Nfld. & Labrador

She survived a stunning tragedy. This advocate's answer to family violence is to get to its roots

Becky Michelin was just shy of four years old when her parents were killed in a 1993 murder-suicide in Rigolet. A passionate advocate for safer homes for families in Labrador, she says the work need to be done is formidable. "We need to heal generations of people for this to work," she says.

New CBC series will look at staggeringly high rates of gender-based violence in Labrador

Becky Michelin, who lives in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, in Labrador, lost both her parents in a murder-suicide in 1993. Now she's outspoken about finding solutions to domestic violence. (Submitted by Becky Michelin)

This story is part of Stopping Domestic Violence, a CBC News series looking at the crisis of intimate partner violence in Canada and what can be done to end it.   

Becky Michelin was just shy of four years old when both her parents were killed in a 1993 murder-suicide in Rigolet, a small community in coastal Labrador.

She and her three siblings were left behind, and through it all, she has stayed strong, although she says it has not been an easy road.

"It kind of had a snowball effect. And you can certainly see how it goes intergenerationally through families," she said.

"I've had PTSD and depression and I've experienced some really hard days … so it's easy to see how one tragedy can have such a huge impact on a family."

For years, Michelin has been speaking out about the impact of gender-based violence on families in hopes other survivors will know they're not alone.

A new Labrador Morning series is taking a deep look at gender-based violence in Labrador, following the release of data showing staggeringly high rates of sexual assault in the region.

In May, The Canadian Press reported the rate of sexual assault in Labrador is four times the national average.

On top of that, 25 per cent of police-reported sexual assaults in the province occur in Labrador, according to data provided to CBC by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the RCMP.

Labrador accounts for just five per cent of the province's population.

Deidre Marie Michelin holds one of her four children. (Supplied by Michelin family)

The Labrador Morning series — titled "How We Heal: Overcoming Gender-Based Violence in Labrador" — will look at the reasons behind such high rates and how they affect women and families in Labrador.

Michelin understands the impact first-hand.

"I've been fighting all my life, and there are days when you can't really see a future or you don't see a tomorrow," she said. "And then you see somebody that's starting to heal, that there's a light at the end of the tunnel and that life does get better."

No supports at the time

Rigolet is a community of about 300 people on the north coast of Labrador. Getting to and from the community can be difficult, especially during the winter, because there are no roads connecting it to other towns.

At the time of her parents' deaths, Michelin said, there were no police stationed in Rigolet. There was also no women's shelter that could support her mother.

"She had no safe place to go," said Michelin, "and there wasn't anything in regards to mental health help either, which would also be beneficial to men. So there was a lot of things that weren't in place at the time that I think all contributed to the death of my parents."

Becky Michelin's family picture was displayed on a table at a 2016 gathering to mark the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women. (CBC/Katie Breen)

Rigolet is in the Inuit region of Nunatsiavut. According to Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, a non-profit organization that advocates for Inuit women in the country, Inuit women experience violence at a rate 14 times the national average.

Statistics Canada in May published data showing 60 per cent of Indigenous women in Canada have been physically or sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

Michelin said patterns of violence have been passed down for years through intergenerational trauma stemming from colonization and residential schools. In order to move forward, she said, the region will need to take a holistic approach.

"When you look at the big picture, it's good that we have more resources available now such as the policing that we talked about, and shelters," she said.

"But I think we need to look at the root of the problem. For example, we have shelters available for women, but I think there needs to be help as well for men.

"We need to heal generations of people for this to work."
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If you need help and are in immediate danger, call 911. To find assistance in your area, visit sheltersafe.ca or endingviolencecanada.org.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Leslie Amminson is a journalist working with CBC's bureau in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and reports for Labrador Morning.

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