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Wednesday, March 2, 2005
Malls are people places

The merchants in Yellowknife's downtown malls have a legitimate complaint with shoplifters and people hanging around drunk.

Unfortunately, removing any feature that allows people to pause and relax with friends really removes the mall further from the community. Is that what merchants want?

When malls were invented, they were designed to invite people to hang out 'til they dropped, but from shopping, not alcohol.

The mall idea caught on and, before long, downtown merchants across North America moaned at the loss of business to the suburban mega-mall. Luckily for Yellowknife, our indoor malls are right downtown and offer a warm shopping experience.

But doesn't the mega-store Wal-Mart/Canadian Tire phenomenon do the same thing as a suburban mall: draw business from downtown?

No loiterers there. Unless you live close by, you can only get there by taxi, bus or car. So this puts downtown malls at a disadvantage.

Security is the only remedy for the immediate problems of intoxication and shoplifting. The homelessness problem is the government's to resolve.

But handing the loiterer problem over to the city's bylaw department is not the answer.

Bylaws are only effective if enforced. The city's bylaw department is responsible for enforcement of bylaws within municipal boundaries, not just a few blocks downtown.

We must also be cautious how "loiterers" are defined. Seniors and people from out of town may wish to take their time to see the stores. Only experienced security personnel can tell the difference. The bottom line is, malls are supposed to be places where people make and spend money. In the case of the Centre Square Mall, there is the library, the hotel, condominiums and restaurants - all of which attract people.

More people at downtown malls means more business for all downtown merchants. More shoppers among the total downtown population means mall businesses gain in value.

It should be remembered, these problems are not unique to Yellowknife. Malls suffer from bothersome loiterers and shoplifters everywhere.

The only solution is to stop such people from creating the environment in their own image. A well-patrolled, well-maintained and friendly mall in a high traffic area will always attract shoppers.

Attitudes must change for boozing to stop

Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News

The problems with the combination of booze and sporting events in the Kivalliq are starting to rear their ugly heads once again.

While the 2005 Johnny Kook Memorial adult recreational hockey tournament is scheduled for later this month in Whale Cove, it's no secret that a number of residents are wondering if the price paid by families each year is worth it.

During each of the past few years, alcohol coming into the hamlet during the tournament has caused a number of social problems for the community.

And they're not alone. The Rankin Inlet detachment of the RCMP were kept busy this past weekend during the Avataq adult recreational hockey tourney.

The majority of the problems dealt with by the RCMP were liquor related.

There are many who feel the answer to the problem is to have local RCMP officers search as many of the athletes coming in for - or returning home from - major sporting events as time and available manpower permits.

While this approach does meet with occasional success, it has its downfalls.

First, the police have no authority to start searching people's bags simply because hamlet council or a group of concerned citizens would like them to do so. There must be probable cause, or, the bag owner must consent to an officer's request to look inside.

Second, such tactics can have a less-than-desirable effect when homecoming teams are involved, especially those winning a championship title.

There's precious little that can kill the atmosphere of friends and family members welcoming their champions home quicker than a handful of police officers going through their luggage.

And, of course, in communities accessible by snowmachine, those determined to bring liquor in for the weekend are fully adept at sneaking into town undetected.

One method that may act as a bit of a deterrent was suggested this past weekend by Rankin police.

The police could provide the name of anyone locked up due to an alcohol-related offence during a sporting event to the host committee which, in turn, could immediately disqualify that person from further competition.

If this were to become standard practice, there's no doubt it would dissuade a few from running afoul of the law, but it certainly wouldn't solve the entire problem.

Ultimately, attitudes must change before the actions of a few ruin everything for the majority.

Those who travel for the love of the sport have to find the resolve to speak out against those who use their big events as nothing more than an excuse for a drinking binge.

If the alcohol abuse continues, it's only a matter of time before communities start cancelling events and, once again, the benefits to the many will be lost due to the selfishness of a few.

If it ain't broke...

Editorial Comment
Jason Unrau
Inuvik Drum

Today I decided to buy a new car, probably a pickup truck. Why? Because a pickup is more useful in these parts and my old car is sitting in Fort Smith with about four grand in repairs pending, not to mention a busted tape player.

But before I lament the passing of a great automobile that delivered me to the threshold of the North and all that sentimental stuff, I'm forced to think of practicality... and my pocketbook.

If I could get another season out of her, it would make practical sense to keep the old girl around another year because I know how she drives and it's a joy to bomb down the open highways of the territory together.

After witnessing the show of support for elementary school principal Bernie MacLean at Monday evening's District Education Authority (DEA) meeting, I can't help but think of the parallels between the two situations.

Of course, comparing MacLean's contribution to Sir Alexander Mackenzie school (SAMS) over his eight-years working there with my 15-year-old car would be an insult to him and those who have worked alongside him. That is not the intention of this editorial.

It is, however, a good segue to highlight the practicality of keeping a known and respected entity around for another year, if possible. Why? Because SAMS teachers seem to get along swimmingly with the man, respect his guidance and, judging from the text of the letter written to the DEA (printed below right), love to work for him.

The DEA's position is that it wants a long-term commitment of three to five years and therefore tendered the principal's position at SAMS for "competition."

Again, citing the text of the SAMS staff letter, it would appear that there really is no competition for the job MacLean has done at SAMS - something DEA chair Judy Harder all but admitted at the meeting when she noted that MacLean, "leaves big shoes to fill."

So the really big question is, why try to fill them if they don't need filling?

To go from cars to a baseball analogy, the staff's letter is a big, juicy, hanging knuckleball that the DEA could belt into the cheap seats.

If the DEA lets it drop into the catcher's mitt, next season could be jeopardized with unhappy teachers anxious at who the new slugger batting cleanup is going to be.

Or what about those experienced teachers who will contemplate moving elsewhere; as several have noted it was MacLean's leadership which kept them around longer than they'd planned in the first place.

Interpret the signs coming in from the third base coach and one will see "swing away," invite MacLean back for a ninth season and keep the hometeam happy.

Because the best teachers are those who are satisfied and it is quite evident the elementary school staff is a happy bunch under MacLean's watch.

This is a moment for the DEA to seize. A positive outcome in the eyes of SAMS staff would keep the well-tuned engine that is the elementary school humming for another important year.

Conference booster

Editorial Comment
Derek Neary
Deh cho Drum

Does a youth conference held over a couple of days make any difference?

For some students it does.

Let's face it, kids being kids, many of the participants in last week's Mackenzie Regional Youth Conference in Fort Providence were preoccupied with members of the opposite sex.

Anyone listening (not necessarily eavesdropping) could easily have overheard:

"He's hot."

"Do you think she likes me?"

No surprise, these are the sorts of things that most teens and pre-teens are constantly pondering.

Outside of that, if you ask students what they learned from the conference, you're bound to get some shrugging shoulders and "I don't know" responses. That's an almost automatic reply from adolescents.

Others were brimming with confidence, clearly buoyed by new skills. Some of the youths, gratified by their own efforts, proudly showed off their woodworking projects or became rather animated in relating how they can break dance, act or give a manicure.

There were students practising these new skills after the sessions ended, which confirms that some of them weren't just putting in time, they were learning with enthusiasm.

An annual conference such as the one held last week won't solve existing educational woes (some of which are only as woeful as people make them out to be), but if it helps build self-esteem, then it was well worth the couple of days. Remember, too, these sorts of small victories take place in schools practically every weekday without much fanfare. Half the battle is getting the students to come to school regularly.

Staying in school, as Fort Liard's Lisa Bertrand has proven, is a means to a better future (see her story in this issue). She doesn't want the label "role model" applied, but her example is one to follow. Those who have given up on their education should really think twice.

There are success stories without diplomas in today's world, but few of them.

Continuing on a positive note, the Community Action Team deserves an enormous birthday cake for its endeavours to offer healthy choices in Fort Liard.

More often than not, groups like this one take shape with the best of intentions but peter out after a short while.

The volunteers in Fort Liard have reached the one year mark, a significant milestone, but hopefully it's the first of many years of philanthropy. Undoubtedly, their birthday wish is that their ranks swell over the next year.

Finally, we had some great hockey in Fort Providence last weekend and more to come in Fort Simpson this weekend. Sports and recreation is another healthy pastime. Get involved as a player or a fan (there's no NHL on the tube anyway). So there you have it, a whole bunch of positive stories - and there will be no apologies for that.