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Iqaluit Reels in Grief After Family Murder-suicide

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Vivian Sula Enuaraq had been about to leave her husband, packing up her two daughters and going with them to a women’s shelter in a village near Nunavut’s capital, Iqaluit.

She would have left sooner and gone back to her family farther south, her sister told the Canadian Press on June 9, but she couldn’t afford the exorbitant airfare out of the remote town. Instead she stayed with her husband, Syvlain Degrasse, who her family members now say was possessive and abusive from the get-go, because she wanted her girls to have a father.

Last week Degrasse, 44, apparently killed her and the daughters, then went to the cemetery and shot himself. He was found on June 7 atop the grave of his sister, who committed suicide in 2007, according to APTN News.

Enuraraq, 29, and her daughters Alexandra, 7, and Ailyah, 2, were found dead in their Tundra Valley home soon afterward.

The family’s plight and their deaths reflect several harsh realities of living in Canada’s far north, local experts said: Remote communities that are expensive and difficult to access. A lack of mental health facilities and programs. An extremely high rate of suicide and family violence.

A statement from the national Inuit advocacy group Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) puts the suicide rate among Inuit at 11 times higher than the national rate. Although the recent announcement by federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq that $27 million would be allocated for mental health projects in rural, northern and aboriginal communities countrywide, ITK President Mary Simon said Inuit communities need more. All jurisdictions must get involved, including provincial and territorial governments, she said in a statement.

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The 7,000-population capital is reeling in shock and sadness. The school was closed for a few days. According to the Canadian Press, the cabbie who took grief counselor Sheila Levy to the school for counseling sessions, to stay in the car with him, telling her he needed counseling too. And Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Sgt. Jimmy Akavak had to pause before reading the names of the girls on APTN.

The community has pulled together with a fund-raiser to enable Enuaraq’s family to come in for the funeral. The funerals were to be scheduled pending autopsies on Enuraraq and her daughters.

"The taxi driver, when he heard I was counselor going over to support people, he wanted to keep me in his taxi to support him," Levy told the Canadian Press, which said she has been offering counseling in Nunavut suicide-related matters for years. "He knew the family and knew everybody. There's not anyone in this community that's not affected by this sad state of events."

Natan Obed, the director of social development for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Inuit land-claims organization, told the Canadian Press, "Our service delivery is scattered."

Simon cited the suicides of two teenage girls in as many months in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, in northern Quebec, and a standoff between a man in Nain, Nunatsiavut, northern Labrador, and RCMP, when the man fired shots in his home and threatened to take his life.

“These incidences are just the tip of the iceberg—there are many more I could mention,” said Simon in the ITK statement. “I am profoundly saddened by this continuous and accelerating pattern of violence in the Arctic, and I send my deepest condolences to the families. Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut are in social crisis. We must respond with extraordinary measures—measures commensurate with the magnitude of the issue. Our people are dying. We need help and we need it now.”