Become role models, not offenders, MLAs urged during vigil

Nunavummiut called to action during vigil against violence



Some women who tried to speak out at Iqaluit’s annual vigil against violence were unable to make themselves heard, because they kept breaking into tears. Others could not be understood because of problems with the microphone.

At times, only sobs could be heard from the podium in the main lobby of Nunavut’s legislative assembly.

But one woman’s voice came through loud and clear.

Mary Lou Sutton called on residents of Nunavut to work against violence against women with the power of their votes.

Wearing a union T-shirt, Sutton directed her speech at the territory’s next government, arguing that voters should expect their political leaders to condemn acts of violence — not to commit them.

Two MLAs – former education minister James Arvaluk and former speaker Levi Barnabas — resigned after being convicted of violent crimes.

Arvaluk awaits sentencing in the new year, while Barnabas has served a one-year conditional sentence.

“I think one of the things we need to demand [of our leaders] is to model a violent-free lifestyle,” said Sutton, a member of the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s regional women’s committee.

“We have be able to say ‘zero tolerance is zero tolerance.”

About 150 men, women and children gathered at the legislative assembly on Dec. 6 as part of the national day of remembrance and action on violence against women. Some held fist-sized plastic roses as a tribute to women murdered in Canada, while everyone cradled candles and listened to songs by local musicians and Iqaluit’s community choir.

The gathering was especially poignant for many people, as it fell on the first anniversary of Jennifer Naglingniq’s death.

On Dec. 6, last year, Naglingniq’s mother found her 13-year-old daughter dead of stab wounds in their home.

Naglingniq’s death fell on the anniversary of one of the worst mass murders in Canadian history. On Dec. 6, 1989, a man stormed into L’Ecole polytechnique in Montreal and shot and killed 14 women. Vigils for the victims are held across Canada every year.

Maureen Doherty, who helped organize this year’s vigil, said the connection between the Montreal massacre and Naglingniq’s murder has made the issue of violence more tangible for Iqaluit’s youth. Vigil organizers no longer have to struggle with how to make the deadly event in Montreal seem relevant to residents of Nunavut’s capital.

“Jennifer’s murder has made it very real, because they have experienced that loss,” Doherty said after the vigil. “I think they’re now keenly aware they have a role to play in making this society safe.”

The impact of the girl’s death has clearly been felt. Two students from Inuksuk High School laid a rose beside a seal oil lamp at the vigil. In all, 16 flowers were laid — 14 for the victims in Montreal, one for Naglingniq, and one jointly for Susan Natar, who died after a beating in Hall Beach, and Donna Kusugak, who was strangled to death in Rankin Inlet.

Tina Campbell, a Grade 12 student at Inuksuk High School, described her schoolmate’s death as a wake-up call for many teenagers.

“People have to learn to respect each other,” she said. “You don’t know how long you’re going to be around.”

Not all violence is ending in death. Last year, Nunavut had the highest rate of shelter use in the country, with 294 per 100,000 people seeking shelter — almost 20 times the national average. Police statistics also show domestic violence, assaults and sexual assaults against women are on the rise in the territory.

Singer and seamstress Aaju Peter said Nunavummiut have to guard against accepting violence as the norm.

“With all this abuse against women, being put down, being murdered, we can’t accept that,” Peter said after the vigil. “We have to think in our heads that this is wrong. It’s not right.”

Peter also warned that the battle against this brand of violence can’t end with the annual vigil.

“We can do so much more through the bigger picture, through legislation, through education to stop this and make society realize this [violence] is not acceptable,” she said. “Things don’t happen overnight. Nights like this remind us, we can’t just stop and give up.

“We have to push ahead.”

Nunavut’s second territorial election is Feb. 16.

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