Women complain of sexual harassment at Nunavik House
“He wanted me to give him a blow-job.”
Women from Nunavik allege that a male employee at Nunavik House is sexually harassing and threatening them when they stay at the 55-bed patient residence in Montreal.
“It was crazy. He wanted me to give him a blow-job. I just told him I can’t, and he’s not allowed to do that. He kept pushing me. Before I left, I exploded and told everybody he did that,” said a woman who spoke to Nunatsiaq News about her recent experiences as patient escort at Nunavik House.
She did not want her name appear in the newspaper because she said she feared she would be banned from Nunavik House in the future.
The woman alleges this man also tried to blackmail her into having sex with him. She said he first accused her of being a racist when she refused his sexual demands, and then told her he would make her lose her job up north if she complained about him.
She said she found out later that he had told Nunavik House managers that she had been drunk.
Anyone who is intoxicated may be kicked out or banned from further stays at the residence.
This woman said five other women staying at Nunavik House all told her the same man also approached them.
“He’s doing it to every lady there,” said the woman. “Some of them are patients and some are escorts. He has a wife and he’s bothering Inuit ladies. They’re telling me they’re scared to tell the truth.”
Sexual assaults inside the Nunavik House are only some of the concerns for these women.
The residence is located in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood of Montreal, in a seedy section of St-Jacques St., which is lined with cheap hotels and biker bars. Last year, a woman accepted a ride outside Nunavik House from a man who later took her back to his home and raped her.
Montreal’s Native Friendship Centre is working on a pamphlet aimed at young Inuit women, giving them tips on how they can be safe while they’re in Montreal.
But employees at Nunavik House told Nunatsiaq News they feel their hands are tied when responding to complaints about sexual harassment at the residence.
“The administration doesn’t seem to be willing to do anything,” said an employee who feared she would be fired if her name appeared in the paper. “The escorts and patients speak to us, the employees, and it’s hard. It’s unhealthy.”
The social worker at the Northern Module, Lynn Spark, said she couldn’t comment on this specific case of alleged sexual harassment.
But she agreed young Inuit women in Montreal are easy prey for men.
“We have a lot of young vulnerable women who come through our doors, and they’re often not in very good situations in the North. Someone who is pleasant and friendly and pays attention to them can be very seductive.”
Protecting women within Nunavik House from the man alleged to be harassing them is difficult because employees allege this man is protected by friends in management.
“We don’t know what to do,” said an employee, who said complaints have been made in writing about his behaviour.
The woman who said she fought off repeated invitations for sex said she complained.
“Everybody does it, nothing happens,” she said.
Two years ago, a male employee was charged with sexual assault and dismissed.
Consensual sexual contacts between clients at Nunavik House and staff also appear to be commonplace. A driver, who still works for Nunavik House, struck up a friendship with a client at the residence and eventually had a child with her; another driver has openly dated a client.
Employees told Nunatsiaq News they find this behaviour “ethically questionable” and “inappropriate,” and say health professionals would be going against their code of ethics to date or develop close relationships with clients.
However, the same code doesn’t apply to drivers. A code of ethics for employees working at Nunavik House exists, but has never been formally approved.
Escorts and patients who come to Nunavik House do have a chance to make written complaints on forms, which are readily available and can be deposited at the Northern Module or Module du Nord, right next door to Nunavik House. Complaints may also be directed to the Northern Module Coordinator, Lisa Watt, or the local health board members.
But some Inuit may be reluctant to make written complaints: “they say something to someone and they feel they’re made a complaint, but they need to put it in writing and give it to the right people, they need facts. That’s why they may feel nothing is being done,” an employee said.
Watt was on holiday this week and could not be reached for comment on whether complaints had reached her attention.
Linda Godin-Bradshaw, coordinator of the Northern Module’s services from the Inuulitsivik Hospital in Puvirnituq, said she couldn’t comment on how complaints were handled or whether any complaints had been received about alleged sexual harassment at Nunavik House.
She referred comment to Inuulitsivik’s executive director, Noah Inukpuk, who was not able to be reached before Nunatsiaq News went to press.