Prof. Desmond Ellis of York University in Toronto says local domestic violence death review committees, which review cases and offer recommendations when a person dies from domestic violence, are needed in the territories to help understand and prevent intimate partner violence. (Photo courtesy of York University)

Nunavut needs a domestic violence death review committee: Toronto prof

Establishing local committee instead of using one from the south called best option for self-determination

By Madalyn Howitt

A Toronto professor says Nunavut should establish its own specialized committee to help prevent intimate partner violence in the territory.

Domestic violence death review committees, or DVDRCs, are expert advisory committees that review cases and assist chief coroners when a person dies from domestic violence.

The objective is to offer recommendations to prevent future deaths in similar circumstances, in particular femicide, said Desmond Ellis, a professor of sociology at York University’s LaMarsh Centre for Child and Youth Research in Toronto.

The first DVDRC in Canada was formed in Ontario in 2003. Since then, several provinces have established their own committees.

However, there are no local DVDRCs in the territories.

Ellis said that needs to change.

Kitikmeot Community Futures Inc., Job Opportunity – Executive Director

“People in Nunavut should create and operate their own domestic violence death review committees,” he said.

Currently, committees from elsewhere in Canada will travel to the territories to review domestic violence death cases and offer recommendations.

For instance, in 2018 a DVDRC from Toronto visited Nunavut and formulated 15 recommendations aimed at preventing femicide and family violence in the territory.

However, there are a number of problems with that model, Ellis said.

“What do they know about remote communities in the North?” he said.

The committees, which don’t always include an Indigenous member, come up north and make recommendations “without reference to the historical conditions experienced by people.”

“I read the [2018 recommendations] and I found none of them were derived from an understanding of intergenerational and multi-generational trauma resulting from attendance in residential schools” or other communal traumas like the Sixties Scoop, high suicide rates and incarcerations, Ellis said.

“There’s no reference to the historical conditions and the effects of settler colonialism and state intrusions on Inuit. This list doesn’t correspond to what we know about Nunavut historically.”

The rate of domestic violence in Nunavut is nine times higher than the rest of Canada, according to research done in 2019 by the Qaujigiartiit Health Research Centre.

According to Government of Canada statistics, while Indigenous women account for about five per cent of all women in Canada, they make up 21 per cent of all women killed by an intimate partner between 2014 and 2019, when 83 victims were recorded.

Ellis, who’s writing a chapter on DVDRCs within Indigenous communities for an upcoming book, said he’s “hopeful” they would work effectively in the territories.

However, knowing the unique aspects of Nunavut’s culture and history is integral to understanding how to address and prevent intimate partner violence.

“A committee set up in Nunavut can determine for itself and make recommendations about social changes and whatever it feels is necessary,” he said.

“And if provincial funding sets up these committees in the south, why shouldn’t the federal government fund and support them in the North?”

Another problem with relying on fly-in committees is that there are fewer opportunities to follow up on their recommendations and whether they’ve been adopted or had any positive effects.

“They make recommendations [but] there’s no followup on implementation. If it was Nunavut’s DVDRC, they may decide if we’re going to make recommendations can we have some mechanism for following up to see whether these were implemented?” Ellis said.

Nunavut’s Office of the Chief Coroner did not respond to requests for comment on whether it is working to establish a domestic violence death review committee in the territory.


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(23) Comments:

  1. Posted by iWonder on

    I’m curious about Professor Ellis’ uses the term ‘femicide.’ The definition being: “the intentional killing of women or girls because they are female.”

    Is it too much to wonder if this is a useful or informative starting point? Are these women being killed because they are women? Can that be established somehow? Is there a reliable way to determine that motive?

    Or, is this just provocative jargon, meant to draw attention to the message (or perhaps even the messenger)?

    • Posted by Correct term on

      I believe he is using the correct term. Spousal violence against Inuit women is high for a small population. Women know this and have unfortunate experiences with this – from violence to sexual abuse. And this happens because they are women – I’m not sure what term or suggestion you would have? Inuit women die at the hands of the husband/boyfriend.

      I think it’s important to start a committee in Nunavut, understand the issues Inuit face because, a lot of abuses gets such low sentences- we read about it. Some who murdered their wives are out too. Something needs to change, a better deterrent. Its an important discussion to happen in the hopes of lowering the rates of violence.

      • Posted by iWonder on

        That it is happening to women, and that it is happening because they are women are not exactly the same thing. Given the difficulty in establishing motives (at least, no effort has been made here) I suspect the term has been used for rhetorical effect, for spectacle.

        It’s a safe calculation too. Only a miserable asshole would protest! Or someone concerned with the manipulative use of language.

        You asked what I would call it? I’ll accept your definition, Spousal violence against Inuit women, or, murder.

        • Posted by Disagree on

          I disagree – I don’t believe he is being manipulative in his statements and it’s interesting this is the part you’re taking away from this article. Instead of speaking about how it is important to ensure Inuit women are protected. It’s also vital not to downplay the situations Inuit women face at the hands of their abusers. This is a very sensitive topic that literally affect’s Inuit women. saying it’s all rhetorical isn’t meaningful to the conversation. I think focusing on the topic at hand will help find outcomes.

          I hope Nunatsiaq does a follow up on this – if a committee is made or not.

          • Posted by iWonder on

            On the topic of manipulative language, to suggest I am dismissing this issue as “all rhetorical” fits right in.

            To be fair to you, I understand what a difficult thing living in a diverse, pluralistic society can be. Not everyone is going to hone in on what you or the majority might consider the only point in a story worth discussing, but here we are, free to discuss what each of us do find meaningful.

            That is tough and I’m sorry it’s uncomfortable for you, but I urge you to experience your discomfort and allow this to be a moment of learning.

            • Posted by ? on

              I’m not uncomfortable – I’m engaging in this because its affected women I care about. I’m not attacking you, I wanted to speak my peace about it since I’ve witnessed the abuse happen to women time and time again. It’s correct in saying it happens to them because they are women. Most of the time, the women are physically smaller too. To be clear, I am in no way uncomfortable or attacking you.

              Discussions should be able to happen with the best of intentions. I’m born and raised in nunavut and Inuk so, seeing this happening growing up was so normal when it shouldn’t be.

              Interesting takes on this, it’s good people are thinking of this issue.

          • Posted by Serious question on

            If MMIWG is considered genocide, why are we calling incidents of murdered Inuit women femicide?

            • Posted by Good question on

              There’s a lot to unpack there. One of the issues that sometimes gets overlooked by people calling MMIWG “genocide” is that the perpetrators of that “genocide” are most often First Nations/Inuit/Metis men, just as is the case all over the world where, outside of something like a war, a woman is most likely to be murdered by someone she knows who lives in the same community.

  2. Posted by Ringo Starr on

    It is important to solve problems as locally as possible, and the model described does seem to have problems. It would be interesting to see a process put in place that would allow the “expertise” needed to run the process, as well as be owned by Nunavummiut (not necessarily the government, but the people).

    Domestic violence, partner violence, child abuse and general violence is a serious problem that needs to be looked at from multiple levels. There is no one cause or one answer; but, we need to start calling it out and being clear that it is not acceptable.

    It would be nice to see a follow up article on which of the 15 recommendations made in 2018 have been fully implemented. It has been 5 years, there should have been significant movement on them.

  3. Posted by Abuse victim on

    We also need to encourage our women and girls to leave abusive relationships. Having family and friends says things like he’s a good hunter and provider. Stop making him mad, you don’t want to break up the family.
    Times have changed. I don’t need a hunter. Got myself a job and now go grocery shopping. Best decision to be single

    • Posted by ashevak on

      Great idea in theory, but where are these women and children supposed to go when fleeing these situations of violence when there is a territorial shortage or housing and safe spaces such as shelters for women and girls?

    • Posted by Agree on

      Agree and also to educate boys and men that it’s not okay to hit their girlfriend/wife. Teaching them a zero tolerance of domestic violence.

  4. Posted by Far off track on

    He’s far off from achieving any success here. It’s the same pitfall that prevents most progression towards a healthier society, not only the north, but anywhere you have a difference in culture and more so in minority people. Just to give one important example, alcohol plays majorly in this problem: ok professor, there you have one cultural historical difference, Inuit didn’t use alcohol as part of their society, so what now, that you know the history of one important aspect? Do you see and solution here for that part? We see this happening all the time, Inuit are not getting to solve many of the issues! as by someone , somewhere , left in charge of the assessment and the impediment of solution, waiting for a difference in the color of blood or some cultural difference to give justification to the abuse in the first place. This is going big old nowhere again. I suggest, you call a spade a spade when it comes to human suffering. Treatments may be more universal than you are taught to believe.

    • Posted by Peter the Pedestrian on

      Much of what has been said by Ellis here feels safe, predictable, even a little canned.

      His suggestions on a DVDRC are reasonable though.

  5. Posted by Why people abuse each other culturally? on

    Let’s suppose, as you may be inclined to suppose rather than ascertain the reality. Let’s suppose Inuit society has a major issue with jealousy, insecure in relationships. Let’s suppose Inuit doesn’t do well with handling some alcohol! After a few drinks people hurt each other . Let’s suppose Inuit segregation from the mainstream society of Canadian is all too real, and Inuit don’t find any significant reason to get into education. And other aspects of progressivism? What will be done with , just theses aspects, when the assessment team acknowledges that reality? Plus, knowing, can it actually be said that the reason of spousal abuse and so forth in injury and crime lies in the actuality of what I point out above ? So to solve the issue, we are also giving an excuse for it to be that way also. There’s a problem here.

  6. Posted by Hunter on

    Issue: Domestic Violence is on the rise in the territory,
    Issue: Homicide as a result of Domestic Violence is on the rise in the territory
    Issue: Increased alcohol consumption leading factor of the rise of domestic violence
    Issue: No Addiction treatment centers and limited local resources for addition services

    To reduce domestic violence long term, the Government needs to lower alcohol consumption tough addition awareness/education and treatment. The Government must come up with a plan to deal with the under lying factors that are leading to alcohol abuse on a mental level.

    In the meantime while the Government tiddles their thumbs on addiction health services, women’s shelters need to be set up in every community where women can leave the abusive home with the children for a cool down period of the offender and maybe even sent to another community’s women’s shelter for a new start. These women’s shelters will help women get on their feel emotionally spiritually and financially so they are no longer dependent on the offender.

    This is common sense but to the Government it is like rocket science.

    YOU DO NOT NEED A COMMITTEE TO MAKE THESE RECOMMENDATIONS! Just get acting before more women die as a result of domestic violence….We don’t need more red tape we need immediate action or we are just raising the next generation of abusers.

  7. Posted by Nunavik as well on

    Nunavik has the same issue. If you want to do something, and you are in a position to have access to funding and on a team, work on alcohol and drugs. Substance abuse has critical consequences for the north. The real problem lies in lack of insight , with leadership and professionals limited into finding solutions by reasons of political correctness and continuing an atmosphere of denial that transcends contagiousness from Victims onto helpers. People are literally afraid to go where the solutions are to be found, because to go there a truth needs to be told, and no one wants to leader of that objective.

  8. Posted by S on

    Violence against adult men and women, against children and the elderly, and violence against self (in many forms including self-mutilation, drug abuse, and suicide) are rampant in any society where oppression and despair are the norm. Look no further than the slums of any city or remote smaller communities to see ample and blatant evidence of these effects.

    The professor is being both opportunistic and hypocritical with his dogma; being part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

    • Posted by My guess to the S on

      I hear you S, but I think you’re in detox the magnitude of this in the north. Yes there are people not coping well after the oppressive abuse of others , but most people recover in some way to be better versions of themselves. Why do people in the north go off into alcohol so much and use oppression as the rightful excuse. Something not right here? And I don’t think it’s anyone’s doing but the doer.

  9. Posted by Shocked on

    Only in Nunavut can you murder your spouse and get a scholarship established in your name:

    This year marks the first annual Joe Attagutaluk Inuktitut Language Award, where QIA awarded 13 graduating students who have demonstrated dedication and persistence in the preservation of the Inuktitut language.

    QIA’s role is to protect and preserve the Inuktitut language and culture, to promote the enhancement and continued use of Inuktitut in our everyday lives. We dedicated this award to the late Joe Attagutaluk because he embodied all these things, and we are grateful for his contributions and dedication to Inuit in the Qikiqtani Region.


    • Posted by Yup on

      Exactly!!! Killed his wife and still got to live comfortably. Insane! How are we not renouncing him?? It’s unbelievable.

    • Posted by I live in the Arctic on

      wow what a joke, he beat wife to death and nothing happened whats wrong with the justice system!?

      is it because he is inuk, what if his wife were white? what then?

  10. Posted by Qavvigarjuk on

    When people are suffering from trauma, many hurt the people they love the most in physical and or mental abuse because they are in so much pain themselves. Sexual abuse is a learned behavior, often from being sexually abused themselves as children. Addictions happen to people when they use it to numb their pain where ever it comes from. The Government has to realize that they need to put a huge amount of resources into offering meaningful mental health to help people overcome trauma both victims and abusers. There needs to be cultural and modern medical appropriate help to overcome addictions. It needs to go to the source, trauma otherwise it is only a bandaid solution. the abusers are the ones that need to leave the home for treatment , not the abused . And those families need protection. The abused need mental health help, support and other resources to make them independant .

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