Editorial page
Wednesday, September 16, 1998

The frail voice of organized labour

Labour Day 1998 has come and gone. This year has not been an very auspicious one for the organized labour movement.

The Union of Northern Workers is locked in a stalemate with the territorial government over contract negotiations and a retroactive pay equity settlement. Miramar started the year off with massive layoffs and it appears will close 1998 with Con mine mothballed and the workers out on strike.

The diamond mines aren't unionized.

Membership in the NWT Federation of Labour has dropped 25 per cent over the last two years, from 8,000 to 6,000.

The voice of labour in the North is getting fainter and fainter. Working stiffs should be concerned.

Organized labour plays an important role in today's world. It represents the people who are directly and immediately affected by the manoeuvres of major corporations and shifts in the global economy.

Unions are the guardians of safe working environments. They are the driving force behind wage increases and benefits.

While, on occasion, unions have lost public sympathy with either outrageous demands or economy-crippling strikes, they still fulfil a critical need in today's economic climate.

Who really thinks that an international mining conglomerate or merging financial institutions have the best interests of the community in mind?

People who work in non-union environments sometimes forget that their wages and benefits reflect gains made by organized labour.

In a changing world, the voice of labour provides a counterpoint to the tidal wave of corporate information provided by armies of public relations people. These days, with the dispute between the GNWT and the UNW, and the closing of the Con mine, we can't help but wonder what Jim Evoy would have said.

A clean sweep

The fire department's reminder to Yellowknife homeowners to clean those chimneys shouldn't be taken lightly.

It's not news that while newer, home-heating systems are more energy efficient, they also produce more water vapour -- vapour that has a tough time escaping when the temperatures dip to the -40s we're inevitably in for in the coming months.

These vapours can not only slowly eat away at your chimney liner, but can eventually collapse forcing dangerous carbon monoxide back into your home.

While the fire department is certainly doing its bit in public awareness -- the ultimate responsibility rests with you.

Back to basics

Effective government means dealing with the issues that matter most to most of the people.

As MLAs, particularly cabinet ministers, re-enter the rarefied confines of the legislative assembly today, they would do well to turn their attention to two bread-and-butter issues that have gone begging attention for during this government's reign.

Health and education services, which affect every citizen in the North, are worse now than they were when this government took office.

Politicians must address the staffing shortages and quality of service concerns that have been on the back burner for the last three years.

Toward a better justice system
Editorial comment
Jennifer Pritchett
Kivalliq News

The Nunavut government is working to develop a justice system for the new territory that better reflects the traditional values of the people. And recommendations made at the Nunavut Social Development Council's justice retreat in Rankin Inlet Sept. 1-4 highlight some significant changes to the current system that grassroots organizations expect out of the new system.

Because of the degree of change proposed in some areas, the suggestions, more than anything else, emphasize the need for more public input into the Nunavut justice system.

Attended by community justice members, lawyers, police, government officials, as well as Supreme Court Judge Ted Richard, the conference provided an opportunity for the different faculties of the justice system to get together and discuss the needs of the new system.

Over the four-day conference, they made more than 20 recommendations relating to justices of the peace, community justice, alternatives to jail and community healing and counselling aspects of the system.

Highlights of the suggestions for the justices of the peace include more training and a less formal JP court held at locations such as on the land or the accused's home where police won't wear uniforms. The group also recommended that JP courts have expanded sentencing options that include community correctional centres and outpost camps.

The group also envisioned the importance of giving more power to the community justice committees. This means that they would be allowed to deal with more serious matters that include domestic violence. They also suggested that the role of these committees would expand to include utilizing the knowledge of elders and teaching young people about traditional values and expected behaviour.

In the area of alternatives to jail, the group offered suggestions that include emphasizing healing programs and keeping offenders in their home communities. Eventually, they suggested, all Inuit inmates should serve their sentences in Nunavut. They also called for the start of a program that would bring Inuit inmates back to Nunavut.

Recommendations for community healing and counselling included a stronger emphasis on the importance of Inuit traditions, values and beliefs that must be recognized and respected by the formal justice system and government.

While these recommendations are only suggestions for the justice department at this point, they do, however, outline some serious changes possible to the system. Because of the degree of change these recommendations imply, the public has to understand them.

As Nunavut edges closer, let's hope there are more meetings like the Rankin Inlet justice retreat to bring together interest groups so they can become part of the decision-making process for the new government. These are significant changes in a system that has the potential to affect a great number of people. People outside the justice system have to understand them before they can truly be effective. Otherwise, the new system will be no better than the old.