Nunavik. All refused to comment.

All noted, however, that they have codes of conduct that employees are expected to follow.

Gely Construction was Bilodeau's employer. When contacted, officials there said they were not aware of the case against Papigatuk's convicted assailant.

They did note, though, that all workers receive firm directives about how to conduct themselves before arriving in Nunavik, and the consumption of alcohol is prohibited.

A group of girls sit outside a house in Salluit, a village of a little more than 1,000 people in Quebec's Inuit territory. (Josée Dupuis/Radio-Canada)


Many of the Inuit women in Nunavik say they are ready for their own #MeToo movement — #Uvangalu, in Inuktitut.

"Sometimes it's stuck in our brain: it's like living in the past again," said Papigatuk.

"So it's better to talk and let it out."

Lizzie Aloupa, a crime prevention officer with the Kativik police force, says the effects of sexual assault are devastating.

Aloupa is one of the women behind the Good Touch, Bad Touch program, which teaches children in school about appropriate behaviour and contact.

"Men come here, feel free and are convinced that nobody will be aware of what they are doing," she said.

"Do we keep silent, as we also have?" she asks.

"Or do we denounce them?"

The village of Salluit, Quebec's second most northerly community, sits on Sugluk Inlet close to the Hudson Strait. (Jo-Ann Demers/Radio-Canada)

With files from Josée Dupuis and Radio-Canada's Enquête