Northern Quebec police force’s only female Inuit officer beating the odds
MONTREAL — Though she’s only 22, Constable Pamela Stevenson is undoubtedly one of her northern Quebec police force’s most coveted new recruits.
When she joined last month straight after graduation, Stevenson became one of three Inuit officers on the 70-person Kativik Regional Police Force (KRPF), whose vast territory includes everything in Quebec that lies north of the 55th parallel.
Of the three, Stevenson is the only woman.
To get to where she is, Stevenson overcame a number of challenges, including moving 1,400 kilometres away from her home in Kuujjuaq to earn her police technology degree and later attend police academy in Drummondville, Que.
The move meant getting used to living alone — a rarity in the north — and living in a community where few people speak English or Inuktitut.
“There was other First Nations in my class but I was the only Inuit,” she said in a phone interview.
“It was a big adjustment, especially in the community where the school was, because it was all French.”
While Stevenson thrived in her studies, her experiences highlight the difficulties police forces face in recruiting local officers to the province’s northern regions.
In a territory where about 90 per cent of the population are Inuit and most speak Inuktitut or English, most of the police officers serving in the region are francophones from the south, according to KRPF Chief Michel Martin.
Policing in the north means long days, isolation, bad weather and sometimes having to manage violent situations when the nearest backup is a plane ride away, he said.
Many southern officers also struggle to adapt to the culture, and Martin says most end up leaving after less than two years.
As a woman who speaks Inuktitut, Stevenson is a doubly important coup for a force that is largely failing to reflect the region’s demographics.
“We’re very proud to have her, because she speaks the language and she’s a woman,” said Martin, who estimates that women make up 20 per cent of the force.
“There’s a lot of events related to sexual abuse, violence and so on, so it’s very helpful for a police force to have women.”
In recent years the force has stepped up its Inuit recruitment efforts, which include a high school cadet program that Stevenson first joined as a teenager.
The RCMP announced a similar program in Nunavut in 2016, acknowledging at the time that they hadn’t hired an Inuit officer in eight years.
But despite the efforts, Martin says the force struggles to attract candidates who meet the educational requirements and don’t have criminal records.
Furthermore, academically successful Inuit students have many job options available to them, and some don’t want to move away for training, he said.
Stevenson sees another reason, pointing out that being from a tiny, tight-knit community is both an advantage and a disadvantage when it comes to policing.
She believes many young Inuit shy away from police work because they don’t want to be faced with confronting or even arresting their own parents, siblings, or friends.
“I interact with people every day that I’ve known since birth, because I know the whole community basically,” she said.
About a month into the job, Stevenson says she’s enjoying the wide range of daily challenges that come with being a police officer in Kuujjuaq, which at about 2,400 people is the far north’s biggest village.
She’s also proud to serve the members of her community, most of whom are very supportive of her new role.
“I think they understand my position as a police officer, and it’s nice they’re able to see me when I’m off work as a regular person,” she said.
- Morgan Lowrie
News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2017
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