A national organization representing Inuit women in Canada is calling for a radical shift in the way police work is done in the North.
The demand comes after a new report released Thursday described “systemic racialized policing” in the Arctic.
Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada and Elizabeth Comack, a sociology and criminology professor at the University of Manitoba, co-authored the report, which examined how police respond to violence against women in Canada’s traditional Inuit territory, known as Inuit Nunangat.
The report says that interviews with about 45 Inuit women, and nearly as many service providers, revealed many women encounter such high rates of gender-based violence they have come to expect it in their lives.
The authors home in on actions of police officers responding to cases of domestic violence in these regions, with women saying they are often not believed when reporting abuse.
Sometimes, according to the report, the women reporting the violence, rather than their abusers, are the ones removed from their homes.
“Racialized policing persists in Inuit women’s encounters with the justice system and it goes well beyond a few individual officers holding stereotypes about Inuit,” said Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada.
“Police can respond more effectively to gendered violence by adopting a ‘decolonizing framework’ that helps officers move from being an outside force to becoming more integrated with northern communities they serve.”
Women in Nunavut are the victims of violent crime at a rate more than 13 times higher than women in Canada as a whole and are 12 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than in other provinces and territories, according to data cited by the report.
Also, in 2016, Nunavut had the highest rate of female victims of police-reported family violence in Canada, with the Northwest Territories coming in second.
Inuit women from across Inuit Nunangat — including Nunavut, the Inuvialuit Settlement Region of the Northwest Territories, Nunavik in northern Quebec and Nunatsiavut of Newfoundland and Labrador — told the study’s authors they feel victimized by police protocols when they do report incidents of abuse.
The RCMP said in a statement Thursday it could not comment directly on the findings in the report because it had just been released.
But spokeswoman Catherine Fortin did outline steps the national police force is taking to reduce and respond to gender-based violence, including a new online training course, which is currently being developed, to teach officers how to deal sensitively with victims of trauma when conducting investigations, especially in cases of gender-based violence.
The course will be available to RCMP staff in weeks, Fortin said.
The report also emphasizes the historical context of the gendered violence that has been experienced by Inuit women over many decades, arguing it has been perpetrated or exacerbated in many cases by RCMP officers. It provides a detailed account of how Mounties were involved in moving Inuit people to permanent settlements and transporting children to residential schools.
This echoes findings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which was highly critical of the RCMP’s overall dealings with Indigenous peoples and communities. The inquiry made note of many of the same concerns and gaps in policing services for Inuit in the Arctic.
The federal government has said it will release its national plan to respond to the inquiry findings by June.
Further findings in the new study highlight concerns about inadequate dispatching systems in Arctic regions. A panel of women from all four Inuit regions held in Ottawa Thursday shared their urgent concerns about emergency calls being transferred to regional dispatching offices, slowing responses.
‘When a woman is being beaten up and calls the police, how long do they wait?“ Kudloo said. ”When a woman is in danger, she needs somebody right there as soon as possible.“
The authors of the study found that officers spend limited stints in particular communities. This, coupled with many officers’ lack of knowledge of the Inuit language, has created a perception that police are outsiders — fuelling a widespread feeling of distrust.
Participants did note the challenges faced by police officers in the regions, including having to respond to high-risk situations of domestic violence with backup sometimes hours away.
Nunavut New Democrat MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq called the report “damning” and called on the Liberal government to take swift action to address systemic issues in the North that can lead to violence, such as poor housing and mental-health services.
“It is shameful that the federal government has failed to uphold the basic human rights of the people of Nunavut by refusing them housing and health care that could prevent this violence and often loss of life,” Qaqqaq said.
“We see a lot more cultural programs for women, but we also need to provide men opportunities for cultural healing to address intergenerational trauma and have healthy outlets to break the cycles of violence. We need to do better. People’s lives count on it.”
The report comes with 15 recommendations, including calling for a cultural shift in policing to adapt to Inuit tradition and history in these regions. That should involve police officers becoming more connected and integrated into their communities, the report says.
It also calls for more female police officers, more Inuit civilian positions in policing to help with healing and translation and for the RCMP to revisit its posting terms for northern officers.