Nunavut’s justice department defends Family Abuse Intervention Act
”We’re getting there”
Despite a receiving a failing grade from consultants in 2010, Nunavut’s family abuse intervention act has made a difference, says Rebekah Williams, Nunavut’s assistant deputy minister for justice, who called the act a “very important legislation in Nunavut.”
Responding to a Nunatsiaq News story, Williams noted many “inaccuracies.”
Williams defended the act as a model of how to prevent violence, although the 2010 evaluation of the Family Abuse Intervention Act by the Genesis consulting group said the act was “failing.”
Its report said the act, adopted in 2010, is failing because most community justice outreach workers aren’t “qualified or able to carry out the requisite duties.”
It said that generally, “implementation of the act is incomplete” and “no meaningful implementation of community intervention orders with the requisite counselling by traditional Inuit counsellors has been applied.”
But the 2010 evaluation was done too soon after the adoption of the act in 2008, Williams said.
“A good five years and it would be good to do an evaluation,” she said, questioning whether Western-style justice worked smoothly right from the start. “Did it work for the first year?”
“We’re getting there,” she said.
Williams cautioned against judging the success of the act solely on numbers.
Numbers are important for “Qallunaatitut, not for Inuktitut,” she said.
“We feel if we could help 10 families in Iqaluit, or five in Clyde River, that’s a lot to me,” she said.
What counts is prevention — and the act is working, she said.
“We’re thinking if we can help a number of people in each community that’s a big help,” Williams said. “I would like to see numbers going up because that means more people are getting help.”
Although some people don’t go through the actual process under the act, they’re still getting help, she said.
“The more people know about what other options they have, that’s helping them,” she said.
To stem abuse and prevent violence, the act relies on measures such as emergency protection orders and community intervention orders, coordinated by local employees known as “community justice outreach workers.”
They handled 80 emergency protection orders and seven community intervention orders in 2009-10. There was only one compensation order and no stalking prevention orders in all of Nunavut.
The situation remained about the same this past year, according to numbers provided by Williams, with 67 emergency protection orders and seven orders for community intervention.
No orders were handed out for stalking or for compensation which, for example, could help people get money to pay for dentures (if their teeth were knocked out) or for a new door (if it was broken down) — not for money to help women with children who are fleeing an abusive relationship and possess little money.
The number of orders handed out in 2010-11 don’t include numerous requests for information from the community outreach workers, which didn’t result in orders, Williams pointed out.
“Sometimes it’s just enough to have someone to talk to, and be able to have their issue out on paper,” she said, adding that people may also may change their mind or find other resources, such as social workers or police, to help them.
As for the community outreach workers, they received training in 2010, she said. And some are no longer working in the hamlet offices — a situation condemned by the 2010 evaluation.
“We have made a headway of training outreach workers in each community, to get them up to the speed, [and] to learn how to write affidavits,” Williams said.
People should contact community outreach workers when they’re abusive situations that risk developing into violence — not when family violence has exploded, she said.
To convey this, Williams outlined a scenario:
“You’re my aunt and I’m your niece. I keep bothering, bothering you for many months, and you get annoyed at me, you get tired of me and you make an application…that you want to deal with the issue with your niece Rebekah before it comes to be more than abuse,” Williams said.
And Jenna Rintoul, manager of the family assistance intervention act for the GN, offered yet another example of when Nunavummiut should seek help under the act:
“My husband used to drink 10 years ago and he quit and all of a sudden he’s starting to drink again and it’s making me fearful that because he’s beginning again that, this physical violence will come again.”
“Then you come here before it comes to this point,” Rintoul said.
Still, the act lists many serious forms of abuse that its orders can deal with. These include intentional or reckless act damage to property, sexual abuse, sexual contact of any kind that is coerced, and forced confinement.
A JP only needs to be convinced that abuse has occurred, and will likely happen again to approve an order. But judges do look over all orders and need to be consulted for compensation and assistance orders, Williams noted.
And these orders don’t interfere with or prevent criminal charges from being laid, the act says.
But the various orders possible under the act are designed to get to the root causes of the abuse, Williams emphasized, “so people can get help in the community.”
Community outreach workers search for counselling in the communities for people who end up with a community intervention order, which requires people to attend traditional counselling sessions.
The act says someone under a community intervention order must receive “traditional Inuit counselling with a specified traditional counsellor.”
Many people told the consultants in 2010 that they don’t like elders as counselors.
But these ”traditional” counselling sessions don’t have to necessarily be with elders, said Rintoul.
Community outreach workers help people decide who they want as counselor, whether it be an elder, a social services worker, a mental health worker or someone from the church or a family member, she said.
“It’s up to them to identify that person that they feel will help them the best. They’re not in any way shape or form to having specific elders counsel them,” she said.