In strong terms, the YWCA NWT assured women experiencing violence that if they need help, they can call the organization’s 24/7 crisis line (1-866-223-7775) – and do not need to also call the territorial government’s Covid-19 hotline.
The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) had said on April 21 that people experiencing violence should first get somewhere safe and then call the pandemic 8-1-1 line to explain their situation.
The NWT government suggested people in that situation could ask for an exemption from the territory’s public health order that bans indoor gatherings between people from different households.
The territory had said people fleeing unsafe situations would not be fined or ticketed for leaving, but also didn’t guarantee they wouldn’t have to go back home.
The YWCA NWT, which operates shelters in the territory, subsequently issued a news release clarifying that people do not have to let the government know if they have left a violent or potentially violent situation.
“Our priority is to keep women safe and reduce any barriers and confusion for those fleeing abuse,” said the YWCA NWT in a statement.
“We have confirmed with the NWT’s chief public health officer that it is business as usual for NWT family violence shelters and that women should call the shelter as they have always done, and that there is no need to call 8-1-1 or get special permission to leave.”
The YWCA NWT stressed women do not need to stay in unsafe situations during the pandemic and, if they need assistance, the non-profit will help to keep them and their children safe.
Family violence shelters in Fort Smith and Yellowknife remain open for women experiencing violence. Additional steps to protect families and workers in shelters from Covid-19 have been put in place, including requiring people to wear masks, temperature checks for people coming into the shelter, additional cleaning protocols, and physical distancing.
The YWCA NWT said it can also help women get an emergency protection order set up, which helps provide protection by requiring an abuser to leave the house, stay away from a person and their children, and allows the RCMP to remove weapons the abuser possesses.
Within the first few weeks of people being asked to stay home due to the pandemic, the YWCA NWT estimated there had been a 50-percent increase in emergency protection order requests. Across the country, cities are reporting significant increases in calls to family violence and crisis lines.