Awareness, then action.
Louise Elder, march organizer and executive director of Status of Women Council NWT, wanted both as dozens of residents marched downtown and called to eliminate family violence on Wednesday.
That includes ending the seven-year absence of an integrated strategy needed to address the issue.
“We’ve waited patiently, we’ve asked nicely and now we’re asking a little more vocally for a strategy and an actual plan,” Elder said.
According to Statistics Canada data from 2015, the Northwest Territories has the second-highest rate of police-reported family violence in the country, and the second-highest rate of violence against elders, Statistics Canada stated in 2015. In 2013, the agency also indicated that family violence was nine times higher than Canada as a whole.
Other jurisdictions, however, have seen rates fall through concerted effort, while NWT’s remain stagnant. “It’s still unacceptably high, but they have made progress,” Elder said.
Elder laid out a five-point plan to help matters: commitment to a solution, leading by example, sharing information about family violence prevention month, offering up support, and maintaining personal safety while addressing the issue.
Community leaders and politicians like Premier Caroline Cochrane also attended the march.
That leads to the march’s other purpose: to call on the government to commit a family violence strategy and action plan. The last one lapsed in 2012, leaving a gap strategy that was never fully replaced. Cochrane has identified it as a priority, but the issue wasn’t included in the new government’s recently released list of priorities for the 19th Legislative Assembly.
The framework helps guide programs, services, and other initiatives. It identifies gaps and roles in joint efforts and create a wider, more integrated strategy. That means “not doing it piecemeal, but (through) a whole framework,” Elder said.
There are roughly three layers to a strategy for eliminating family violence. Prevention, for example, could include a campaign aimed at changing attitudes, encouraging gender equality, and promoting a less harmful vision of masculinity.
“It (could be) education throughout the school system around conflict resolution, respect, consent, (and) healthy relationships,” Elder said, adding that this could expand to workplaces and community groups. “We have all these adults we need to reach.”
Another level to addressing the issue would be stopping it as it occurs. That could include connecting affected individuals with shelters, police, transitional and public housing, and other support services, she said.
The third describes efforts to prevent family violence in the future. Often those affected by family violence as children are more likely to experience it again, or be its perpetrators when they grow up, Elder said.
“We need the interventions to help them so they can live a full life,” she said, adding that counselling can also assist those affected as adults.
‘Okay to come forward’
For Insp. Alex Laporte, the top-ranking Mountie in the NWT, it was about coming together as a community.
“As service providers, as front line workers, as friends and family members, it’s about raising awareness and having a discussion around family violence,” he said. “And having an opportunity to say: it’s okay to come out, it’s okay to come forward.”
He said support services are available, despite the difficulty and trauma of individual situations. When he attends a call of family violence, “it’s a time of crisis,” he said, adding that addressing it has to be an ongoing commitment.
Laporte said the police were historically the first line of response if a situation were to occur, but also that officers have grown more conscious of inter-generational trauma and root causes that could underlay a call.
“I don’t think there’s a specific recipe (to prevent family violence),” he said. “Family violence is something that’s not acceptable and shouldn’t be acceptable in our community. The message is if you see it, if you hear it, if you’re witness it, there’s something to do.”
Dayle Hernblad joined the marchers to help bring an end to family violence.
She was concerned that Yellowknife and NWT faced disproportionate rates of family violence as compared to the national rates.
The solid turnout was encouraging, she said, because “of course the greater the awareness, the sooner we end it.”