Yukon Sharing Circle
May 5 th 2021
What We Heard
Table of Contents
This report documents the virtual Sharing Circle held by the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime (OFOVC) on May 5 th , 2021. Held with Yukon residents, this Sharing Circle was organized as part of the OFOVC’s priority to increase its engagement with victims and survivors of crime in remote regions of Canada, with special emphasis on Indigenous groups and communities the OFOVC has not engaged with before.
The OFOVC engaged with Yukon residents as part of a commitment made to increase engagement with victims of crime in the North due to the unique contexts they face. The Yukon is a remote territory with a relatively small population, a disproportionately high crime rate, and high rates of Indigenous female and youth victimization.
The Sharing Circle took place virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions; however, the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse welcomed participants to attend in person, in line with territorial health and safety rules. The Ombudsman and staff participated from Ottawa, Ontario.
During the Sharing Circle, the OFOVC listened to victims and survivors of crime, victim service providers, criminal justice officials, and victim advocates who reside in the Yukon. The experiences discussed centred on the criminal justice system, interactions with police, access to victim services, gender-based violence, youth victimization, the challenges faced by the LGBTQ2S+ community, and small and remote community dynamics. The OFOVC heard that many in the Yukon struggle to get the help and support they need to navigate the criminal justice system. Victim services are under-resourced and overwhelmed, while there is a lack of Indigenous-specific, community-led practices. Participants discussed the safety challenges of small community living, and the barriers this presents to accessing much needed services. Finally, participants expressed an overwhelming need for culturally relevant, community-led violence prevention initiatives, recognizing that this was the most effective way to address high rates of violence, rehabilitate offenders, protect children, heal trauma, and support the health and wellbeing of all families and communities in the Yukon.
The challenges faced by victims and survivors, service providers and CJS officials in the Yukon reinforce that the OFOVC must continue to draw attention to the specific needs of residents living in the North. The OFOVC intends to host future Sharing Circles in the North, and expects Nunavut to be the next location.
On May 5, 2021, the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime (OFOVC) held a virtual Sharing Circle to hear from residents across the Yukon. The Sharing Circles are part of the Ombudsman’s ongoing priority to engage, inform, and connect with victims of crime across Canada, and in particular with communities that the OFOVC has not heard from before. Special consideration is given to Indigenous and remote communities, as part of an effort to increase awareness and outreach in these areas.
The OFOVC is guided by a victim-centered, trauma-informed, and strengths-based approach, and understanding how federal policies, programs, and services affect victims of crime, service providers, the justice system, and others at the community level is key to the Office’s work. The Sharing Circles provide an opportunity to hear from communities about their unique context, their experiences with the criminal justice system (CJS), their concerns, and the systemic barriers they may face. The experiences shared help inform the OFOVC’s recommendations to government agencies to improve federal legislation, programs, and policies.
In an effort to seek meaningful change on behalf of the victims of crime that the Office serves, the Sharing Circles also provide the OFOVC with an opportunity to establish connections at the community level, which in turn can lead to open dialogue, sharing of best practices, overcoming of barriers, and working together to establish new initiatives.
The OFOVC is aware that victims, survivors, service providers, and criminal justice officials working in northern, remote, and rural communities face many challenges, and recognized that further engagement in the North was needed. Therefore, the OFOVC selected the Yukon for the May 5 Sharing Circle.
The Yukon is a remote territory in the North of Canada. As of December 30, 2020, the Yukon has a population of approximately 42,827 people, of which the majority live in Whitehorse, the capital city. The Yukon also has a substantial Indigenous population. In 2016, 3,180 residents of Whitehorse identified as First Nations, 315 identified as Inuit, and 700 as Métis.
Women and girls living in northern communities and territories of Canada experience a greater proportion of violent victimization than the rest of the population. In 2018, the Yukon had the third highest crime rate in the country; with the highest in Northwest Territories, followed by Nunavut. Since the age of 15, half of all women and 16% of men reported experiencing sexual assault; 48% of women and 58% of men experienced physical assault; and 61% of both men and women experienced physical and sexual assault. These rates are exponentially high. The majority of violent Criminal Code violations occurred in Whitehorse, where the majority of residents reside. iv
Northern and remote locations experience both an increased risk of violence, and barriers to service delivery and access. Prior research has identified various factors that increase the risks of violence in these locations, which includes limited public transit, limited daycare services, accessibility of weapons, difficulty in accessing legal services, limited access to services for women (e.g., mental health, women’s shelters), poverty, and isolation (social, cultural, and psychological).
In general, the risk of violent victimization is also higher for Indigenous people than non-Indigenous people across Canada, including the Territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut). It should also be noted that the impacts of colonization and the residential schooling system on Indigenous peoples have been destructive, detrimental, and long lasting. The effects from these forced practices of assimilation of Indigenous peoples have resulted in loss of identity/culture, homelessness, family violence, suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), child abuse, and substance abuse (Gagné, 1998). The loss of culture is a traumatic event, and this in itself can lead to the development of PTSD and anxiety disorders (Gagné, 1998). This trauma has been intergenerational, and continues to impact Indigenous people today. Sometimes, such trauma manifests in the perpetration of violence and abuse.
Historically, the OFOVC has had very few inquiries from Indigenous populations despite the high rates of victimization they face. The Ombudsman’s priority has been to work to increase outreach and awareness in Indigenous communities, as well as providing culturally safe services by hiring Indigenous staff members as part of our team.
With consideration for the health and safety of all involved, and with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic health measures, which, at the time, limited travel to the territory, the OFOVC held the Yukon Sharing Circle virtually. This allowed us to include participants from across the territory. The Ombudsman and Executive Director were unable to perform a preliminary visit to the region to meet and engage with community members to explain the intention of the Sharing Circle, but collaborated with the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) to help reach residents, and promote and deliver the event. The CYFN suggested utilizing the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre to allow some persons to attend the event in person, if they wished to do so. Publicity for the Sharing Circle was organized via email and supported by organizations active in Yukon, who shared the event poster on Facebook.
The Sharing Circle was held in the evening to accommodate those who may not have been able to take time off work to attend.
Through the Council of Yukon First Nations, the OFOVC reserved the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre to accommodate up to 30 people from the region to gather in person, while respecting the Yukon’s COVID-19 pandemic measures, in a way that was safe, accessible and inclusive. In the end, about 15 persons attended at KDCC and were seated 2 metres apart, to comply with physical distancing rules, and spoke into individual microphones provided by the Centre.
The Ombudsman, OFOVC team, and Executive Director, who moderated the Sharing Circle, hosted virtually from Ottawa, Ontario. Time was shared equally between the attendees at the Cultural Centre and those online, with the help of the Council of Yukon First Nations and the technological support, who ensured the OFOVC’s connection was stable at the Cultural Centre.
To protect the anonymity and privacy of participants, the OFOVC did not ask anyone, whether attending in person or virtually, to identify themselves, and did not record any names while compiling the experiences shared for this Report. About 40 participants joined the event in total.
Cultural support was available at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre for anyone who may have experienced distress during the Sharing Circle, while VictimLinkBC was the resource shared for those online.
“We’re left to our own devices. Victim service workers are overwhelmed and they cannot help. We’re left to figure out the justice system on our own.”
“I don’t feel like there are really good resources to help us.”
There was unanimous agreement by the participants that the CJS is difficult for victims to navigate.
Participants shared that people do not know their rights, and are mostly unaware of the existence of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (CVBR). Victims and survivors do not understand the legal system, or the courts, and do not know where to turn for supports. Victims stated that they are not provided with enough information from CJS officials about what to do, or where to go to ask questions. There is a sense that the CJS is disjointed and uncoordinated, and participants shared that this makes them feel abandoned and alone in trying to navigate the confusing bureaucracy of the CJS. One participant shared, “I feel like I’m on the outside looking in.” This statement captures the sense of alienation and marginalization victims feel when they engage with the CJS.
While victim services are viewed as the only resource that can help, those in the Yukon region are overwhelmed, and simply do not have the capacity to meet the demands on their services. “I don’t feel like there are really good resources to help us,” one participant shared.
Another participant shed more light on their treatment by the CJS. “I am still waiting for the report from the RCMP about the death of my relative.” They went on to share, “this relative was brutalized, raped and shot. In 1965.”
This treatment was a common sentiment among participants, and is something that the OFOVC hears often; victims, survivors, and surviving family members feel completely marginalized by the CJS, and report being treated as an afterthought when looking for information about their case. This lack of a human-centric, caring approach has great impacts on those who are kept from outcomes and answers they feel they may never receive; for Indigenous families whose loved ones have been lost or stolen, their grief is compounded the longer they go without closure.
“We deal with the loss everyday, even though it happened decades ago, because we don’t know what happened.” one family member stated. “I still hurt about it. I still cry about it. For my family, the pain is an ongoing thing.”
Unfortunately, this sentiment is a reality for many families of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and was echoed by the participants at the Sharing Circle. While the government of Yukon Victim Services does employ a Family Information Liaison Unit (FILU) worker, Indigenous family members may not be aware of or be referred to this dedicated worker who can support them in accessing information about their case from officials.
According to the victims who have contacted the OFOVC, being kept informed about the criminal justice process remains one of their most important needs, yet criminal justice personnel continue to systematically overlook this. We note in the Progress Report on the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and Information as a Gateway Right: Examining Complaints Related to the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights , that information is a gateway right and that without it, victims cannot assert or exercise the other rights set out in the CVBR. Although the CVBR gives victims the Right to Information, it does not assign specific responsibilities to any official within the CJS to deliver this right; thereby informing victims about the rights and services is not a consistent or mandated practice.
It is important to note when trauma occurs, victims may be in a state of anxiety, or distress, and may be unable to retain any information given to them, let alone seek out this information for themselves. A trauma-informed approach would consider this. The OFOVC has recommended to the Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, that victims should automatically be registered to receive information about the federal offender who harmed them, rather than having to seek out and request it themselves. The OFOVC has repeated this recommendation in the CVBR Progress Report automatic provision of information should also include a pan-Canadian Victims’ Rights card given out by police in all jurisdictions, which clearly outlines the rights under the CVBR, and whom to contact for any information, along with referrals to victim services.
Difficulty navigating the CJS is an overwhelmingly common concern for victims and survivors, heard repeatedly by the OFOVC , and the value of survivors being connected to victim services to help them understand the bureaucracy and cope with trauma cannot be overstated. The OFOVC has heard that there is a need to address a gap in Indigenous victim services that are culturally safe and relevant, and has recommended to the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, to increase funding, availability, and accessibility of Indigenous-led victim services and supports , who provide invaluable help to victims, survivors, and their families.
“I get scared to tell my story. Sometimes I feel like I am going to get judged.”
Victims in the Yukon are still not reporting crime to the police because of unfavourable interactions with the police. This is particularly true for victims of domestic assault, who feel the system is biased against them. As is often the case, participants told the OFOVC they are not believed when they report domestic or intimate-partner violence, and they face stereotypes that make them look responsible for the crimes perpetrated against them. Victims shared they often encounter ‘he said, she said’, and feel helpless and powerless in these cases. One participant shared the consequence: “I felt re-victimized by my encounters with the police.”
The concerning trend among participants is their lack of hope and confidence in the police, which discourages coming forward to report crime. One participant stated, “I feel like the RCMP are on the offender’s side.” There was a real fear expressed by those present about the lack of protection they feel they receive when they do come forward, in comparison to the offender who harmed them. There is a sense that the CJS fails to hold abusers accountable, that the system protects abusers, and offenders ultimately get away with their crimes. Participants also stressed to the OFOVC that young victims do not feel safe and lack protection through the CJS experience.
Of note, some participants also spoke of jurisdictional issues, which are experienced often across the CJS. Participants shared a lack of follow-through when crime crosses provincial or territorial boundaries and the perception by police that they are safe and well if they are in another location.
The OFOVC continually hears from victims that their interactions with the police are revictimizing and retraumatizing. All too often, the OFOVC hears of police investigators treating victims and witnesses like suspects. This has been particularly true in sex crimes and intimate-partner violence investigations. Even police with the very best of intentions, but who lack trauma-informed training, may cause more harm to the victim than good. Learning and using trauma-informed practices when working with victims is fundamental to strengthening the outcomes of the CJS for police as well as victims. Since effective interventions with victims require both the avoidance of re-traumatization and the presence of respectful and supportive interventions that help people rebuild their lives, the OFOVC has recommended that all those working within the CJS receive fundamental training on the ways in which trauma responses affect people’s lives, capacities, and their abilities to cope with life’s challenges. Trauma-informed approaches to interactions with victims could also serve to address barriers to reporting sexual violence, by increasing confidence in our justice system.
The OFOVC also receives many inquiries related to the challenges that arise when an individual is victimized in a different jurisdiction. These situations create additional difficulties for victims when they seek information, including additional financial burdens, and makes participation much more challenging. In Canada, many support services and financial assistance programs are eligible only to people who live in that jurisdiction; and because there are no national standards for victim services in place, a victim’s experience and supports depend largely on which province or territory they live in. Recognizing that crime and violence crosses borders, a coordinated response is needed. This would allow jurisdictions to work together in support of all victims’ and to address their needs for safety, financial assistance and access to justice to be met. The OFOVC continues to increase awareness of this issue.
Small Community Dynamics
“Community members cannot be seen as taking a side. So nobody gets any of the supports that they require.”
As is often the case in northern, rural, and/or remote communities, the community dynamics play a significant role in crime, violence, and victimization.
The OFOVC heard about the lack of privacy in small communities, as everyone is known to each other. Coupled with under resourced services and supports in these areas, victims have a legitimate fear for their safety. Participants expressed that when everyone is known to one another in a community, coming forward to report a crime can be extremely dangerous, and many times, not worth the risk. Some participants also noted victims might face retaliation if they report about another community member, which creates uncomfortable divisions within the community, within families, and within the First Nation as a whole. When offenders are present, many communities are unable to support the victim, as one participant noted that community members could not be seen as taking a side. This makes it difficult to hold offenders accountable, and victims are therefore discouraged from coming forward at all.
“It’s just the way society is – they look down upon our group.”
The OFOVC heard concerns about the safety of LGBTQ2S+ persons in the Yukon, and the dangers of their outing, particularly when living in a small community. Many members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community hide their identities as a means of protecting themselves from harm.
Participants shared that as a result, this group is not being represented within the CJS, and they are not receiving the services they need to feel safe. They face a number of barriers to justice – a lack of privacy living in a small community; not feeling safe to disclose due to mistreatment by members of their communities; and the need to keep their identities secret prevent them from reporting crime and reaching out for help. One participant surmised this situation, stating, “Maybe this is what scares 2SLGBTQIA+ from coming forward…they’re fearful. They don’t want anybody to know who they really are, because of the danger they might bring on themselves, or the treatment they may get from criminal justice officials.”
The OFOVC also heard there is a need for male-identifying counsellors in the community, to ensure all community members have access to a counsellor they would be comfortable speaking with. Participants stated the lack of services geared towards males shows the biased perception of men as offenders within the CJS, while undermining them as victims. They stated that male victims also need access to safe help and support.
Under the CVBR, victims have the right to have their security considered by the appropriate authorities in the CJS. This includes the right to protection from intimidation and retaliation, and the right to have their privacy considered. Although police services have responsibilities under the CVBR to consider the safety and security of victims, the OFOVC noted there is no comprehensive national data on how these responsibilities are carried out. As a result, it is unknown whether, or how, Canadian police protect victims from intimidation and retaliation.
There is also a gap in information available about police interactions with over-represented and targeted populations. It is unknown what measures are taken by police to protect Indigenous women and girls, and LGBTQ2S+ persons, if any. As echoed by the participants at the Yukon Sharing Circle, distrust in the ability of the CJS to protect victims makes them reluctant to report violence.
The difficulty of protecting victims’ privacy and confidentiality is a common concern particularly in Northern and rural areas, and the OFOVC will continue to raise awareness of this concern. Most recently, the OFOVC recommended in the CVBR Progress Report that the CJS must refocus on keeping officials accountable for the security and safety of victims , by collecting nationally consistent data on criminal justice institutions, how they uphold a victim’s right to protection, and asking them to report on this publicly.
As discussed earlier, trauma-informed training, including cultural humility, for criminal justice officials could improve outcomes of interactions with 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals. Increasing trust and confidence in such interactions could serve to address barriers to reporting violence. In fact, demonstrating competence in trauma-informed practices should be essential and obligatory for all those who interact with victims and survivors of crime.
“ I wish that there was more of a focus on alternative routes to conflict resolution.”
Participants raised the lack of restorative justice practices, programs, and processes in the Yukon. The service providers in attendance shared that there are no resources, neither human nor financial, to bolster these programs. They also discussed how essential restorative justice practices are, to ensure victims feel supported while promoting healing.
One participant shared that there is a lack of awareness and support for options for dealing with conflict outside of, or in combination with, the CJS. Further, the OFOVC was informed that the Yukon’s Restorative Justice Unit is government driven, rather than community-led, which some community members find problematic. One participant expressed they would prefer if Community Wellness Courts were offered to all Yukon residents. At present, they are only available to Whitehorse residents.
As the participant expressed: “the more options that exist and people are aware of, the more they will be able to choose the route that is best for them.”
Restorative justice is a form of justice that focuses on repairing the harm caused by crime, and approaches crime not only as a violation of the law but of people, relationships, and communities. Within the traditional CJS, many victims tell the OFOVC that their voices are marginalized, and they do not have meaningful opportunities to participate. Restorative justice approaches give victims an opportunity to express their suffering directly to offenders. It is an opportunity for victims to feel heard, address their fears, and begin restructuring their lives, while allowing offenders to be held directly accountable for their actions. Because restorative justice acknowledges the consequences of crime are felt beyond the individual victim, it lends itself to healing and restoring harmony in communities, and can be successful at preventing further crime, harm, and victimization.
Many of the concepts of restorative justice philosophy find their origins in the legal systems of Indigenous peoples around the world. Although restorative justice has existed in Canada for many decades, and many Indigenous communities have organizations in place to develop and enact restorative justice processes, this option is not well known to victims of crime. At the OFOVC, we have heard that increasing access to traditional, culturally-relevant, community-led justice practices can help address the over-representation of Indigenous peoples in our CJS as accused, as victims, and as offenders. The OFOVC has long called for increased use of restorative justice approaches as a complementary process to the CJS, to support and better meet the needs of victims, offenders, and the wider community. In a letter to Minister Blair, the OFOVC recommended that funding for restorative programs be increased substantially, in order to make this a meaningful and viable option for victims and survivors of crime. We also recommended that police ensure victims are informed of restorative justice options, as outlined in the CVBR Progress Report . Such practices will have greater success when they are community-led and developed, as expressed by those at the Sharing Circle. The OFOVC encourages this consideration whenever funding is distributed, so that the needs of the community are appropriately supported and addressed by those who know best – the community members themselves.
“I’ve spent many hours living in a fearful and emotional state.”
Throughout the Sharing Circle, the OFOVC heard about significant concerns relating to domestic violence. Participants agreed that violence against women in the community is a serious issue.
The experiences shared indicate victims of domestic assault in the region are generally not comfortable reporting violence to the police. As discussed earlier in the report, there are complicated dynamics at play in many remote First Nations communities that can make reporting dangerous for some victims. For instance, when the offender is a family member, reporting can create divisions within the community and victims may face retaliation when the family is adversely affected. There can also be politics at play within a First Nation and survivors noted that officials who have power within community institutions or offices due to familial relationships might protect perpetrators. This underscores the challenges victims face in coming forward, accessing needed supports and leads to victims’ lack of faith in the CJS’s ability to protect them.
Participants raised the importance of having a law for coercive control and increasing awareness of this form of abuse. They recognized those raised in abusive environments often do not identify the pattern of emotional and psychological abuse and control as violent or abusive, and many victims may not recognize they are being abused.
The OFOVC also heard of how families and couples want to remain together, while reporting to the police often means the offender is taken away. This is another reason why they do not report violence. However, participants expressed couples want to be together in safe and healthy ways. They shared that nearly half of the individuals accessing victim services go there to avoid the CJS. One participant shared, “I don’t want to see my daughter’s father go to jail. I do not think that is going to help. I want him to heal.” Participants said they want help for rehabilitation, counselling, and support to promote healing in families, and keep families together safely. Another participant shared, “what we need is for offenders to deal with the consequences of their actions – this is much more beneficial to them as human beings. To help them be better. The courts, the CJS, they can’t do this.” However, victim service providers expressed throughout the session that the human and financial resources simply do not exist to provide such services for families.
In one instance, a participant revealed when they called the RCMP for help regarding their abusive partner, the RCMP asked them if they had a safe place to go. The participant indicated the home was theirs; they were the ones taking care of the home, and the financial expenses – not their partner. This case illustrates the shortcomings of current approaches and traditional responses to gender-based violence. Many victims do not want to leave their homes to go to shelters – but this is the standard response. This case also highlights the sense of powerlessness many victims experience when they seek help from the CJS. One participant stated, “Women need to speak up about victimization, and not feel guilty about it.” Women need to feel empowered. This was especially true for the Indigenous women of the community. As one participant shared, “Aboriginal women need to find our voice and our rights.”
Although disheartening to hear of the concerns surrounding domestic violence, it is not surprising to our Office. Addressing and reducing gender-based violence remains a top priority for the OFOVC.
Coercive control is a tactic used by abusers. The harmful pattern of behaviours include psychological abuse, sexual jealousy, stalking, financial control, and other behaviours – that are intended to intimidate, control and instill fear in the victim. T he Canadian CJS currently treats domestic violence as an incidence-based problem, meaning that physical evidence of assault needs to be present in order to charge an offender. This means that coercive and controlling behaviours, which are a large part of the dynamics of domestic violence, are outside of a justice system response. The Ombudsman has made many calls for the recognition of coercive control as an Offence under the Criminal Code, most recently in a letter to the Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada . Amending the Canadian Criminal Code to recognize coercive control would give police a tool to intervene before controlling behaviour escalates to physical violence, and the Ombudsman will continue to recommend this change.
The OFOVC also strongly supports the development of violence prevention strategies, and most recently has contributed to the recommendations in Peaceful Homes: A Guide to the Prevention of Violence in the Home During and After Lockdowns . The experiences shared among participants reinforces that we must interrupt harmful cycles of violence before they occur, rather than react to violence after it occurs through policing or incarceration. Offenders need rehabilitation and harm reduction strategies, and victims, and couples, need tools to heal from trauma. Families need access to better supports so that they can raise children without abuse and violence.
In a recent submission to Ms. Dubravka Šimonovic, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women , the OFOVC outlined the risks of violence to women, Indigenous women and girls, LGBTQ2S+, and racialized individuals in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which underscores the importance of investing in violence prevention. In the submission, the OFOVC outlines the need for long-term community safety and wellbeing, resources dedicated to tackling violence at the root. This means addressing systemic barriers and inequities sometimes create pathways to violence: l ack of housing, poverty, food scarcity, mental health issues, and substance use addictions .
The OFOVC recommended several more strategies for violence prevention, detailed in a letter to Dr. Theresa Tam , Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer. In the letter, the OFOVC calls for Canada to prioritize violence prevention as part of its pandemic response strategy, and recommends investing in the following:
- mediation and healthy relationship skills
- non-abusive conflict resolution strategies, including active listening
- positive parenting skills
- teaching healthy concepts of masculinity
- changing beliefs and attitudes towards women and domestic abuse
- educating the public about their role in violence intervention and prevention, and
- capacity building and education about the role of informal supports/bystanders.
The OFOVC believes it is critical to continue to bring awareness to the issue of coercive control and continues to seek new ways to draw attention to the importance of federal investments in robust violence prevention strategies. The OFOVC maintains such strategies must be developed with scientific evidence of what works, as well as, input from communities affected by violence in order to be efficient, effective, relevant and trustworthy.
“We can’t let our babies suffer anymore.”
Participants expressed concerns about child and youth victimization and the impacts of inter-generational trauma, and stated that more must be done to protect and support children in the community. They pointed out despite youth’s own experiences with violence; many do not feel safe or comfortable accessing the CJS. Participants noted this presents a significant barrier to addressing sexual assault against youth in the community.
Participants also expressed concern that the names of child predators are not released in the Yukon. One participant stated, “I think that law should change. They should mention names, because people should know what kind of person they are.” Other participants, who felt that publishing the names of child offenders would increase safety within small communities, shared this sentiment.
Exposure to toxic stress, such as violence, abuse, or incarceration of their caregivers can have deep and lasting impacts on children. In addition, the most recent data indicates a higher proportion of Indigenous people self-report experiencing a form of childhood maltreatment before the age of 15, compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts (40% and 29%, respectively). Further, Indigenous women were more likely than Indigenous men to self-report experiencing ‘both physical and sexual maltreatment’ as a child. Yet there is still a lack of Indigenous-specific data on child and youth victimization.
With respect to Indigenous youth, the harmful colonial legacy remains tied to rates of violence and victimization. The loss of culture and identity, barriers to socio-economic opportunity, and a lack of supports and services, particularly in remote areas of the country, must be addressed in order to support the wellbeing of Indigenous youth. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Calls for Justice make numerous recommendations to enhance the protection of children and youth safety, and the OFOVC will continue to call for their accelerated implementation. Violence prevention, education, and awareness remain the most promising ways to achieve a healthier collective society. These services and interventions must be adequately funded and resourced to ensure better support for families and communities, and to keep children in their family homes. Youth have a right to feel safe in their homes and communities regardless of where they live in Canada, and the significant number of Indigenous adults who experienced childhood maltreatment during their youth should have access to mental health services to support healing from trauma. Families and children need adequately funded and resourced services, to better educate and support healthy relationships to prevent violence before it occurs. Given the dynamics of some northern and remote communities, attention must be given to delivering services in culturally sensitive, relevant, and confidential ways.
Presently, the OFOVC is developing a research report on young Indigenous women’s experiences of sexual violence in remote communities, to be released later this year. This piece is intended to bring greater awareness to this issue while ideally informing next steps to support victims.
“ This was the only place I felt like I was heard .”
The OFOVC heard throughout the Sharing Circle that victim services in the region are under resourced, overworked, and overwhelmed by the demand for their services, but that workers do have a strong presence in the courtroom and at sentencing hearings to support victims. Participants shared a general lack of culturally appropriate Indigenous-led supports, and the ones that do exist are centralized in Whitehorse. One participant revealed within their community, there are no victim services at all. Fly-in communities in the North are often cut off from the resources and services they need, yet this very same isolation can leave residents at risk of continued victimization. Old Crow is the only fly-in community in the Yukon.
Participants at the Sharing Circle expressed that they would like more advocacy and help than what is available. As one participant stated: “This was the only place I felt like I was heard. But it was a healing group more than anything. It would have been nice if there was a component for legal assistance.” Because existing victim service workers are overwhelmed, victims are often left on their own to navigate the CJS. Participants also shared their frustration with the lack of access to counsellors or psychologists. One participant shared they would like to see more aftercare available for victims and survivors, stating the majority of supports available are only accessible during the CJS process, and disappear after sentencing has happened.
Some participants also felt the available services are inadequate. The OFOVC heard many times, victim services are unable to provide information – and sometimes, this is because victim services are unable to obtain it from the CJS. The OFOVC heard the Family Information Liaison Units (FILUs) offer a promising practice, as some participants shared that FILUs successfully provided them with information about their case.
The FILUs provide dedicated supports for family members of Indigenous women and girls who are going through the loss of a loved one. They inform families about the CJS, police procedures, child and family services, and the health and social services that exist to support them . They are funded by the federal Department of Justice and are available in every province and territory, building on existing victim service frameworks. There is one FILU worker in the Yukon region, and they are partnered with the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council due to the recognition that some are uncomfortable accessing a government agency.
In 2019, our office recommended to the Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice, that FILU programs should be funded past the original date of March 31 st , 2020 . Recently, the Department of Justice extended funding for FILUs to March 31, 2023, alongside the Government of Canada’s commitment to implementing a National Action Plan to address violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQIA+ persons. While this is good news, it is also clear more funding is needed both territorially and federally so Yukon First Nations can develop their own culturally safe victim services, as expressed by Sharing Circle participants. In the CVBR Progress Report, the OFOVC recommends sustained and stable funding for victim services to meet both the short and long-term needs of victims of crime, and particularly to support Indigenous-led victim services.
The OFOVC has also made recommendations for increased access to mental health care services for victims and survivors of crime. As discussed by participants at the Sharing Circle, victims, survivors, and families often struggle with mental health and wellness in the aftermath of violence and trauma, but lack access to publicly funded treatments such as counselling and psychology. While it is necessary to heal trauma in the aftermath of victimization, it is also imperative to address underlying risk factors that may increase the likelihood an individual may perpetrate violence. For this reason, the OFOVC recommends universal access to mental health care across Canada.
The OFOVC also recognizes victim service work is emotionally and psychologically demanding, and consistent exposure to clients’ traumas can lead to potential negative mental health impacts, including burnout. As expressed at the Sharing Circle, victim services in the Yukon are overwhelmed by the demand on their under-resourced sector. Where there is distrust in the formal CJS and services provided by the government, there is even higher importance placed on community-based victim services. There is a clear need to increase funding to victim services to address capacity issues, while establishing workplace benefits and supports for the wellbeing of community-based victim service workers. The OFOVC will continue to offer its support for the development of such strategies at the federal level.
“The voices of victims are not always heard, and there is a lack of support.”
Participants noted the importance of the development of community impact statements (CIS) at sentencing and that CIS have been underutilized in the Yukon, which we believe, is a reality across Canada, but we lack official court data from all jurisdictions about their use. The CYFN is currently piloting a project to increase the use of such statements, and to increase knowledge about how they work. Participants shared how critical it is for communities to have the ability to share the impacts of crime in a culturally safe way, particularly from a First Nationals perspective. The importance of input from the community into sentencing was stressed by a judge who was present and noted that CIS provide valuable information to the court. He also noted that funding dollars were needed to implement this good practice more broadly.
Since the wider community is also affected by cases of violence, OFOVC agrees that community impact statements provide the community with an important opportunity to have their concerns heard, and to express the impact of the crime on them. The OFOVC also agrees that there is a need to ensure such processes are culturally sensitive and appropriate.
Community impact statements are written statements that describe the harm caused to a neighbourhood or community because of a criminal offence. Community impact statements are a promising practice for ensuring all those impacted by crime have an opportunity to access justice, to participate and have their concerns heard. They are particularly important if we are to respect the right to participation under the CVBR. The use of these statements supports a CJS that is victim-centred, trauma-informed and inclusive. However, in the CVBR Progress Report, the OFOVC notes there is no data that tracks the use of community impact statements across Canada. Nor is there any data tracking how victim impact statements are used. This is concerning as it is unclear whether people are even informed of their ability to make such statements. Because funding has not been dedicated to give practical implementation to the rights outlined under the CVBR - which includes the right for victims to participate - the implementation of community impact statements is left up to individual provinces/territories. Therefore, a victim’s experience within the CJS is still largely dependent on where they reside, despite the existence of the CVBR.
The OFOVC has called for standardized practices across Canada, most recently in the CVBR Progress Report, and will continue to do so going forward. The OFOVC has also recommended Canada develop a mechanism to track nationally consistent data regarding the upholding of victims’ rights under the CVBR. This would demonstrate whether victims are being informed of their rights and how they are exercising their rights, while holding CJS officials accountable for upholding them.
The OFOVC faced a number of considerations for this Sharing Circle given the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to health and safety measures and the ban on non-essential travel, the OFOVC was unable to visit the Yukon before the event to get a better sense of the territory, the community and context. This also made it challenging to identify potential partners to aid the OFOVC in advertising the event and reaching community members.
As the event was going to be held virtually, the OFOVC believed the anonymity of the virtual platform may have produced a bigger turnout. Feedback from the March 2020 Community Forums in Yellowknife revealed some participants may have been uncomfortable attending out of fear of being identified or encountering someone they would rather avoid. Given the anonymity of a virtual Sharing Circle, the OFOVC opted to hold one event for all community members, rather than ask victims and service providers to attend separately. To respect everyone’s privacy and confidentiality, the OFOVC did not ask participants to introduce themselves before speaking. This also applied to the participants who chose to attend in person at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre.
The OFOVC did receive constructive criticism concerning the virtual platform and the absence of roundtable introductions.
Firstly, some participants expressed that calling the event a Circle was a misnomer, given that its online nature made it more of an open forum. Secondly, a few participants were uncomfortable with the lack of introductions. They felt that it would be helpful to know who was present before sharing their experience, given the size of the group and the dynamics involved. One participant expressed they felt at risk to share given the possible exposure to their perpetrator. Another participant suggested separate calls for service providers and CJS officials, and one for victims/survivors, which may have made some individuals more comfortable. Finally, a few participants stated that they wished the event was longer. Given the time needed to build trust and rapport, they felt the Sharing Circle was cut short when people finally felt comfortable sharing their experiences. This was particularly the case with those attending virtually, as they only began to participate about partway through the session.
The OFOVC takes such concerns seriously, and recognizes the unique context many small communities face, we will consider identifying the facilitators and support staff in advance of any future sessions. The OFOVC will also consider different formats, perhaps in the form of one-on-one sessions, to ensure victims and survivors feel safe to share.
The OFOVC has informed participants they may reach out at any point to further discuss the Sharing Circle or their experiences with the Office.
The experiences shared during the Sharing Circle reflect a number of realities felt by victims across Canada.
In the aftermath of victimization, victims and survivors can deal with a number of detrimental consequences – physical, emotional, psychological – because of the crime. Some of these consequences manifest immediately, while others reveal themselves over time. Yet in the midst of trauma, grief, and loss, victims are launched into a cold and confusing bureaucracy that they are expected to navigate with limited support when they report crime. As expressed by participants at the Sharing Circle, many victims avoid reporting at all because of the number of barriers that stand in their way. The frustrating marginalization victims face within the CJS, the way the CJS compounds trauma, and leads to secondary victimization, and the dangers victims may face in their communities for coming forward are all disincentives to reporting crime. Combined with the perception the CJS is geared towards offenders, and justice is very rarely achieved from the perspectives of victims and survivors, it is not surprising there is so little confidence in the ability of the CJS to protect and empower victims of crime.
The realities victims face in the Yukon, the challenges they identified, and the concerns they have demonstrate the importance of supporting victim and community-led solutions to crime, violence, trauma, and healing. The OFOVC therefore publishes What We Heard reports to encourage solutions take the voices of victims and survivors seriously and into account.
Many of the needs of residents in the Yukon have been identified. Communication is clearly lacking from the CJS. Victims lack access to information, and they wait for answers while being kept on the sidelines. In many ways, they must rely on goodwill to get the information they need. Residents, and particularly women, youth, and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, are afraid to come forward, while male victims face harmful stereotypes. They lack accessible, well-resourced, and culturally relevant victim service supports, both for their short-term and long-term needs. They lack access to alternative practices such as restorative justice, which has proven benefits to support the healing of victims, offenders, and communities. At every turn, there is a lack of victim-centred, trauma-informed approaches to handling crime and victimization. To compound this reality, violence prevention programs and strategies are wanted and needed, but largely absent.
The OFOVC heard the overarching message and call to action for community-led, community-centered, and culturally relevant services. Participants emphasized a return to Indigenous cultural and healing practices, and stressed the importance and significance of empowering elders, who provide invaluable guidance to their communities. They stressed that modifying imposed Western ways, by adding their own cultural, community-centered elements, is central to the healing of Indigenous peoples, families, and communities, in the Yukon. This is especially important in remote communities and regions that are geographically isolated and must manage community needs on their own. The message was clear: government must fund community-driven services. They are strength-based and meaningful; they represent what the community needs; and they are more sustainable.
In addition to supporting this call, the OFOVC will continue to encourage the implementation of the recommendations it has made over the years, and those in the CVBR Progress Report, which are designed to improve many of the challenges victims’ face, while empowering victims and survivors of crime and supporting the safety and wellbeing of communities across Canada. The OFOVC also believes in supporting community-led solutions to prevent crime, victimization, and violence, and will continue to emphasize their importance.
To inform the OFOVC’s recommendations, it is clear that the experiences of remote, rural, northern and Indigenous communities must be heard. The OFOVC intends to hold further Sharing Circles to shed light on the realities they face throughout Canada. The OFOVC also seeks to raise awareness of the Office among Indigenous communities in particular, in order to establish meaningful communication and collaboration with Indigenous victims, survivors, communities, service providers and CJS officials.
The OFOVC would like to extend a sincere thank you to all those in the Yukon – the survivors, advocates, criminal justice officials, and residents – who attended the May 5 Sharing Circle. We recognize that sharing is difficult, and we sincerely thank you for taking the time to share your lived experiences with us. In bringing to light the challenges and barriers faced by residents and Indigenous communities in the North, the OFOVC recognizes and acknowledges the work that lies ahead and strives to make recommendations that help create a more fair, equitable, and accountable CJS.
- Example of existing Victims’ Rights flip card for police officers by British Columbia RCMP (2019)
Yukon Bureau of Statistics. (2020). Population Report Fourth Quarter, 2020. Government of Yukon, https://yukon.ca/sites/yukon.ca/files/ybs/populationq4_2020.pdf
Statistics Canada. (2016). Census Profile, 2016 Census: Whitehorse [Population centre], Yukon and Yukon [Territory]. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/prof/details/page.cfm?Lang=E&Geo1=POPC&Code1=1023&Geo2=PR&Code2=60&SearchText=Whitehorse&SearchType=Begins&SearchPR=01&B1=All&GeoLevel=PR&GeoCode=1023&TABID=1&type=0
Rotenberg, C. (2019). Police-reported violent crimes against young women and girls in Canada’s provincial north and territories, 2017. Statistics Canada, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2019001/article/00012-eng.htm
Yukon Bureau of Statistics. (2019). Police-reported crime statistics in Yukon, 2018. Government of Yukon, https://yukon.ca/sites/yukon.ca/files/ybs/fin-police-reported-crime-statistics-in-yukon-2018.pdf
Statistics Canada. (2020). Chart 1: Violent victimization since age 15, by territory and gender, 2018. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/201202/cg-a001-eng.htm
United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. (2019). Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Its Causes and Consequences – Visit To Canada . Report no. A/HRC/41/42/Add.1, https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/women/srwomen/pages/srwomenindex.aspx
Boyce, J. (2016). Victimization of Aboriginal People in Canada, 2014. Statistics Canada, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2016001/article/14631-eng.htm
Gagné, M. (1998). The role of dependency and colonialism in generating trauma in First Nations citizens: The James Bay Cree. In Y. Danieli (Ed.), International Handbook of Multigenerational Legacies of Trauma. New York: Plenum.