A national organization representing Inuit women in Canada is calling for a radical shift in the way police work is done in the North in light of findings in a new report released Thursday that has uncovered “systemic racialized policing” in the Arctic.
Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada and Elizabeth Comack, a sociology and criminology professor at the University of Manitoba, co-authored the report, which examined how police respond to violence against women in Canada’s traditional Inuit territory, known as Inuit Nunangat.
The report says that interviews with about 45 Inuit women, and nearly as many service providers, revealed many women encounter such high rates of gender-based violence they have come to expect it in their lives.
The authors hone in on actions of police officers responding to cases of domestic violence in these regions, with women sharing they are often not believed when reporting abuse.
Sometimes, according to the report, the women reporting the violence – rather than their abusers – are the ones removed from their homes.
“Racialized policing persists in Inuit women’s encounters with the justice system and it goes well beyond a few individual officers holding stereotypes about Inuit,” said Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada.
“Police can respond more effectively to gendered violence by adopting a ‘decolonizing framework’ that helps officers move from being an outside force to becoming more integrated with northern communities they serve.”
Women in Nunavut are the victims of violent crime at a rate more than 13 times higher than women in Canada as a whole and are 12 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than in other provinces and territories, according to data cited by the report.
Also, in 2016, Nunavut had the highest rate of female victims of police-reported family violence in Canada, with the Northwest Territories coming in second.
Inuit women from across Inuit Nunangat – including Nunavut, the Inuvialuit Settlement Region of the Northwest Territories, Nunavik in northern Quebec and Nunatsiavut of Newfoundland and Labrador – told the study’s authors they feel victimized by police protocols when they do report incidents of abuse.
The RCMP did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday, but the report did note it had received official statements from the Mounties and the regional police force in Nunavik regarding their roles and responsibilities.
Those statements, according to the report, say that “policing is carried out in a manner that upholds justice and the safety and security of all citizens.”
The report also emphasizes the historical context of the gendered violence that has been experienced by Inuit women over many decades, arguing it has been perpetrated or exacerbated in many cases by RCMP officers. It provides a detailed account of how Mounties were involved in moving Inuit people to permanent settlements and transporting children to residential schools.
This echoes findings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which was highly critical of the RCMP’s overall dealings with Indigenous peoples and communities. The inquiry made note of many of the same concerns and gaps in policing services for Inuit in the Arctic as those highlighted in this new report.
The federal government has said it will release its national action plan to respond to the inquiry by June.
Further findings in the new study highlight concerns about inadequate dispatching systems in Arctic regions. The authors also found that officers spend limited time in particular communities. This, coupled with their lack of knowledge of the Inuit language, has created a perception that police are outsiders – fuelling a widespread feeling of distrust.
Participants did note the challenges faced by police officers in the regions, including having to respond to high-risk situations of domestic violence.
The report says some police officers were also interviewed. Officers in Nunavik, for example, pointed to initiatives to try to address some of the locals’ concerns. That includes improved cultural training and a call centre with Inuktitut speakers.
The report comes with 15 recommendations, including calling for a cultural shift in policing to adapt more to Inuit tradition and history in these regions. That should involve police officers becoming more connected and integrated into their communities, the report says.
It also calls for more female police officers, more Inuit civilian positions with each police department to help with healing and translation and for the RCMP to revisit its posting terms for northern officers.
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