Mental health key to reducing crime: NTI state of Inuit culture report
Report slams territory's "continuing lack of basic infrastructure and resources to care for its citizens"
CAMBRIDGE BAY — Much more prevention and early intervention to improve the mental health of Inuit: that’s what must be done to keep at-risk Nunavummiut out of the territory’s overburdened justice system and jails, says a Nunavut Tunngavik report called “Examining the justice system in Nunavut,” released Oct. 23.
The document is NTI’s 2013-14 Annual Report on the State of Inuit Culture, under Article 32 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.
The eight recommendations in the 40-page document, packaged back-to-back in English and Inuktitut versions, aim to “provide a starting place for a new way of thinking about the administration of justice in Nunavut.”
This new way of thinking involves a new determination to improve mental health services.
And it will require more collaboration and planning on mental health issues between governments, agencies and Inuit organizations, suggests the report, delivered by Natan Obed, NTI’s director of social and cultural development on Oct. 23, the final day of the NTI annual general meeting in the western Nunavut town of Cambridge Bay.
In addition to these new partnerships, meaningful action will also require additional resources in Nunavut, such as psychiatrists, and more infrastructure, including an addictions centre in the territory, the report says.
The general lack of effective response among Nunavummiut in dealing with the territory’s high violent crime rates reflects “a society that has been under immense social, cultural, and economic stress for at least three generations,” the report says.
But that Nunavut has so far failed to take action reveals “the territory’s continuing lack of basic infrastructure and resources to care for its citizens.”
This state of affairs means that, despite having the greatest mental health needs — as witnessed by the territory’s high suicide rate — Nunavut remains the most under-resourced jurisdiction in Canada with respect to mental health services, the report says.
And the combined infrastructure and services shortfall can lead Nunavummiut into the justice system, the report suggests.
“As a result, the Nunavut Court of Justice, the Legal Aid Program, and Nunavut Corrections are too often the first stop for troubled people who do not have access to care” — and mental health healing needs to start among Nunavummiut at an early age so they can stay out of the overburdened justice system as youth and adults.
The report also comes down hard on actions, which the Government of Nunavut has taken — such as its draft 2013 Ilagiitsiarniq family violence policy, which NTI calls “not a meaningful contribution to violence prevention,” and the Family Abuse Intervention Act, which had good intentions, but has not reduced violence, NTI says.
Overall, the justice report’s recommendations, which touch on community justice programs, family violence and the relationship between mental health and the criminal justice system, want to reduce the high levels of violence crime and incarceration in Nunavut through new partnerships between government, agencies and Inuit organizations.
The eight recommendations call for:
• identification and screening of at-risk individuals for trauma or other mental health issues through a referral system in the schools and court system;
• GN hiring of community justice committee members, now hamlet employees, who would work on front-line prevention in communities;
• restoration of health funding to the Pauktuutit national Inuit women’s organization, which saw its federal money cut in 2012;
• a new family violence strategy and a co-ordinated action plan involving NTI, GN, Qulliit status of women council and the RCMP;
• integration of mandatory clinical screening when community intervention or orders and emergency protection orders are used to protect family members from violence;
• establishment of a new plan to recruit and retain resident psychologists and psychiatrists;
• a substance abuse treatment centre; and,
• development of a mental health strategy.
The NTI report combines archival photos showing good collaboration between Inuit and police in the past with many graphs that show Nunavut’s current rates for assaults, “sexual violations of children,” and homicides.
“Nunavut’s crime rates have dwarfed those for the rest of Canada since 1999, and there is little indication that the situation is improving,” the report says.
Since Nunavut’s creation in 1999, numbers and the rates of serious offences have more than doubled, the report notes: Nunavut’s crime rate was 112 per cent more in 2012 than in 1999 and violent crime increased by 27 per cent during the same period, the report notes.
Woman and children are the people who are most at risk and the lack of resources and support available in Nunavut compounds the situation.
Their victimization also leads to more problems, prompting the report’s call for a widespread “trauma-informed perspective” to support recovery and resilience of children and families.
And, like other presenters at the NTI AGM, the report also underlines the relationship between lack of housing and social breakdown, which feeds violence in households and sends many into the justice system and jail.
During the AGM, NTI president Cathy Towtongie also said she wants to focus on improving social conditions in Nunavut for the last two years of her mandate.
NTI’s annual report on the state of Inuit culture is an annual obligation of Article 32.3.4 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.
And, as required by NLCA Article 32, the report will be tabled in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly and the House of Commons.
You can read a copy of the report here.