Yukon assault rates are some of the highest in the country

Incidents of assaults, sex crimes, robberies and violent crimes are three times higher in the Yukon then they are in BC or Alberta, according to…

Incidents of assaults, sex crimes, robberies and violent crimes are three times higher in the Yukon then they are in BC or Alberta, according to Statistics Canada.

The Yukon crime rate in these areas “is among the highest in the country, and there appears to be a common incidence with these types of crime with the incidence of alcohol and/or drug abuse,” said Richard Meredith, the Yukon regional director of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

“These numbers are only the tip of the iceberg,” said Kaushee’s executive director Barbara Powick on Tuesday.

Many women who’ve been assaulted don’t report it.

“There are lots of reasons why women can’t go forward through the judicial process,” said Powick.

Many can’t afford to take time off work to attend a trial, can’t afford daycare, can’t get rides there and back or find the support they need to get through it emotionally, she said.

“We have a two per cent conviction rate on sexual-assault cases, and that’s awful,” she added

“That’s a real deterrent for women coming forward.”

There are twice as many sexual assaults in the Yukon than in similarly sized BC and Alberta communities, according to Statistics Canada.

The rate of other sexual offenses is five times higher.

“We have a huge tolerance for violence up here — that’s why the numbers are so high,” said Powick.

“The penalties are not harsh enough to be a deterrent in the North,” added Dawson Women’s Shelter director Sarah Winton.

“And they’re not enforced often enough.

“It’s incredibly frustrating.”

Many of the rape victims Winton sees are underage girls.

“The majority of sexual assaults are reported with women ages 12 to 24,” said Powick, citing statistics from the Yukon women’s directorate.

“One of the reasons we think that age group is at such a high risk is lack of safe transportation and lack of safe affordable shelter where they can go when they are using (drugs and alcohol).”

Homelessness is the pivotal issue, she said.

“When you are homeless and don’t have your own place to create a safe space in, then you often end up with people who have more addictions — it puts you at a higher risk of using and a higher level of addiction.

“In that kind of environment there are certainly more sexual assaults reported.”

Aboriginal women are more likely to be sexually assaulted, said Powick, citing women’s directorate statistics.

“The effects of residential school and colonization and the horrific abuse a lot of aboriginal people have gone through certainly can affect these numbers and how high they are.”

The territory’s high assault rate is not surprising, said Yukon Legal Services Society executive director Nils Clarke.

“We have First Nation people that are suffering from dysfunction for a variety of reasons,” he said.

The demographics of BC and Alberta are different, he said.

“It’s more urban, and there’s a mixed population from all around the world.

“But I don’t mean to imply it’s only First Nations persons; there are non-First Nations who find themselves in serious problems as well.”

Residential school is one of the big issues, he said.

“You have parents who are not parents, and grandparents trying to act as parents and the kids bear the brunt of that dysfunction.”

 Some kids are doing fine, said Clarke.

“But some are not, and are already in the throes of alcohol or non-prescription drug addiction.”

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is another component of the story, he added.

The high assault rate reflects an intense problem with substance abuse in the Yukon, said Clarke, citing alcohol and non-prescription drug abuse.

Like Powick, Clarke suggests homelessness is part of the problem.

“We are pushing for supported independent living and housing, which we know is a big-ticket item with the government and can be expensive,” he said.

There is also a need for more mental health nurses to help people remain compliant with their medication, “whether it’s for mental health issues, or something like Antabuse so they are disinclined to ingest alcohol or non-prescription drugs.”

Legal Aid supports the community wellness court, which has had mixed results so far, said Clarke.

“At its best, the community wellness court provides some pillars of support to address the dysfunction that exists for a minority of Yukoners. And hopefully it will address the revolving door and create a healthier community.”

The domestic violence treatment option is also designed to address and modify behaviours to help shape healthier individuals, said Clarke.

The RCMP recently started offering rape kits, said Powick.

It’s something that’s been offered in the South for years.

It allows sexual assault victims to get a kit from the hospital without having to report to the RCMP right away.

“And that’s a positive move,” said Powick.

But the Yukon still must educate people about the rights of victims.

“And there needs to be education on how this environment of homelessness and lack of a shelter is impacting our society, and impacting our young women,” she said.

The high rate of sexual assault among girls aged 12 to 14 must be addressed, said Powick.

“We need to get the education out there that we have safe rides for youth; that we’ve got shelter for youth to go to when they have been drinking, and there’s not a whole lot of punitive questions.

“I think we need to build a relationship with the youth so that they trust us and will use the resources.

“And I think as a territory, we need to establish laws and consequences that support victims and hold offenders accountable.”

The Whitehorse RCMP has a different take.

The statistics are a sign of success.

“It is possible that the rates for assaults and sexual assaults etc. have increased due to increased reporting by the public as the RCMP work pro-actively with the community to ensure that the public is aware of the importance of reporting these crimes and because of programs and our work with partner agencies to support victims of these crimes,” wrote Sgt. John Sutherland in an e-mailed response to questions posed by the News.

“We have encouraged the public to come forward and let us know about these types of crimes, and that information has been important as we look at crime-reduction strategies which aim to target the prolific offenders who are generally responsible for the majority of crimes in our communities.”

The imposition of probation orders and likelihood of detection is much higher in the Yukon, said Clarke.

“So is BC or Alberta more law-abiding? Probably slightly, but not to the extent the stats indicate,” he said.

“You can hide in Alberta. You can hide in Edmonton. You can hide in Vancouver.

“But you can’t hide in Ross River, Pelly Crossing, probably even Whitehorse.”

Justice officials were not available for comment, said Justice communications spokesperson Chris Beacom on Tuesday.

Contact Genesee Keevil at gkeevil@yukon-news.com