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Peter Harte, a Yellowknife lawyer, is running a program on Monday to help raise awareness about trauma-informed justice — something he says needs to be understood better in the N.W.T. criminal justice system. (Emily Blake/CBC) A Yellowknife lawyer is trying to raise awareness about trauma and how it affects victims and offenders in the N.W.T.’s criminal justice system.

Peter Harte says trauma-informed justice is needed in the territory, where impacts of the residential school system and high rates of violent crime and addictions are present. What is trauma-informed justice?

Trauma-informed justice tries to debunk the assumption that all individuals have freely made choices that puts them in the criminal justice system, according to Harte.

Harte said this particular approach to justice is recognizing that often, many behaviours and choices are profoundly influenced by traumas the individual experienced in the past, and that current enforcement of justice — like incarceration — can "compound that trauma."

The approach, which Harte is trying to raise awareness about in the territory, makes practices and policies that respond to that underlying trauma, and not just "simply punishing" the crime itself. 2015 stabbing-death case sparks lawyer’s curiosity

Harte’s curiosity for the topic piqued when he worked on the case of Beverley Villeneuve of Ndilo, N.W.T., who was charged with manslaughter in the stabbing death of her partner, Archie Paulette, in 2015.

"I was trying to come to grips with how this nice, quiet woman had found herself involved in a homicide," said Harte, who was Villeneuve’s defence lawyer.

Harte said he was asking Villeneuve questions about her background when she told him her earliest memory. Villeneuve was under her baby sister’s crib with her brother, her mother was passed out on the bed, and there were screaming and sounds of a physical fight in the other room, Harte said.

"This was her earliest memory that she could come up with — was being scared out of her mind that these guys were going to come into the room," said Harte.

Villeneuve was sentenced to five years in jail in 2017.

Harte said his research into trauma following this case has put a strong conviction in him.

"[It] led me to believe that the people that we’re dealing with in court, for the most part, find themselves there because of the trauma history that has taken place in their childhood," said Harte.

Harte said after learning more about trauma-informed justice, he reflected on the Villeneuve case.

"If I knew more about what had been behind her conflict with the law and her history with life living on the street, [then] I would’ve been able to do a better job helping her in court." Harte says all clients should be treated differently

Harte says all of his clients in the criminal justice system should be treated differently because of their trauma; but that isn’t happening.

"I think it was urgent 15 or 20 years ago.… N.W.T. and Nunavut have the highest crime rates in Canada," said Harte."Those crimes almost always involve individuals who are on the receiving end of violence or who are experiencing violence as witnesses … and every time a violent offence takes place, there are ripple effects. More and more people end up traumatized."That’s why Harte is heading an event Monday that aims to inform key players in the territory’s justice system about this topic. Harte said he invited police, Crown prosecutors, clerks, corrections workers and workers at the North Slave Corrections Complex, among many others. to the event. Take part in the program Monday Tune in to CBC NWT’s Facebook live video feed of the trauma-informed justice event on Monday. CBC will be live-streaming […]

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