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'Every victim counts': Suspected femicides in northern Quebec went unnoticed by the press

hands victim domestic violence intimate partner

The number of suspected femicides in Quebec quietly rose over the spring, with the deaths of two Indigenous women going largely unreported by the media until recently.

Raingi Tukai, 38, and Stephanie Kitchen, 33, died earlier this year, allegedly killed by their spouses. They're among six possible femicide victims Quebec has seen in 2023.

Tukai and Kitchen lived in the Nord-du-Québec region, a vast territory largely isolated from the rest of the province, where police, health and social services are sparse. Most residents there are Cree and Inuit.

Their deaths went largely unreported in major media until SOS Violence Conjugale, a Quebec organization supporting victims of domestic violence, caught word of the tragedies.

"If the situation is not covered in the papers, we don't get to find out about it. In this case, it's people from the communities (who) reported them, because they hadn't been talked about," Claudine Thibaudeau, head of clinical support at SOS, told CTV News. The organization shared the news on social media.

"It was important for us to bring it up because it's every woman counts," said Thibaudeau. "Every victim counts."

TWO WOMEN KILLED

On March 24, officers with the Eeyou Eenou Police Force were called to a home in Wemindji, a Cree community on the east coast of James Bay. Upon arrival, they discovered a 33-year-old woman with critical injuries. Stephanie Kitchen was rushed to the local clinic but did not survive.

Her spouse, 33-year-old Alexander Weistche, has since been charged with second-degree murder. He was also charged with uttering threats and assault with a weapon on other victims.

The couple cared for children together.

A few months later, about 600 kilometres north in Inukjuak, in the Nunavik region, police discovered the body of 38-year-old Raingi Tukai, also a mother.

She was reported missing back in April, with police discovering her body on June 1.

Her partner, Joanassie Weetaluktuk, was later charged with murder and desecration of a corpse. He and Tukai had a known history of domestic violence.

SEEKING HELP 'A BIG UNDERTAKING'

Capt. Patrice Abel is head of investigations at the Nunavik Police Service (NPS), which worked on the Tukai case.

Speaking to CTV News, he said there's a serious disconnect among many Quebecers when it comes to violence in the north.

"A lot of people down south don't know what's going on up here," said Abel.

His 10-person team at the NPS covers 14 communities, most of them accessible only by plane. This makes policing in Nunavik especially challenging -- a place where, according to Abel, domestic violence is a "big issue," compounded by drugs and other contraband which finds its way up from southern Quebec.

"Too many people don't know exactly what's going on," he said.

It can also be difficult for victims to seek help in these regions when they need it, according to Claudine Thibaudeau with SOS Violence Conjugale.

"There are shelters in northern Quebec, but there aren't shelters in every single community. It makes it harder because, when you decide to go for shelter, you have to decide to go to a community that's 200, 300, 500 kilometres from your home," she explained. "That's a big undertaking. You lose everything."

Abel said victims might be deterred from reporting violence in the first place. Local forces may lack resources leading to their abusers being released shortly after their arrests. When they return home, the abuse may intensify. 

"It might be more dangerous for her than if she didn't say anything," Abel said.

Thibaudeau said that, at a bare minimum, visibility must be provided to all domestic violence victims, regardless of geography.

"We should be just as concerned," she said when crime occurs "in Montreal, or Trois-Rivières, or Drummondville or Sept-Îles."

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