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No way out: Silence, secrecy and underfunding hamper women’s safety

Nunavut has the highest incidence of intimate partner violence compared to any other jurisdiction in the country.

use, per capita, is also the highest in the country. At the heart of this territory’s housing crisis lies an even more dangerous crisis: without second-stage housing women seeking to create safe lives for themselves and their children have nowhere to go. Emergency shelters are the last stop. This is the third part of a three-part series.

Editor’s note: This story contains situations that may not be suitable for some readers. 

Read the first instalment here: No way out: Women fleeing violence – a hidden crisis

Read the second instalment here: No way out: Women fleeing violence – a life-threatening cycle

photo courtesy of Sue Glowach
Yellowknife's Lynn Brooks' Safe Place for Women, commonly known as Lynn's Place, is an 18-unit secure second-stage housing facility operated by the YWCA. It opened in Yellowknife in 2014 and was built thanks to cooperation between the City of Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation.

"It was seven years today, June 7, 2011, that my sister, Sula Enuaraq, and her two young daughters were murdered. Her two young daughters, Alex and Ailyah, were murdered in a terrible act of domestic violence."

These were the words of Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone to his colleagues in the legislative assembly, words he could not read himself. His fellow MLA John Main read his member's statement.

"Government actions alone cannot prevent tragedies like the one that struck my family. However, the decisions that we make as a government about where to invest our limited resources do matter in doing what we can to stop domestic violence," Lightstone's statement concluded.

In an interview several weeks later, Lightstone said domestic violence has been an issue in Nunavut for a long time.

"It seems like it's been a silent issue, an issue that hasn't been discussed openly in public because no one likes bringing up difficult situations. But to me it's heartbreaking whenever you see a woman at Northmart, or in public, with a black eye. I can't help but imagine what kind of difficult situation that they're in," he said.

But the public hardly has to imagine. In May, the capital saw two apparent murder-suicides.

"On May 6, police were called to Tammaativvik Boarding Home in Iqaluit where a female was located with no vital signs. A 22-year-old female from Clyde River has been identified as the homicide victim. During the course of the investigation, the woman's domestic partner, a 31-year-old male was located deceased," stated RCMP at the time.

Near the end of the month, another apparent murder-suicide took place on a city street.

"On Sunday May 27, at approximately 6 (a.m.), the Iqaluit RCMP responded to a weapons-related incident in progress. Witnesses reported observing a female being chased by a male with a knife on Nikku Lane in Iqaluit. Reports indicate the male stabbed the female then himself before being transported to Qikiqtani General Hospital where they succumbed to their injuries," stated RCMP.


Research is ongoing

On June 7, Lightstone also tabled a report from the office of the chief coroner and the domestic violence death review committee completed in 2016, five years after his sister's murder. The chief coroner, Padma Suramala, had since been fired. The alleged suppression of that document by Justice deputy minister William MacKay figures prominently in a $1 million lawsuit Suramala has brought against the Government of Nunavut for wrongful dismissal.

The four-page document contains 16 recommendations, including detailed recommendations for public-education initiatives related to domestic violence.

But until family, friends, neighbours and communities have the resources necessary to address intimate partner violence in ways that are preventative and proactive, the only two options for women and children are to stay or flee. Currently, fleeing is barely an option, with emergency shelters the last stop. Spaces and resources are scant.

Lightstone says it's time to act.

"The recent unfortunate incidents highlight that. The Government of Nunavut can't afford to construct and operate these facilities, but I think there's an avenue for partnerships out there. But I think the government should be making some funding available to assist this non-profit in constructing these facilities," said Lightstone, referring to the non-profit YWCA Agvvik Nunavut which runs the Qimavvik emergency shelter for women and children fleeing violence.

Lightstone mentions Family Services and the Nunavut Housing Corporation.

The Department of Family Services is aware of the need for more shelters across the territory. It is also aware of the need for second-stage housing to take women into the next phase of healing and independence.

"Within our 2018-19 business plan is strengthening our existing resources. The following year it will be developing additional resources. That involves emergency homeless shelters, respite and transitional housing," said deputy minister for Family Services Yvonne Niego.

But she says he GN can't just replicate southern models.

"Because there's an overall general lack of housing, whatever we put into things like transitional housing may take away from other housing priorities," Niego said.

The department participated in the national point-in-time count on homelessness in April, which took place in Cambridge Bay, Iqaluit, Kugaaruk, Kugluktuk and Rankin Inlet. It has also conducted its own homelessness survey in Pond Inlet, Clyde River, Gjoa Haven and Arviat.

"Those were quite detailed, so the information out of those we expect will be quite informative. Likely it will take a while to tabulate – to help inform infrastructure need," said Niego.

The department also hired Consulting Matrix to help guide the government.

"We know that second stage is a need that's evident," said the department's senior planner for homelessness initiatives Angela Briffett. "We all agree on that point. Who is the target population? Who is most in need? Where would second-stage housing best be suited? We need to look at communities' strengths, communities' capacities to operate such facilities."

The department declined to share the Matrix report, stating it was an internal document, though Niego did say, "This research speaks for the people."

The Nunavut Housing Corporation is also pursuing research of its own, it said, including a needs assessment of Nunavummiut requiring support services to quantify the demand for purpose-built units able to accommodate supportive services or programs and a housing need and demand study to determine the housing needs of Nunavummiut.

"The Nunavut Housing Corporation is currently in discussions with the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation to finalize a bilateral agreement that will work to address the need for second-stage housing. Unfortunately, we can’t really say anything more definitive while this is being negotiated," stated senior communications officer Josh Long.


North is underfunded

Even Yellowknife isn't the ideal second-stage housing model for import into Nunavut, said Niego and Briffett.

"We share a lot of similarities, but there are quite significant differences. Their overcrowding, I think, is not as significant as what ours is," said Briffett.

Lynn's Place in Yellowknife, a second-stage facility with six bed-sit single units, ten two-bedroom and two three-bedroom units, is staffed and secure, with programming. It opened in 2014. Whitehorse's second-stage housing facility for women and women with children fleeing violence opened the year before.

Executive director for the YWCA in Yellowknife Lyda Fuller says that's 20 years later than the rest of Canada, noting the North is poorly funded in this area.

Fuller says getting second-stage housing in Yellowknife was a long slog.

"There were times I thought it would never happen in my lifetime."

It took the City of Yellowknife buying property at a cost of almost $1 million and the territorial housing corporation, which contributed $2.93 million, working together to make Lynn's Place happen. Additional fundraising by the city was required, then the YWCA raised money to furnish the building.

YWCA Agvvik president Alethea Arnaquq-Baril has hopes.

"There are new developments happening. There are parcels of land. Maybe with the knowledge that people need second-stage housing someone might step up and provide the land. The government is trying to take steps towards reconciliation and reversing intergenerational trauma – there might be partners in the government," she said.

"With a relatively new bunch of MLAs in the territory, we're hoping that they might have some fresh energy for this. It's doable."



Nunavut’s emergency shelters:

Cambridge Bay, St. Michael’s Crisis Shelter: 867-983-5232

Iqaluit, Qimaavik Shelter: 867-979-4500

Kugaaruk Family Violence Centre: 867-769-6100

Kugluktuk Women’s Crisis Centre: 867-982-3210

Rankin Inlet, Kataujaq Society Shelter: 867 645-2214