I am just back from Yellowknife where I presented at a conference organised by the Federal department of Justice called “Northern Responses and Approaches to Victims of Crime: Building on Strength and Resilience.” Over 250 victim support workers from across Canada met for three days to share ideas, research findings and to connect with each other. This was the first meeting of its kind and it was, in my opinion, a complete success. I had the opportunity to meet victim assistance workers from all areas of Canada, from Whitehorse to Rankin Inlet to Thompson Manitoba to Kuujjuak (my childhood villlage) in Northern Quebec. I have been to many conferences over the years, and this was the friendliest, most well organised of them all.
Why hold a victim support conference with a special focus on the North? Here is some sobering data from the Policy Centre for Victims Issues (PCVI) press release:
“According to the 2004 General Social Survey, residents of the territories were three times more likely than provincial residents to experience a violent victimization such as sexual assault, robbery or physical assault (315 versus 106 incidents per 1,000 population). Residents of the North also experienced higher levels of spousal violence than their counterparts in the provinces.
Approximately 12% of northern residents reported being the victim of some form of violence at the hands of a current and/or previous spouse or common-law partner in the five years preceding the survey. This compares to 7% of the population in the provinces. Residents of Nunavut were also far more likely to have been victims of spousal violence (22%) than residents of the Northwest Territories (11%) and the Yukon Territory (9%).
Similarly, police-reported crime rates in the territories were substantially higher than rates in the rest of Canada. Specifically, in 2005, crime rates in the North were over four times higher than rates in the provinces (33,186 compared to 7,679 incidents per 100,000 population). In 2005, the Northwest Territories had the highest police-reported crime rate among the three territories at 41,245 incidents per 100,000 population. This rate was 1.3 times higher than the rate in Nunavut, 1.8 times higher than that in Yukon and nearly three times higher than that in Saskatchewan, the province with the highest provincial crime rate (14,320).”
We heard a captivating and reflective keynote address by Justice Gerald Morin, Deputy Judge of the Territorial Court of the NWT and creator of the Cree Court in Saskatchewan. We were also were incredibly fortunate to have an evening performance by Leela Gilday, an award-winning Yellowknife singer and songwriter. Leela’s songs were deeply moving and her voice was incredible. I was very glad that my meek keynote address came before her and not after her powerful performance!
Conferences such as this one offer all of us the opportunity to stop for a few days (well not really stop, it was a jam-packed agenda and people were working hard) but certainly the chance to get out of the trenches to connect and reflect on the work that we do. I met some victim support workers who had some significant challenges in their own lives (dealing with fostering several children with fetal alcohol syndrome, to name just one) and the complexity of offering services in a remote community, where everyone knows you and where you are often the end of the line. To all of these workers, I offer my most sincere thanks for their warmth, their open hearts and their willingness to participate in the workshops I offered.