Inadequate shelter services in Arctic Canada imprison Inuit women in cycle of violence: study

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“(…)Single-focused and mainstream interventions will not be effective in addressing the alarmingly high rates of violence in Inuit communities.,” says a new report issued this week. “Instead, Inuit-specific strategy is needed to achieve the safety and well-being of Inuit women and their children that ensures access to high-quality and culturally-safe prevention, intervention and aftercare services and resources to provide for safety, healing and long-term well-being.” (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)
The lack of women’s shelters, transition lodging and second-stage housing services is keeping Inuit women trapped in an ongoing cycle of violence, says a report from Canada’s national Inuit women’s organization Pauktuutit.

“With the housing crisis in Inuit Nunangat and the increasing rates of violence, one of the important issues that emerged from the research was the lack of second-stage housing available in Inuit communities,” said the report. (Inuit Nunangat is a term used to refer to Canada’s four Inuit regions: The Inuvialuit Settlement Region in Canada’s Northwest Territories; Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut; Nunavik in northern Quebec; and Nunatsiavut, in the Atlantic Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.)

The majority of Canada’s 51 Inuit communities are isolated from Canada’s road network and can only be reached by airplane. The majority have few services.  Legal tools used in the South like restraining orders are also useless in small Arctic communities, usually numbering only a few hundred people.

The report says the 15 shelters in operation in the Arctic are simply not enough to respond to the great need of the Inuit population which numbers 65,000.

“For Inuit women who live in more remote communities without shelters, accessing this form of support remains an even greater challenge. The few available shelters in the larger communities may be operating at full capacity and, even when spaces are available travel between communities requires significant time and financial resources.”

Violence against Inuit Women in Canada
  • Inuit women experience rates of violence 14 times higher than Canadian average
  • Violence is the leading cause of preventable morbidity and mortality in Inuit women
  • Canada’s northern territories have the highest rates of police-reported violence against women
  • In Nunavut territory, the rate of violent crime experienced by women is nearly 13 times higher than the Canadian average

Sources: Study of Gender-based Violence and Shelter Service Needs across Inuit Nunangat, Statistics Canada

The report “Study of Gender-based Violence and Shelter Service Needs across Inuit Nunangat”  makes several recommendations for improving shelter services in the North including calls for government to ensure stable ongoing funding of shelters in the Arctic on par with that provided for shelters on First Nations reserves through the federal government’s Family Violence Prevention Plan (FVPP).

Inuit do not live on reserves and are currently not eligible for the financing.

The study also calls for more crisis shelters that can take in women and children immediately,  as well as the creation of second-stage housing for domestic violence victims that require long-term support and safe lodging.

The report also recommends the creation of Inuit-specific emergency shelters and transitional housing in urban centres in southern Canada.

Data for the report was gathered from interviews and discussion circles in Inuit regions across Canada: Inuvik and Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories; Cape Dorset, Clyde River and Iqaluit in the eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut, Kuujjuaq in Nunavik, the Inuit region of northern Quebec, Nain and Happy Valley-Goose Bay in the Atlantic province of Newfoundland and Labrador and from the cities of Ottawa in Ontario, and Montreal in Quebec, two southern Canadian cities where there are growing Inuit populations.

There were 164 participants in the study in all.

Direct and indirect costs associated with gender-based violence

Besides the huge emotional and social costs of violence against Inuit women, the financial costs are also enormous, the report said.

“The study findings suggest that the direct and indirect costs associated with gender-based violence across Inuit Nunangat include: medevac services; hospitalization and direct medical costs; long-term mental and physical health costs; economic costs of lost wages and productivity; and, policing and justice services,” the report said.

“While adequate data is not available to calculate the current total economic cost of violence against women and girls in Inuit Nunangat, the data that is available suggest that this figure is likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year.”

The report also highlighted the roots of violence against Inuit women including overcrowded  housing, colonialism, substance abuse and the normalization of violence in Arctic communities.

In all, the report makes 14 recommendations including the need to better train non-Inuit justice, social services, and health workers on Inuit culture and reality before they come up to work in the North.

The report, dated March 2019, was released June 3, the same day as the final report from Canada’s National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Clarification: This text has been updated to specify that data was also collected in Ottawa and Montreal. 

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Report on violence against Indigenous women a ‘wake-up call’ for Canada, says Pauktuutit president, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Swedish-speaking Finnish women launch their own #metoo campaign, Yle News

Sweden: Report sheds light on Swedish minority’s historic mistreatment, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska reckons with missing data on murdered Indigenous women, Alaska Public Media

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Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is a journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project.

Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the violent death of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on violence and trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

Twitter: @Arctic_EQ

Email: eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

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