She was stabbed repeatedly in her home in Yellowknife, allegedly by her estranged partner, while her children watched.

A Yellowknife mother says the NWT Health and Social Services left her family “homeless” and helpless she survived an alleged attack at the hands of her ex-partner.
Brendan Burke/NNSL photo.
April 16, 2019.

By the time she arrived at Stanton Territorial Hospital, the young mother says the NWT Health and Social Services Authority was already trying to take her kids away.

“I felt like I was criminalized just for being a victim,” the mother of three young children told Yellowknifer in a recent interview.

The woman’s identity is protected under the territory’s Child and Family Services Act.

Yellowknifer will refer to her as Alice for the purpose of this story. Alice’s former partner is accused in the alleged attack. The charges against him have not been proven in court.

Alice says the apprehension attempts were without grounds. She alleges her ex broke into her home, and says that if the health authority had done a proper investigation, they would have known the pair had been living separately for months. Alice doesn’t have a criminal record.

After resisting three apprehension attempts from social workers in the 24 hours following the attack, Alice says she agreed to sign a voluntary service agreement with the authority – while at a shelter in Yellowknife – only to be left “homeless” and helpless in Alberta, bouncing from one shelter to another, under the care of the NWT health authority.

Voluntary service agreements are offered in cases where “apprehension can be avoided,” according to the authority’s child and family services standards and procedure manual. In Alice’s case, the agreement, reviewed by Yellowknifer, ensured she wouldn’t be separated from her children, and held the health authority to “provide return flights for the family from Yellowknife to Alberta … so that (Alice and her family) can access emergency shelter and therapeutic supports related to trauma and PTSD due to being at extreme risk for their safety.”

Over the next six weeks, after entering into what was to be a six-month plan, Alice says she and her children received “zero” of the promised trauma treatment. Instead, she alleges abuse, discrimination and dysfunction, all under the watch of the territory’s health authority.

‘Blood all over the floor’

Under the agreement, Alice says she and her kids were sent to what her assigned social worker said would be a long-term shelter in Strathmore, Alta. But staff at the shelter quickly told her otherwise, she says, informing her it was a 21-day program. Alice says the health authority didn’t follow through with shelter staff to ensure there was long-term availability.

It only got worse from there, she says.

“We were placed into a room that had blood all over the floor; blood all over the walls. My toddler consumed one of the blood (clumps on the floor) and we ended up at the Strathmore hospital within the first 24-hours of (the NWT health authority’s) care,” said Alice.

Her toddler, who is less than two years old, is now being testing for HIV for the next six months, she said.

The health authority apologized and moved her family to a second shelter in Calgary, where she says one of her children, who has special needs, ran away twice under staff care. On one occasion, she alleges staff “forcibly” dragged her son across the floor.

At one point, Alice says staff at the Calgary shelter tried to “move us to a reservation, just based off the fact we’re native,” one of many damaging assumptions made during the ordeal, she said.

‘Homeless in Calgary in the middle of winter’

“Yet again,” Alice says her family was moved to another shelter, where her special needs child was “assaulted” on the “very first day.” Alice says she has requested video footage of the alleged incident. So far, she hasn’t received any. “They’re definitely hiding a lot,” she said.

Then, after running out of shelters to go to, Alice says her family was sent to live in a hotel. At that point, she says the health authority effectively “passed the buck” to social services in Alberta without her consent.

Alice says she gave the NWT health authority written notice of her intent to cancel the voluntarily agreement because it wasn’t being fulfilled. Over the course of five weeks, she says her children were never schooled.

Shortly after, Alice says her social worker’s supervisor cancelled the payment for her hotel, leaving her unable to access her hotel room, where all her family’s belongings were.

“They basically just left me and my kids homeless in Calgary in the middle of the winter,” said Alice. 

She had to “spend the whole day calling … the minister of health (Glen Abernethy’s) assistant” to get back in her hotel room.

Photo courtesy of Alice.
A photo shows a cluster of wounds Alice says she sustained after her estranged partner stabbed her multiple times. The constant moving during the six-week ordeal that followed, says Alice, put a strain on her barely-healed injuries, and disrupted the routine of her young child, who has special needs.

Alice said the health authority agreed to pay for the hotel and reimburse her for food, “only after they left us homeless.”

All in all, she says her family lived in seven different places under the “guidance” of the NWT Health and Social Services Authority. The constant moving put a strain her special needs child, who needs routine and structure, while worsening the pain from her barely-healed stab wounds, said Alice.

The woman’s story comes six months after a damning report from the Auditor General of Canada — the second in four years — that found “serious deficiencies” with child and family services in the territory.

The report found that 63 per cent of children had been placed in care without basic safety checks, while only 11 per cent of foster homes had underwent an annual review.

Abernethy was forced to endure a confidence vote in the legislative assembly over the report’s findings.

Mulling legal action

Now, Alice is considering legal action against the territory’s health and social services authority, but she’s still undecided. She says she doesn’t want her voice to be buried by a lawsuit settlement when her story is “something that needs to be heard.”

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for them to be victimizing women that have been victims of crime and treating us like we are the ones to blame for things that could have been avoided,” said Alice.

Yellowknifer sent a list of questions to the health authority concerning the allegations raised by Alice late Thursday but is still waiting for an official response. 

She wants to make sure “other mothers don’t go through” the same experience.

Alice says she witnessed children being apprehended from other young Indigenous mothers during her stay at the shelters.

“If I wasn’t educated, my kids wouldn’t be with me right now.” 

Brendan Burke

As the Yellowknifer’s crime reporter, it’s my job to keep readers up to speed on all-things “cops and courts” related. From house fires and homicides to courtroom clashes, it’s my responsibility...

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