As it stands now, Kahnawake does not have any resources available specifically to support victims of crime and provide important education.
Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS) is responsible for connecting Kahnawa’kehró:non with mental health resources, but this only partially responds to the unique needs of victims. Outside resources exist, but studies show that the community is generally not seeking those out.
Now, a research project within the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) Justice Services Division is looking to create that missing resource right here in Kahnawake – and in the meantime, provide important information to victims about their rights.
A local, culturally-sensitive resource
“The Kahnawake Victims of Crime Research Project is aimed at establishing a culturally appropriate victims’ service for Kahnawake, and also to raise awareness about victims’ rights and services,” said Kevin Fleischer, commissioner of justice for MCK Justice Services.
The project is being undertaken in three phases and is currently in phase two.
Phase one consisted of a needs assessment and surveys to determine why Kahnawa’kehró:non were not using outside resources available to victims and whether there was support for creating such a resource within the community. The response was very positive, said Fleischer, with 96 percent of the 166 respondents in favour.
Phase two, set to end this summer, is focused on taking the information gathered in phase one to begin elaborating how the resource should function and what services will be provided.
“That would include the policies, the procedures, getting funding, finalizing protocols with different organizations and groups to formally establish a victim service, and that’s what we’re in right now,” said Fleischer.
Informing the community
Though they can’t yet provide those support services, the group has put together a Victims of Crime Information Symposium consisting of four workshop sessions to get the important facts for victims out in the community.
The first session was held on May 12 and discussed what rights victims have in the legal system. It was presented by Aline Vlasceanu, executive director of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime.
“Where we’re at is at the beginning, so what we’ve decided to offer is basic information,” said Iris Montour, Victims of Crime development technician for MCK Justice Services.
“Who is a victim? And what are the rights that a victim might have? And that’s going to come directly from the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.”
She said the goal was to keep this first symposium to the basics in order to provide a foundation that can gradually be built upon.
MCK chief on the Justice portfolio, Tonya Perron, noted that the seemingly simple question of who is a victim is not always clear to people who have been victimized.
“Oftentimes, people don’t realize what it is to be a victim of a crime. You don’t necessarily always have to have somebody being arrested and charged or found guilty,” she said.
Perron said that based on her past experience as a criminal defence lawyer, the types of crime Kahnawa’kehró:non tend to be victims of are assault, such as conjugal violence, and property damage. This is reflected in the Kahnawake Peacekeepers’ end-of-year statistics for 2021, which showed that 76 files were opened for cases of assault, 33 for theft, and eight for breaking and entering cases.
The next session on May 26 will introduce attendees to the Compensation for Crime Victims (IVAC), which is available to those living in Quebec who are the victim of a crime that took place in the province. IVAC can be used to be reimbursed for damages incurred during a crime (broken glasses, soiled clothing, etc.), fund up to a year of physical or psychological medical care, and enroll for self-defence classes, among other potential approved uses.
The third session will discuss elder abuse, which Montour noted is an issue the community as a whole really takes to heart.
“There’s so many different topics that we could have started with: teen bullying, cyberbullying, human trafficking, domestic abuse, so many areas that we will expand into,” she said. “We’re looking to start with the most vulnerable people, and those are, of course, the elders and the children.”
The final session of this symposium will delve into the stigmas associated with being a victim in the hopes of breaking them down.
“There is this stigma of crime that makes people feel embarrassed or ashamed, or that they would rather not maybe report the crime, or they’d rather not do anything about it. And so we end up with people that are just suffering alone,” she said.
She noted that while the stigma exists everywhere, it could be exacerbated in a small community like Kahnawake, where everyone knows each other and rumours can get out quickly.
The four sessions are taking place over Zoom, and those who wish to remain anonymous are encouraged to join the sessions with their cameras off, and their names left blank. Registration can be done with firstname.lastname@example.org.
A variety of opportunities for help
“(Some) people are wary of going outside of the community for assistance, and then others actually have the opposite; they prefer to go outside,” said Perron.
Right now, victims of crime in Kahnawake can visit the Crime Victims’ Centre (CAVAC) in Chateauguay to access the specialized services they need.
If such a centre existed in town, Kahnawa’kehró:non could decide for themselves whether they prefer to take their personal difficulties to external resources for privacy reasons or remain amongst their own to get help.
That would be made possible with phase three of the Victims of Crime Research Project, which would involve actually opening a local resource for victims.
Some services that would be offered are referral services, education and public information, accompaniment to court and intervention after incidents.
Though he knows there are victims in the community right now who need help, he noted that at this point, the service isn’t ready to actually provide support yet – but he hopes it will be very soon.
“If anyone has any questions about the project, ideas, they could feel free to contact either Iris or myself at our office number, 450-638-5647,” said Fleischer.
Savannah Stewart is a writer, editor and translator from Montreal currently reporting with The Eastern Door. She is the contributing editor for the arts for Cult MTL and her work has also appeared in Briarpatch Magazine, Ricochet, Maisonneuve Magazine and The Rover. She tweets at @SavannahMTL.