Summary of the Inuit Women and the Nunavut Justice System Workshop


Following the presentation by the facilitators, the participants met in small groups to discuss the following scenario in light of the challenges discussed in the report and the themes outlined above:

  • An Inuk woman living in a small community was attending a meeting in another community. After being away from home for a few days, she began to discuss with her roommate and a few other women who were not related to her or from the same community, the problems she was facing at home. Following is a summary of her life and circumstances at that particular point in time.
  • The woman has been married for twenty-five years and has grown children. She moved from her home community to her husband's when they married. Her sister also lives in this community but this is her only relative there. Her husband is from a large, prominent family and his numerous relatives live and work throughout the community.
  • The husband works outside of the home and is considered a good provider. The wife has worked outside jobs from time to time but her main work has been within the home, both caring for her family and sewing for cash income. She now babysits one of her grandchildren.
  • The husband has beaten his wife throughout their twenty-five year marriage. The beatings tend to be more frequent and severe when he is drinking. The wife has learned that if she drinks when he does, the physical effects of the beatings are not felt until the next day. He also ridicules her in front of his friends and family, ignores her, and generally abuses her emotionally and verbally. This latter behaviour is not associated with drinking but is an everyday event.
  • Early in the marriage, she spoke to her sister about the abuse but was told she must have done something to deserve it. After many years, her overall impression is that the community views her husband as a good man; if she is beaten, then she is to blame. (This impression is intensified by the fact that she now drinks when he does—in a small community, people know who drinks and who does not.) Moreover, there are strong community values, which reinforce the importance of family ties and of a family staying together. The woman has considered speaking with a nurse or counsellor, but confidentiality has proven to be a problem in small communities and she is worried that it will get back to her husband.
  • While attending an out-of-town meeting, the woman decided not to return to her husband but to travel to a shelter in another community. However, she did, in the end, return home, in part because of her responsibility for babysitting her grandchild.

In considering this situation, participants were reminded that research on violence against women has indicated that women in violence situations can often anticipate an attack and, rather than live with the anxiety of waiting, they will precipitate it or abuse alcohol and/ or drugs to dull the pain. This results in an easy blaming of the victim, both from the an observer's perspective as well as that of the victim. Also, research suggests that a woman is most in danger after she had made a decision to leave a violent relationship and in the year following.

Participants were asked to consider this woman's story in their small group discussions of the policy and program implications for the federal government with respect for judge and jury; JPs; and community justice committees. In doing so, participants were asked to focus on the potential federal role in supporting the Nunavut justice system’s ability to address such situations.

In other words, what, if anything, can the federal government do to ensure that the issues raised in the scenario would be adequately addressed if this women’s situation was referred to any of the three elements of the justice system under discussion—Judge and Jury; JP; community justice committee?

Group 1 Response: Judge and Jury

Group 1 examined the question in terms of research that could be undertaken at the federal level:

  1. Research examining the experience of victims and accused, post-trial:  for example, considering the implications of conviction and no conviction; Judge vs. Judge and Jury.
  2. Issues surrounding change of trial venue.
  3. Community attitudes regarding family violence and sentencing.
  4. Evaluation of judicial training and public education.

Groups 2 Response: Justices of the Peace

  1. Ensure privacy and safety of the woman.
  2. Ensure safety plan is in place, especially if accused/offender is staying in same community as woman.
  3. Training for JPs to increase awareness of dynamics of family violence.
  4. Community resources: training for people—counselling skills, etc.
  5. Change in attitudes/ behaviour. Need long term plan—changes will not happen in only 1 or 2 generations.

Group 3 Response: Community Justice Committee

  1. Work with Nunavut Department of Justice to design and implement training: starting point is diversity. Include Community Justice Specialists in training.
  2. Dialogue and consultations are required within the community—discussions must take place in a way that is safe for all community members to express views.
  3. Opportunity for the community to air various beliefs, attitudes.
  4. Undertake evaluations: use participatory research methods.
  5. Develop funding criteria that promote safety.
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