Police in Nunavut, Nunavik acknowledge they need to better serve Inuit

“We have not been preparing our members to come to Nunavut.”

Amanda Jones, chief superintendent of Nunavut’s RCMP, says a report that says women in Inuit Nunangat experience racialized policing doesn’t come as a surprise to her. (Nunatsiaq news file photo)

Nunavut’s top police officer says the results of a recent report that concluded Inuit women in the North experience racialized policing doesn’t come as a surprise to her.

“The recommendations aren’t something we haven’t heard before, obviously. We are aware of domestic violence and very aware of the impact it has on Inuit, more frequently women. So it wasn’t a surprise,” Amanda Jones, chief superintendent of Nunavut’s RCMP, told Nunatsiaq News.

The report from Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, Addressing Gendered Violence Against Inuit Women, calls for a fundamental shift in how policing is carried out in Inuit Nunangat.

It also calls for a decolonized approach to policing.

The authors of the report interviewed 45 Inuit women and 40 service providers across the four regions. These interviews found that systemic racialized policing continues to occur in Inuit encounters with police officers.

The report makes 15 recommendations to change how policing is carried out in Inuit Nunangat. Those recommendations include trauma-informed policing, gender-based violence training, Inuit employment in policing, community engagement and the creation of Inuit advisory committees for police.

Jones said although she believes the division is already carrying out some of the report’s recommendations, there is still more to be done.

For example, the RCMP launched a two-week pre-deployment training program for officers before they head out to communities. That training is already underway, and will be taken by incoming officers arriving in Nunavut this April, Jones said.

“I’m glad that the report did highlight some of the stresses that our members also face when they come to the communities. But I will say that we have not been preparing our members to come to Nunavut and to work with and work for Inuit,” Jones said.

The new training involves a two-day “historical and language training” from Pirurvik Training Centre in Iqaluit and mental health first aid, among other things.

In 2016, Nunavut had the highest rate of female victims of police-reported violence in the country.

The report notes that several women interviewed in Nunavut felt distrustful of the police. Women spoke about the ways they were treated by police when they reported gendered violence and their reluctance to call the police because of past negative experiences with officers.

Jones said the RCMP needs to look closely at who they recruit for positions in Nunavut.

“We are going to be improving our decision on who comes up to the division, doing a little more work on the reasons for why people come up to Nunavut to serve. And I think that plays a big factor — if members are coming up for the money or say for a transfer to somewhere else, then that’s something that we’re trying to negate. We bring up the people who want to come up for the right reasons,” she said.

Jones said the addition of Inuktut-speaking call takers in Nunavut will also improve communication between Nunavummiut and police officers. So far, one of four casual call-taking positions has been filled by an Inuktut speaker at the RCMP headquarters in Iqaluit.

“We’re actively looking to fill the others,” Jones said.

Jones said she is also focused on hiring more Inuktut speakers in civilian roles with the RCMP. There are currently no Inuktut speakers working at the detachment level in Nunavut.

Participants in the study also said community residents need to take the lead in inviting the police into communities, working to build partnerships and providing support such as victim services.

“A lot of times I speak to members and spouses and they’re just as afraid. People don’t realize that. They come into a community and they’re not quite sure what they have to do other than they’re police officers and they know they have to keep the peace. It can be intimidating for them to reach out to the community to be those partners,” Jones said.

Jones also thanked the women who participated in the study.

“It takes a lot of courage to come forward … we are a big organization and we understand that through colonization that we can be very scary. It takes a lot to come forward and to bring the truth. But without that we can’t change.”

Nunavik’s top officer wants to see a call center in Kuujjuaq

In Nunavik, participants described a similar experience with the Kativik Regional Police Force.

Jean-Pierre Larose, chief of the Kativik Regional Police Force, told Nunatsiaq News he has shared the report among his employees but, like Jones, was not surprised by its findings.

“After 40 years of experience in policing, I thought I knew Nunavik and a little bit about Inuit but it wasn’t that obvious. I went to attend a workshop on Inuit culture and it opened my eyes,” Larose said.

Some Nunavik participants expressed concerns about how the police conduct investigations when gendered violence occurs.

“Officers are only in the community for a short period of time, lack experience and training, and hold a limited understanding of the history of Inuit communities and the root causes of the problems encountered, especially with drug and alcohol use and domestic violence,” the report states.

Through a partnership with Laval University, the KRPF is now running a three-step program for new officers before they arrive in Nunavik, Larose said.

The first step is an online program that involves a cultural and historical introduction to Nunavik, while the second step is nine hours of online training with specific training modules on Inuit knowledge, Larose said.

“The third step, it’s a little bit of a dream, I would like to have a two-day workshop with all my police officers in each community with elders, with different partners that we are dealing with on a day-to-day basis,” Larose said.

Participants in Nunavik also said the police need to become more approachable and better integrated into the community. This could be done by increasing their workforce to provide better services, hiring interpreters and involving Inuit in conflict resolution.

Larose said the KRPF needs to hire more than just interpreters and needs to recruit Inuit for civilian positions in the force.

“We want to expand to hire some Inuit to help us with the communication in crisis situations. We don’t want to call them interpreters. For me it’s more than that. Yes, they will help us in the language, but they will help us enhance the relationship we have among us,” he said.

“I have to admit that the relations between the police, my department, and Inuit are difficult.”

The Nunavik section of the report also highlights the need for a KRPF call center in the region with Inuktut speakers.

“We absolutely need a regional call centre centralized in Kuujjuaq. It’s in the recommendations and I totally agree with that. It would help us,” Larose said.

Larose said a working committee has been developed to lobby the provincial government on the issue of a call centre and is actively meeting with provincial officials.

One example of a program that Larose hopes to expand to other Nunavik communities is a mixed patrol approach, where a social worker will enter a crisis situation with a police officer. So far, this program is only up and running in Puvirnituq.

“It’s functioning very well. It’s a takeover of the situation. The team with the social worker, they take over the person and if the person needs other services, they will direct the person or help them. We want to put this team in other communities if we have the funding for that.”

Another recommendation from the report is to hire more female police officers in the North. Larose said he hopes to increase the number of female officers in Nunavik.

“Since my arrival two years ago, we doubled the number of female officers. So we have eight right now out of 75 police officers. We have two Inuit female police officers and one of them is a sergeant. It’s important to have a female officer representative of the force.”