OPINION | Let's break the silence on family violence and abuse in Nunavut, together
While laws are important, they’re not enough, writes Gloria Song of the Law Society of Nunavut
WARNING: This article is about family violence and abuse. Resources for support can be found at the end of this column.
One year ago, the Nunavut Legislature supported Family Services Minister Elisapee Sheutiapik's motion toward a violence-free Nunavut.
Around the same time, the Law Society of Nunavut, which I represent, and Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada started a project to help people in Nunavut experiencing family violence gain access to justice. The project was funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario and the federal Department of Justice.
Guided by an advisory committee of Nunavut-based representatives from different sectors and backgrounds, our project's team members travelled to seven communities in the territory to speak to women with lived experiences of family violence. They also talked to service providers, like justice and health workers, who serve them and community members.
We wanted to better understand how Inuit women experience family violence, and the legal system, in Nunavut.
Many courageous women, service providers and community members shared their stories with us.
Their stories reveal how abuse takes many forms. It is not just punching and hitting. Abuse can also be shouting or threatening. It can be cutting someone off financially, or forcing them to do something sexual that they don't want to do.
Many don't turn to law for help
Laws like the Family Abuse Intervention Act (FAIA) can offer help for family violence outside the criminal justice system, through tools like emergency protection orders or community intervention orders that can provide counselling for families.
But what we learned, from the many women we interviewed, is that lots of them don't turn to the law for help.
Sometimes that was because they didn't know their legal options under FAIA. Sometimes it was because they didn't trust the legal system to protect them. Those who did turn to the law said that sometimes it helped, but sometimes it didn't.
Their stories suggest that something needs to change so that the law can work for them.
While laws are important, they're not enough. We need to look at the bigger picture and deal with the root causes of family violence.
Women spoke of how addictions are often related to family violence, pointing to the importance of addictions treatment programming in Nunavut. They told us how abusers are often struggling with trauma themselves, including from residential schools and other colonialist practices that have harmed so many families in Nunavut. This points to the importance of making sure Inuit traditional counsellors are available to provide support. The women told us how housing is also an important part of addressing family violence: how can someone leave an abusive situation if they, their children, or their partner, do not have anywhere else to go?
Despite these challenges, we were inspired by the creative ways women in Nunavut support each other to overcome barriers, like by making safety plans with neighbours in case they need to ask for help. At the heart of their decision to take these courageous steps is their desire for the best for their families.
Collaboration and meeting people where they're at
But one of the loudest messages we heard was that in order to break the cycle of family violence in Nunavut, families must get help in ways that works for them, ways that meet them where they're at, that are culturally relevant, and rooted in Inuit values.
Service providers from all sectors need to work together to provide collaborative, trauma-informed services. This means lawyers, community justice outreach workers, community health workers, traditional counsellors, nurses, RCMP officers, social workers and others all working together.
Fortunately, these players are now talking to each other more to provide better, co-ordinated support for families in Nunavut who want to end violence and abuse. We are excited to continue these conversations.
On International Women's Day, the Law Society of Nunavut and Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada are proud to launch a public awareness campaign to support people in Nunavut in recognizing what abuse is and where to get help.
On Monday, we're holding an event at the Astro Theatre in Iqaluit with project partners and supporters. We're also excited to share across the territory the resources we've developed for this project, including posters, pamphlets, videos and radio programs.
Family violence is a serious problem in Nunavut, but on this day, International Women's Day, let's celebrate these collaborative efforts and all the work happening to break the silence, and build hope for a violence-free future.
Do you need someone to talk to? Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Helpline offers anonymous and confidential telephone support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, toll free: 1-800-265-3333