Incidents of intimate partner family violence are believed to be increasing during the Covid-19 pandemic due to families facing stresses related to self-isolation, Health Minister Julie Green said in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday.
Speaking on the occasion of Family Violence Prevention Month in the NWT, Green said that the NWT records some of the highest rates of violence against women in the country, according to Statistics Canada, which said in a 2013 report that violent crime against women was nine times higher than the national rate, second only to Nunavut where the rate was 13 times higher.
Green echoed a statement made by the NWT Medical Association in June, which said Covid restrictions have led to an increase in domestic violence, among other negative impacts.
“Two women have been murdered in the last two months. This violence is as heartbreaking as it is unacceptable. As a territory, we need to do better,” she said, referencing a suspicious death in Yellowknife on Oct. 31 for which a man faces a murder charge, and a woman who was found dead in Hay River on Sept. 9. A man was charged with murder in connection with the Hay River death.
Green urged a change in attitudes about violence against women and that all efforts should be made to stop the cycle of violence and promote healthy relationships.
While she said that the number of emergency protection orders has also increased since the pandemic, the government is taking action through many departments and agencies working with community partners.
“We have established an interdepartmental working group that will review GNWT programs and services providing family violence supports,” she said. “This team is working on an action plan on the calls to justice from the final report of the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) national inquiry. This work will contribute to addressing the issue of domestic violence, among other things.”
Green said that the family violence shelters in Tuktoyaktuk, Inuvik, Yellowknife, Hay River, and Fort Smith are territorial resources that can be accessed 24 hours a day. The GNWT provides $3.5 million annually in core funding for those shelters, and in August the federal government announced one-time-only funding of $321,000 to support cleaning in those facilities.
“Staff will help you to make a safety plan, if required, and apply for an emergency protection order to keep the abuser away. Shelters also provide a range of support programs for women and children who are trying to leave an abusive relationship. Shelter supports include supportive counselling, case management and referral, support in identifying housing and income supports, links to transitional housing supports, and, most importantly, a safe place to stay,” Green said.
For communities without shelters, help with travel is available and people can phone the family crisis line at 1-866-223-7775 for assistance. The NWT Help Line at 1-800-661-0844 can be contacted as well to seek help about abuse, suicidal thoughts and mental health issues.
The government has distributed more than 150 cell phones to victim service providers to give to people in need, helping ensuring women can safely seek information and support.
More help is available through community counselling services and child and youth care counsellors.
“As a territory we cannot afford to view family violence as a special awareness week or a one-time initiative,” Green said. “The health and well-being of our residents depends on a coordinated approach to breaking the silence and working together in meaningful ways to end all forms of family violence.”