Crime has doubled in Nunavut, Canada’s semi-autonomous Inuit territory in the last decade. Violent crime is 7 times higher than in southern Canada and there are 10 times the number of per capita homicides. If Nunavut were an independent state its per capita crime stats would put it on a par with Mexico or South Africa. The figures aren’t much better for Alaska, where the sexual assault rate runs at twice the national US average. I will post on crime in Alaska at a later date. For now, though,  those of you who’d like to explore the issues around the rise in crime in Arctic Canada might like to  look at Patrick White’s terrific article in The Globe and Mail here and top 10 comments on the piece here.  I am indebted to White’s article for much of the statistical information below. 

The issue is extremely complex, as White’s piece shows, and I can only give a very sketchy outline of it here. Cultural factors such as  the breakdown of traditional gender roles, especially those of men, and other socially binding customs like food sharing play a part. Then there is the unwillingness of some Inuit to air their problems or to challenge their elders, the taboo against talking about the dead and an understandable suspicion of southern solutions, particularly if those are imposed. The availability of weapons is a major factor in the high suicide rate – young Inuit men are 40 times more likely to kill themselves than young men in the south. Alcohol too plays a part in individual cases, though studies have shown that it is not the most significant factor overall. 

Of the socio-economic factors contributing to this rise in crime include overcrowding and other measures of social deprivation. Plus Arctic Canada, where 50% of the population is under 25, has a much more youthful population than in southern Canada. 

Political factors include some level of political denial and ‘political correctness’ or sensitivity in the light of Nunavut’s status as an Inuit-run territory. Nunavut is overdependent on state funding and is currently failing to meet its mandate to fill employment targets of to employ 85% Inuit. Currently, Inuit territorial administrative employees make up only about 50% of the whole, the remainder being filled mostly by southerners on short term contracts.  Alcohol is regulated almost everywhere but there’s no territory-wide policy as a result of which each community tends to do its own thing. Even where an individual can only order alcohol by permit, permitted quantities –  up to 30 bottles of wine a month – can be tantamount to no regulation at all. Bootlegging is also relatively common and largely unpoliced. 

The Arctic detachments of the RCMP are woefully underfunded with only 400 policemen and 1 intelligence officer serving an area 25 times the size of Britain. Relations between the RCMP and the Inuit have historically been strained and there are few indigenous police, judges or prosecutors, so law enforcement agencies can sometimes feel like an ‘alien force’.

Lastly, it’s worth saying that surveys show the climate does play a part, though not in the way you might think. Though people are most cooped up in the dark winter months, violent crime across the Arctic is actually higher under the midnight sun, possibly partly because sleep is very disrupted during this time.