POLITICS

Inuit group wants justice reforms to reflect high rates of abuse in Nunavut

10/23/2014 02:15 EDT | Updated 12/23/2014 05:59 EST
Nunavut's "cradle-to-prison" justice system must be reformed to reflect the high number of people in the territory who have been victims of physical and sexual violence, an Inuit land-claim group said Thursday.

"There are few safety nets in place to catch people who are experiencing adversity," said a report from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

"Nunavut’s criminal justice system is often the first stop in a cradle-to-prison pipeline in which people struggling with trauma, mental health disorders or prenatal alcohol exposure are most vulnerable to incarceration."

The report released during the group's annual meeting in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, is the latest in a series of papers required by the Nunavut land claim on the state of Inuit culture and society. The 2013-2014 report focuses on the territory's criminal justice system.

Statistics on the level of violence in Nunavut are well-known.

Between 1999 and 2012, an index that tracks the occurrence and severity of violent crime dropped by 18 per cent in Canada as a whole. In Nunavut, that index increased by 50 per cent.

Low- and medium-level assault charges in Nunavut were 12 times the national rate in 2012. The rate of low-level sex assaults was eight times higher.

The homicide rate is the highest in the nation.

Thursday's study puts those figures in the context of what is, for many Inuit, a lifelong cycle of violence that begins in childhood.

Almost one-third of all Inuit report experiencing "severe physical abuse" as children — 31 per cent for both boys and girls. More than four out of 10 — 52 per cent of girls and 22 per cent of boys — say they were sexually abused.

As adults, half of Inuit say they've suffered at least one form of physical abuse, with a slightly higher occurrence among women.

"The crime trends and sobering statistics seen today are symptoms of the challenging environments that many of today’s offenders have grown up in, as well as the failure of the government to meet many of the basic needs of the population," the report says. "A large proportion of those who are perpetrators of violence have experienced adversity in their lifetimes."

The report proposes reforms that would acknowledge the links between victimhood and subsequent criminality.

Schools, health clinics and youth justice officials should work more closely together, it suggests. Community Justice Committees, which bring victims and perpetrators together with community members for reconciliation, should be given more training and resources.

It also recommends federal funding to aboriginal groups should be restored for mental health and women's services. Legislative reforms should make mental-health screenings mandatory for people subject to community intervention orders.

Mental-health services overall should be strengthened. And Nunavut, which has no residential treatment program for substance abusers, desperately needs one.

The territory's social problems are deep-seated and are connected to a panoply of other issues, says the report. Those include a shortage of housing, poverty and food insecurity.

"Individuals working on these issues told (researchers) repeatedly that justice is part of a system that must be looked at holistically," the report says. "(Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.) agrees and hopes that the analyses and recommendations contained in this report can

facilitate the process."

Neither RCMP nor Nunavut government officials were immediately available for comment.