Health

What could have been done to prevent NWT domestic homicides?


Researchers asked people affected by domestic homicide to come forward as an NWT group told Cabin Radio it remains "extremely worried" about a number of women threatened by violence.

Seven people died as a result of domestic homicide in the NWT between 2010 and 2015, a recent study states. Now, researchers want to hear from those affected by the deaths.

The national research team – which has an NWT connection – is hoping to learn how the deaths could have been prevented by listening to family members or friends who lost loved ones to domestic homicide, alongside survivors of severe domestic violence.

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"It's very helpful to talk to survivors and to hear their perspectives on what could have been done to help their loved one," said Dr Pertice Moffitt, the Aurora Research Institute’s manager of health research programs.

We have lists of women who we know are going to end up murdered. If they come to the door, we let them in, no matter how full we are.

LYDA FULLER, YWCA NWT

Moffitt is the pan-territorial coordinator of the new project, which is named the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative for Vulnerable Populations.

The initiative will focus on Canadian populations with a higher number of reported incidences of violence, including Indigenous, rural and remote, and northern populations; immigrants and refugees; and children.

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The purpose, Moffitt said, is to reduce deaths and keep people safe in domestic violence situations.

Interviews will be scheduled over the next six months. Researchers are looking to speak with anyone affected in the three territories between 2006 and 2016. They must be 18 or over and must have no current court or coroner investigations associated with the case. The interviews, Moffitt said, will be anonymous and confidential.

Support for interviewees

Keeping interviewees as safe as possible is critical, Moffitt said. The process can include a video, telephone, or in-person interview at a location chosen by the interviewee.

Support is available for people to travel and to bring a support person, as well as care for children if needed. If the person needs an interpreter, support is available for this as well. Aftercare in the form of counselling will also be provided.

"We don't want to traumatize you any more than you have been," Moffitt said.

Between 2010 and 2018 there were 662 victims of domestic homicide across Canada, a handout provided by the research group stated.

"That's a lot of suffering, a lot of people, a lot of devastation," Moffitt said. "People in the communities, front-line people and the families and the individuals... that shatters a lot of lives."

Of the 662 killed, the group said, 192 were from rural, remote and northern areas; 77 were Indigenous; and 55 were children. Within those statistics, the NWT, Nunavut and Manitoba have the highest rates of domestic homicide. The NWT experiences 15.27 deaths per 100,000 people, the group said.

"Domestic homicides, they appear as though they're predictable and preventable in hindsight, when you look at it and when the stories come out," Moffitt said. "By educating ourselves about the risk factors and about what's going on, then hopefully we can decrease those numbers."

Factors involved in domestic violence are complex, Moffitt said, and include historical oppression and colonialism.

Pointing to "the lack of accessible resources out in our remote communities for people to get," Moffitt said: "I'm a nurse, and the rotating and revolving front-line workers in the communities can also be a problem, as can social isolation and sometimes language barriers when trying to get help."

'Notes in their kids' lunches'

Domestic violence is a gendered crime, with women accounting for more than 80 percent of victims, the initiative states.

Lyda Fuller is the executive director of YWCA NWT, which runs family violence shelters for women and children fleeing domestic violence in the territory.

Interventions take many forms, Fuller said, including flying women outside the territory to remove them from the perpetrator. Women also use a variety of strategies to get help. "We've seen things like women putting on notes in their kids' lunches, when they go to school, to ask the teacher to call for help," she said.

Many women return to the YWCA's Yellowknife family violence shelter upward of 18 to 20 times.

"Both in our housing program and at our shelter, we have lists of women who we know are going to end up murdered," she said. "We have lists of women that we are extremely worried about and who, if they come to the door, we let them in. No matter how full we are."

Fuller wants to see a more formalized system of intervention in the form of a team including the RCMP, victim services, counsellors, and housing services, who could target high-risk women and help them formulate a plan. She suggests providing those women with a cellphone, counselling, or engaging their neighbours.

Review committees

The YWCA also believes housing is a major concern, both in Yellowknife and the communities.

Fuller said the loss of the Rockhill transitional housing complex in a 2018 fire has made women in situations of domestic violence less safe. The 87 residents of the complex had safety features including security staff overnight and a main door locked at night.

"We are housing people in private-market units in the community. So there's no overnight security, there aren't two locked doors," Fuller said. "We see abusers coming in and destroying things, and threatening and harming the women and the kids."

The organization is planning to expand its 18-unit safe housing complex for women, Lynn's Place, by adding 20 units where a parking lot now stands. The units would be "a good start," Fuller said. For communities, which often struggle with an even more dire housing need, the YWCA has plans to set up a pilot project of safe houses in three communities by the new year.

Recalling the murder of a woman in a small NWT community in 2008, Fuller said the Coalition Against Family Violence has several times asked the NWT government about having what she called a "death review committee."

"People knew that trouble was brewing," said Fuller of the 2008 case, adding even the children knew help was needed. "When you read the coroner's report, people talked about knowing, and how then can we have not intervened? What happened there that prevented an effective intervention?"

A death review committee would examine what happens in a domestic homicide and what could have happened at various points, Fuller said. This type of committee is usually led by a coroner.

Fuller urges people affected to be a part of the research project.

"I hope that women and family members will come and be interviewed, and speak out and lend their voices and their knowledge to this process," she said.

People who want to be interviewed can reach Moffitt at 867-920-3062 or by email.

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