Domestic violence involved in vast majority of N.W.T. homicides
4 of 5 homicides in territory in 2015 involved family or intimate partner violence, continuing trend
That's according to chief coroner Cathy Menard, who wrote the 2013 report on Jenny Pingo's death.
In December 2011, Pingo and her common-law husband Diamond Keith Klengenberg were found dead in their Tuktoyaktuk cabin. Pingo had been shot through the back by Klengenberg, who then turned the gun on himself.
"When viewed as an escalation of predictable patterns of behavior, death resulting from domestic and family violence can be seen as largely preventable," Menard wrote in her 2013 report.
Menard made a number of recommendations to police, health providers and the territorial government, some of which she says have been implemented.
Still, domestic violence remains entangled with homicide across the N.W.T. with striking consistency.
Four of five murders, domestic
With five murders last year, the Northwest Territories had the highest murder rate in the country, seven times the national average, according to Statistics Canada numbers released in late November.
Four of those homicides involved family or intimate partner violence, says Menard.
Before that, two of the three homicides in 2011 (including Pingo's death) were family-related. And in 2012, as in 2015, four of the five murders that year fell under the umbrella of domestic violence, says Menard.
By comparison, in Canada as whole, only 36 per cent of homicides in 2015 involved a family member, spouse or ex-spouse.
"In the Northwest Territories, we don't have to scratch the surface very far to find domestic violence, whether I'm talking about homicides or whether I'm talking about suicides, family and domestic violence is part of a lot of our cases," says Menard.
Never without warning
There may be a consistency to the statistics, but the dynamics of domestic violence is complex.
It's not only a matter of men killing women or intimate partner violence.
Last year, for example, three of the four domestic murders involved women killing their male partners or ex-partners. In 2012, one of the three female deaths was a woman killed by her son; in 2011, one of the male deaths involved brother killing brother.
What is common to the cases is that "domestic violence deaths almost never occur without warning," says Menard.
"In most cases there have been repeated incidents of violence and indicators of risk, as well as opportunities for agencies and individuals to intervene before their death."
This was the case with Pingo's death. Klengenberg had a long history of violence, including violence against Pingo. And Pingo had tried to escape before her death at least once, and was planning to escape again, actively telling people so.
Why is domestic violence so high?
For Aurora College's manager of health research programs, the number of homicides in the territory related to domestic violence last year is not surprising.
After Nunavut, the N.W.T. has the highest rate of domestic violence in the country, says Pertice Moffitt, who's been investigating domestic violence in the territory for the past five years.
"In most of these homicides... they have a history of domestic violence, and you can see it keeps escalating, escalating, escalating. And the lethality of the violence is hardly speakable, it's awful things," she says.
There's the addictions and mental health issues, tied to the trauma of residential schools and colonization. And there's the simple fact of remoteness and lack of services.
"We have facts like 11 communities without RCMP, so 33 per cent of N.W.T. communities do not have police. Seventy-nine per cent of communities do not have victim service workers. They have access to them, maybe at a regional level, but they don't have them there," says Moffitt.
"And there are only five shelters, so in 86 per cent of communities there are no shelters, no safe places for women to go."
Even in places that are reasonably well serviced, the high turnover of frontline professionals — like RCMP officers, nurses and social workers — means there's little institutional memory, and the organizations are always "in a crisis orientation."
"There's this attitude of, 'Let's just keep [victims] safe,'" says Moffitt.
"But that isn't monitoring, or providing people with a service to improve the situation, that isn't addressing the needs of the children, that isn't addressing the attitudes around violence."
In an environment of perpetual crisis, violence becomes a normal way of life, says Moffit, with "people putting up with violence... [and] shutting up about the violence because of all the pressure on them."
How to change things?
Both Menard and Moffitt say the territory needs a massive shift in attitudes, so people realize that, in Menard's words, "this is not normal, this is not acceptable."
That means education for young people, public advertising campaigns and culturally appropriate on-the-land programming, among other things.
It also means bringing in better screening to identify likely victims and perpetrators before violence escalates too far, as well as bringing in death review committees so teams of experts can examine the situation and make recommendations when things do go wrong.
Most of all, the N.W.T. needs serious investment from all levels of government to tackle the persistent poverty which breeds domestic violence, says Moffitt.
"If we continue with high levels of poverty, poor education, lack of employment, housing that's crowded and below par, right there we have disadvantaged people," says Moffitt.
"I wouldn't want people to think out there that it's just poor people or just Indigenous people, who experience intimate partner violence. It's not. It crosses all families. It just happens that people who have those disparities are at greater risk."