A dedicated team of prosecution staff in Yellowknife is working to provide better justice services to victims of sexualized violence.
Crown prosecutors Annie Piche and Angie Paquin, alongside a Crown witness coordinator and some support staff, will make up a small team focused on cases involving sexualized violence in the NWT.
“We certainly want to improve the way that we support victims of sexual violence through the court process,” Piche said.
“There is definitely a goal to achieve a more trauma-informed approach in our work with victims, also to improve our cultural competency, to make sure that we promote cultural safety in the way that we deal with victims.
“We also want to generally improve the quality of the prosecution that we do for victims, and for the community to get justice when it comes to sexual violence.”
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada is launching the initiative in response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which called for greater trauma-informed and culturally appropriate support for victims of crime.
The inquiry found the staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people in Canada amounted to a race-based genocide.
The NWT faces some of the highest rates of sexualized violence in Canada.
Between 2009 and 2014, the territory had the second-highest average annual rate of police-reported sexual assaults in Canada, at more than six times the national average. During this period, a total of 1,057 sexual assault incidents were reported in the NWT.
Piche acknowledged the court process can be difficult and victims have agency to decide whether they want to report incidents to police or pursue criminal charges.
“I would encourage victims to come forward knowing that here in our office, we want to listen to victims, we want to take into consideration their views, how this process is affecting them,” she said.
“I believe that the justice system can bring some accountability for offenders, which can also help victims through their healing journey.”
In addition to prosecuting cases, Piche said the new team plans to work with other organizations – like victim services and the police – to better support victims, alongside providing mentorship to other lawyers working with people who have had traumatic experiences.
Piche has been in the role for about a month after working as a prosecutor for 20 years, beginning in Quebec, where she largely handled cases involving illicit drugs and organized crime.
Since she moved to the North around eight years ago, Piche said she has prosecuted violent crimes including many sexual offences.
“I’ve really found a passion for this type of work and I believe that in taking on this role, we can make a difference, hopefully, for victims,” she said.
“I want to bring my dedication to improve this very difficult experience for the unfortunate members of our community who have to go through it.”