The Globe got it right; but will Nunavut?

This time, the Globe and Mail got it right: The young are neglected in Nunavut.

Nunavut belongs to the young, and the young are neglected. The most neglected of all are the most vulnerable, those children who have been sexually or physically abused or whose basic needs have not been met, owing to the substance abuse of their parents. And the Nunavut government, which should be protecting these children, is heaping more neglect on them. It is sending the message that no one cares about them.

The editorial responds to news stories generated by the office of the Auditor General of Canada’s report on children’s, youth and family services in Nunavut. You can find a copy of it on the auditor general’s website.

The auditor general’s staff found Nunavut does a poor job protecting children and from abuse. Most informed people in Nunavut already know this, or at least ought to. And several months ago, Nunavut residents learned two sections of the Child and Family Services Act are unconstitutional, after the release of a judgment by the Nunavut court.

(To be fair, the performance of Nunavut’s child protection may be poor, but it’s not nearly as bad as Nunavik’s.)

Meanwhile, in one of Nunavut’s most under-reported events last year, the Government of Nunavut set out in the fall of 2010 to re-make its Child and Family Services Act and the way it offers social services to residents who need them.

To get that going, between Dec. 15 and Dec. 17, 2009 they had organized a three-day talk session in Iqaluit they grandly entitled “Knowledge Sharing Forum: A Review of Child Welfare Practices in Nunavut.” You can download the document by following the link posted in the paragraph above.

Naturally, the document says much about the identity insecurities of Inuit adults — and very little about the actual safety and well-being of children.

And, of course, you’ll find the usual gushing about elders.

Traditional Responses to Abuse

“Participants shared their thoughts and experience about how Inuit families traditionally responded to abuse and how they supported people who were fighting or had problems with one another. It was noted that these matters were dealt with by the community and within the community. Traditionally, community members took an active role in dealing with abuse. Elders spoke with the victim and the abuser.”


“There was a couple that got together and the father came and picked up his daughter. The father said he would not return his daughter unless the husband was good to her. Our elders know that the whole family is involved in a relationship. These unwritten rules are not documented but this is the Inuit culture. We must be clear on this. We need a clear mind on sensitive issues.”

Okay. That was life in the Garden of Eden.

Based on these kinds of beliefs, before the creation of the new territory many people in Nunavut proposed that elders and their purported wisdom be used to fix all manner of problems — including those created by wife-beaters and child abusers.

In the real Nunavut, however, where real people bleed and suffer, no one really believes this.

Here are a couple of passage lifted from an evaluation of Nunavut’s Family Abuse Intervention Act, which was tabled quietly on March 10, the last day of the recent legislative assembly sitting. I can’t give you a link, because no digital copy seems to exist yet. The evaluation was done by the Genesis Group of Yellowknife, a firm that’s partly owned by Nunasi Corp.

The act authorizes the use of “traditional Inuit counselors,” a legal euphemism for “elders.” It turns out that nobody wants anything to with them.

We discovered little if any support from the public for this [elders] counselling and applicants do not want to be referred to it. Such counsellors as there are, typically in Community Justice Committees, tell us that they want nothing to do with family issues. Some attempts have been made, but the results have been poor.


Placing the onerous duty of counselling on local people is very problematic. The information on this issue from our informants can be summaried in two points: 1) no one wants to be involved in family abuse issues; and 2) the referral of multifaceted relationship issues to a traditional Inuit counselor may not be acceptable to the public.

I’d say Nunavut has big problem on its hands. But if the Nunavut government employs sentimental myth-making as a substitute for rational policy in its attempt to fix its Child and Family Services Act, that problem will become yet another made-in-Nunavut fiasco.

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