Nunatsiaq Online
EDITORIAL: Nunavut March 14, 2011 - 1:30 pm

Noble ends, bungled means

NUNATSIAQ NEWS

We should consider ourselves fortunate that members of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly sit each year for only a few weeks at a time — because this puts a severe limit on their ability to pass bad or unworkable laws.

Such is the Family Abuse Intervention Act, which the assembly passed Dec. 6, 2006, amidst much well-intentioned fanfare and virtually no critical analysis.

To pay for it, MLAs voted $2 million in spending to implement the new law in its first year and $3 million a year thereafter.

That’s a lot of public money for a program that, in the words of Genesis Group, a Yellowknife-based firm hired to evaluate the act, “is failing.”

There’s no doubt the Government of Nunavut’s justice department conceived this new law to serve virtuous ends. But it’s also obvious they gave no thought to the means by which they would achieve those ends.

Its main purpose is to protect victims of family violence — mostly women, children and the elderly — from the perverse consequences of reporting abuse to the authorities.

To that end, the act provides new tools to judges and justices of the peace. These include emergency protection orders, or “EPOs,” under which abusers may be ordered to leave the family home immediately for specified periods of time.

There’s a provision for community intervention orders, or “CIOs.” Under these, a judge or JP may order abuser and victim to get counselling from a “traditional Inuit counsellor.”

And there are other sections that authorize anti-stalking orders and the payment of financial compensation to victims.

Guess what? Except for Iqaluit and Cape Dorset, the act is an unmitigated failure. The evaluation said it succeeds in those two communities only because of the work of “some outstanding individuals”  who have overcome the law through their own efforts.

The biggest reason for the mess is a familiar one for Nunavut residents: lack of capacity, which in simple language means either not enough people or not enough people who know how to do their jobs.

To make the law work, the GN hired community justice outreach workers, or “CJOWs,” in all communities. They’re hamlet employees, paid out of money that the GN gives to hamlet governments, but they’re directed by GN justice officials.

The evaluation found most of these workers “are not qualified or able to carry out requisite duties, having neither the prerequisite skills nor the necessary knowledge to do so.”

Furthermore, the evaluation found it’s impossible for the justice department to supervise these workers. Because they’re hamlet employees, the GN can’t find out if they’re even showing up to work every day.

For their part, the hamlets don’t want them. That’s because other staff resent the presence of workers who often sit around doing nothing all day, the evaluation found.

The evaluation also found that few community intervention orders have ever been granted . That’s because hardly anyone wants to be counselled by “elders.” At the same time, most elders don’t want to do such counselling.

“We discovered very little if any support in the public for this counselling and applicants do not want to be referred to it,” the evaluation found.

And as of Feb. 4, 2010, when the evaluation was completed and turned over to the GN, the program did not even have a full-time manager.

In November 2010, CBC radio, having obtained a copy through an access to information requested, reported on the content of the evaluation. But it’s likely that very few people heard that news report and, in any event, no one, expecially MLAs, ever asked any questions or reacted to it.

But now that this damning evaluation has become a public document more than a year after its completion, it’s now time for the GN to tell the public what they plan to salvage from this program and what they plan to get rid of. JB

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