Draft law would remove accused wife beaters

Conference mulls proposals to curb domestic violence

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

JOHN THOMPSON

Police in Nunavut could be given the authority to remove accused spousal abusers from their own homes until their charges are dealt with in court.

That’s the intent of draft legislation presented to participants at a symposium held in Iqaluit last week on violence against women.

The proposed Nunavut law is intended to end a familiar story: police arrest a man for abusing his wife, only to have the abuser return home a few days later. An overloaded court system could mean the offender wouldn’t be sentenced until a year later. Until then, his spouse and children continue to live in fear.

The draft legislation, still in its early stages, is one solution presented at the meeting, which drew together 100 participants from across Nunavut for three days. Organizers say was the first meeting of its kind.

The territory’s commanding officer for the RCMP, John Henderson, said he couldn’t imagine the conference happening two years ago.

“There was a tremendous amount of denial. We weren’t acknowledging it was taking place. And on the women’s side of the shop, there wasn’t acknowledgement that men need help as well,” he said.

The territorial government plans to use recommendations from the meeting to draft new policy to curb spousal abuse.

Those recommendations include providing more funding and support for community-based treatment, delivered in the same way that the Embrace Life Council provides counseling for suicide.

Another model others hope to copy is Rankin Inlet’s spousal abuse counseling program, which has offered services to abusers and victims for four years now, as well as joint counseling that brings the two together.

During a public forum on Wednesay evening, Iqaluit’s mayor, Elisapee Sheutiapik, said she learned while growing up to recognize abused women by their bruises, but few talked about the subject at the time.

Today she sees more openness, but says victims need to remember to seek counseling, or else they risk becoming abusers themselves.

“They’re either going to continue to be victims, or they’re going to take it out on their children,” she said.

One common complaint from participants is that the territory needs more women’s shelters and transition homes.

Currently four shelters operate around the territory, with one in each regional centre and one in Taloyoak. Representatives from communities like Sanikiluaq said they need a shelter of their own.

Treatment and counseling need to be seen as the first step, according to conference goers, with criminal charges seen as only a last resort.

The RCMP’s John Henderson said in many cases, violent men are crying for help.

“There are men I’ve arrested who’ve said, ‘Thank you for this,’” he said.

He suggested that RCMP could work with social workers, clergy and other community members to confront abusers inside their homes, pressing criminal charges only as a last resort.

Spousal violence is often described as a learned behavior, passed down from parents, or in some cases in Nunavut, a legacy from the abuse suffered by Inuit from missionaries who taught in residential schools.

But men at the public forum said individuals must take more responsibility for their actions. “We can’t just blame the teachers, the educators. We have to blame ourselves as well,” said Jimmy Makpah from Arviat.

The event, organized by the Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council, received $350,000 in funding from the Government of Nunavut and Government of Canada, various Inuit organizations and non-profit groups.

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