A woman who was assaulted by Kenny Bell at a party sixteen years ago is raising questions about transparency at Iqaluit City Hall — and the normalization of violence in the North — after a confrontation at a grocery store in April.
Bell, who was elected as Iqaluit's mayor in 2019, wrote in a Facebook post on April 22 that he was outside a grocery store when a man approached him, said "I want to fight you" and punched him in the chest.
"I popped him in the jaw," wrote Bell. "He did the stanky leg and then ran away."
A little more than a week later, the city issued a statement saying there had been a review and Bell did not breach the Councillor Code of Conduct. Despite repeated requests from CBC News, the city did not say who carried out the review or how the finding was made.
The statement also included a quote from Bell, saying: "I regret the situation that occurred. I reacted to the threat of danger, when an unknown man verbally and physically accosted me in an enclosed space at a local grocery store." (His original Facebook post said the incident happened outside the store.)
Bell pleaded guilty in 2006 assault
Jillian MacIsaac, who lives in New Brunswick now, said when she learned about Bell's account of what happened outside the store it brought her back to the day Bell, who was an ex-boyfriend, assaulted her in Iqaluit in 2006.
Court documents, obtained by CBC News, show Bell was given a conditional discharge and sentenced to a year of probation on May 15, 2007 after pleading guilty to an assault on MacIsaac on July 2 the previous year.
A conditional discharge means someone will not have a criminal conviction on their record so long as they follow the terms of their probation period.
The historic criminal file is the only one under Bell's name at the Nunavut Court of Justice, meaning he satisfied the terms of his probation — which included 72 hours of community service, alcohol counselling, and not having contact with MacIsaac and two other people.
Bell has acknowledged requests from CBC News for an interview about what happened between him and MacIsaac, but he did not agree to do an interview.
The Nunavut Court of Justice has confirmed they do not have a transcript or audio recording from the day Bell pleaded guilty.
The court documents do not describe the details of the altercation.
MacIsaac's version of events
According to MacIsaac, the assault happened at a Canada Day bonfire attended by roughly 25 people near the old airport runway, and had started with a verbal dispute about music.
She said she intervened when Bell became aggressive with someone she was close to.
"He had the individual by the collar of the shirt, so I was just trying to push him off of that person," she said. "At that point, he grabbed me by the throat, looked me in the eyes, and said 'I'm going to effing punch you in the face,' and that's what he did."
MacIsaac said she was knocked to the ground, and her lip was split open.
A friend of MacIsaac's, who was also at the gathering, corroborated MacIsaac's account of the assault and the extent of her injuries.
MacIsaac said she went to the RCMP detachment to report the incident that night. Afterwards, she said the RCMP told her to go to the hospital — and she did.
"I still have scar tissue in my lip, to this day," she said.
Questions of transparency at city hall
MacIsaac moved to Iqaluit with her family in 1999 and at the time of the assault had been back in town, at age 24, for a summer job with the territorial government. She continued to live there for a few years after graduating from university.
"For a long time, I didn't feel safe in that town," she said, describing the way she was scared of running into Bell in public and at their shared place of work.
MacIsaac said what happened to her leaves her wondering about what happened outside the grocery store in April. She fears council only had one side of the story when a decision was made that Bell did not break the Councillor Code of Conduct.
In a statement from the city on April 29, Deputy Mayor Solomon Awa said: "Upon review, the Councillor Code of Conduct was not breached in this incident."
CBC News twice requested an interview with Awa to learn more about how the review was carried out. Both times, Aleksey Cameron, a spokesperson for the city, said the city and Awa had "nothing else to add."
Cameron also did not respond to questions about who carried out the review, or how it was done.
"There should be some transparency in terms of what happened and how the decision was made," said MacIsaac. She'd like to know what kind of steps city council took to verify Bell's account of what happened.
MacIsaac also said she was "shocked" by some comments about the incident on Facebook, which she felt praised Bell for responding with violence and joked about the situation.
"It's not normal to punch someone in the face," she said. "These things somewhat get normalized in the North, I think. And they really shouldn't be."