‘We do worry a lot.’ Tracking NWT family violence during a pandemic
While RCMP and the territorial government have so far seen no increase in domestic violence reports since pandemic restrictions came into effect, the YWCA NWT says there have been more emergency protection order requests.
An emergency protection order (EPO) is a legal order that can require an abuser to leave the house, stay away from a person and their children, and allow the RCMP to remove weapons the abuser possesses.
The YWCA helps people who are in danger navigate their way through the steps required to have an EPO issued.
The NWT government said “it’s too soon to have data to show the impact” of the Covid-19 pandemic on family violence.
A domestic violence group in Calgary said in mid-March countries hit hardest by the pandemic had reported “dramatic increases” of family violence. In Vancouver, calls to a domestic violence crisis line quadrupled in the past month even though police had no spike in domestic violence statistics. In Ontario, 20 percent of shelters are experiencing an increase in calls.
Lyda Fuller, the YWCA NWT executive director, told Cabin Radio earlier this month she believed the group had experienced a 50-percent increase in EPO requests over the second half of March.
During that time, more than 1,000 NWT residents entered self-isolation while many more were sent to work from home, or stayed at home to comply with the chief public health officer’s advice.
“I would agree that [isolation] puts people at increased risk because you don’t have other avenues for people to check up on folks to make sure that people are OK,” Fuller said.
In the past, she said, women have relied on actions like sticking notes in their children’s backpacks to let a teacher know they were in an unsafe situation and needed help.
“So we do worry a lot that this is going to increase danger for women and children and elders,” said Fuller.
Shelters in the NWT remain open. The YWCA’s 24-hour crisis line (1-866-223-7775) is staffed and free for victims or families of victims to call if they need help. The NWT’s help line (1-800-661-0844) is available 24 hours a day.
“You can always phone the shelter and get help with safety planning, even if you just have a minute or two,” she said.
Shelters can help to facilitate EPOs or make arrangements to bring people to whichever shelter is closest and has space.
In 2013, Statistics Canada reported the Northwest Territories and Nunavut had Canada’s highest rates of police-reported family violence. In the NWT, the rate was nearly 10 times higher than the national average.
Fuller said if you are concerned someone is in an unsafe situation at home, reach out and offer support.
“In the past, we’ve had women actually bring people to the shelter – women approach another woman who looked in distress in grocery stores and say to them, ‘Do you need help?’, and then bring them to the shelter, while their partner in the car or the truck is in the parking lot,” she said.
“So there are ways to intervene and to help. And you can always call the RCMP if you think somebody’s in trouble and they can check on them.”
On April 4, the federal government announced up to $26 million for Women’s Shelters Canada to share with around 575 women’s shelters, up to $4 million for the Canadian Women’s Foundation to share with sexual assault centres, and $10 million to Indigenous Services Canada’s 46 emergency shelters on reserves and in the Yukon.
Fuller was not able to comment on how the money might be distributed in the NWT. The territorial government did not respond to the same question. None of the NWT’s victim services organizations responded to requests for comment.