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no means no, minister

March 18, 2008

She was asleep. Then, suddenly, she was awake. A man was on top of her, fondling her. Her underwear had been pulled down. He was trying to penetrate. She resisted. He left.

He was Levi Barnabas.

At the time, he was also speaker of the Nunavut legislature.

Barnabas stepped down as speaker, plead guilty to the charge of sexual assault, received a one-year jail sentence – suspended when he paid $1,000 to a women's shelter, performed 240 hours of community service, and stayed out of bars for six months. He was ordered not to consume or possess alcohol for the same amount of time.

After these events in 2000, Levi Barnabas left the Nunavut legislature.

Then, in 2004, he was re-elected as the member of the legislative assembly for the riding of Quttiktuq, in the High Arctic.

Last Thursday, the 44-year-old Barnabas was named by acclamation to Nunavut’s cabinet by his fellow members. (Two of the 19 members are women.) He is filling a seat vacated by the government’s former finance minister, who left in December.

The Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council plans to lobby for legislation that would bar people convicted of serious offences from running for office.

reaction to the appointment

“What kind of message does this pass on to Nunavummiut in terms of violence against women? Are we saying it’s tolerated and easily forgotten? I hope not, because we won't forget and the victims don't forget.”

— Trista Mercer, board member, Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council

“I’m expecting for him to … tell us what he's done, what steps he's taken to ensure that he is a changed person, and that he will not reoffend.”

— Neevee Wilkins, board member, Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council

“Mr. Barnabas has served his time for the crime and also been elected by his constituents, who believe that he had cleaned up his act ... Since being re-elected, Mr. Barnabas has been a role model within our caucus. He's chaired our caucuses and expressed his regret in his past activities.”

— Paul Okalik, Premier of Nunavut

the larger context: violence and abuse in Nunavut
  • In Nunavut, it is estimated that only 29% of spousal abuse cases are reported.
  • The territory has 6.5 times the national reported spousal abuse rate.
  • In 2006, Statistics Canada reported that women in Nunavut were admitted to shelters because of abuse at a rate of over 10 times that of the Canadian average.
  • Family violence, child sexual abuse, and substance abuse have been linked to the dehumanizing housing conditions.
  • There are only 12 Safe Shelters serving 53 communities in Canada’s Arctic.
  • The majority of Inuit in federal penitentiaries are incarcerated for violent and sex crimes.

— An Overview of Risks and Opportunities in Family Violence and Abuse Prevention in Inuit Communities

sources

Women’s group critical of cabinet appointment, by KAREN MACKENZIE, Northern News Services | March 17, 2008
Nunavut women’s groups outraged by cabinet appointment, cbcnews.ca | March 17, 2008
High Arctic MLA Barnabas named to Nunavut cabinet, by cbcnews.ca | March 13, 2008
Long Nomads, the Inuit Find a Settled Life Unsettling, by JAMES BROOKE, New York Times | September 1, 2000
Former Nunavut speaker guilty of sexual assault by SEAN McKIBBON, Nunatsiaq News | August 18, 2000
National Strategy for Abuse Prevention in Inuit Communities, Nuluaq Project, Pauktuutit – Inuit Women of Canada | 2006
external download icon An Overview of Risks and Opportunities in Family Violence and Abuse Prevention in Inuit Communities (52 KB PDF download), National Aboriginal Women’s Summit – Strong Women, Strong Communities, Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador | June 20 – 22, 2007

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