A woman is killed every two days in Canada and one is murdered by her intimate partner every six days. Rates of gender-based violence in Thunder Bay are amongst the highest in Canada, and we also face a legacy and present reality of many murdered and missing Indigenous women due to our colonial practices. Gang violence and related human trafficking activity is increasing here as well.

By routinely releasing perpetrators who have committed serious assault, the courts are sending a clear message to men who use violence and to the general public: those who perpetrate gender-based violence can do so with impunity. Many women are living in fear; child welfare agencies find themselves apprehending children from non-offending mothers simply because no one can control the risk posed by the abusive partners or ex-partners.

Unfortunately, the focus on criminality in the legal system tends to overlook safety considerations for women.  The existing MAG High Risk committee is by invitation only; is administered only by Crown’s Office and uses it’s own adapted risk assessment. As a result, it has limited communication with other sectors, including those who bring cases forward to them.   Many women, especially Indigenous women, now do not call police in cases of GBV; many perpetrators manage to avoid criminal involvement.  For this reason, many high risk cases are never brought to the attention of the Crown’s committee, and only come to light through child welfare involvement, at social service tables such as the Child Welfare / VAW Leads Collaborative.  

In addition to these structural problems, we also face some attitudinal barriers. The general public needs to be exposed to a new narrative that values the lives and well being of women and children, especially those who are Indigenous. Legal and social service providers need to integrate an understanding of the impacts of colonialism, gender-based violence and trauma. Trusted Intermediaries need to be seen as integral supports to the administration of justice.

We need to address these problems at multiple levels – public education; professional training based on new research; intensive coordination across sectors in risk management and safety planning; and an investment in and recognition of the central role women’s advocates play in maintaining women’s safety and access to justice.

The High Risk Navigation Project (HRN) Project is tasked with the development of a dedicated, advocacy-based and common protocol across legal and social service systems to respond to cases of gender-based violence where there is high risk of harm. The overarching goal of the HRN Project is to develop a more coordinated and effective social system response for those who experience gender-based violence in the Thunder Bay district.   

The HRN Project aims to: 

  • Develop protocol and training for those who respond to women at high risk of harm from gender-based violence 
  • Coordinate formal training by recognized experts for legal and service system personnel including core concepts of anti-racism and anti-oppression, as well as the impacts of colonization, intersectionality, cultural safety and gender-based analysis  
  • Present the latest research on gender-based violence theory and practice which includes the use of minimizing/mutualizing language, perpetrator pattern approaches, coercive control and trauma informed approaches  
  • Build working connections, share expertise and provide training and knowledge exchange between women’s anti-violence advocates and legal system players   
  • Design a process that puts women who experience gender-based violence at the centre of the systemic response using dedicated advocacy position(s) through trusted intermediaries. This community-based advocate, or “High Risk Navigator” would work with women across legal and social sectors to ensure they have appropriate support, referrals and ongoing, effective safety planning that is trauma informed, uses anti-oppression and anti-racism frameworks and recognizes the impacts of colonialism. 

Please contact Mehdia for more information at (807) 345-7802 or hrnproject@nwowc.org.

The High Risk Navigation Project is funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario and operates in partnership with the Thunder Bay District Coordinating Committee to End Woman Abuse.