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Monday, November 6, 2006
Victims betrayed by MLAs

Our government is broken. MLAs either don't understand the power they wield or are afraid to use it.

Cabinet is under the thumb of the bureaucrats and lawyers who really run the show. Need evidence? Look at three recent cases:

  • the firing of Michael Miltenberger from cabinet;
  • a decision to stop publishing Hansard; and,
  • the lawsuit defence that suggest victims of sexual predator Ed Horne were willing partners.

Faced with a threat against the wife and brother of Kam Lake MLA Dave Ramsay, regular MLAs fired Miltenberger from cabinet.

That was a ray of hope, a sign MLAs understood their power and were willing to use it. All too often, they act like junior cabinet ministers, asking puffball questions and toeing the government line in hopes of getting access to tidbits of information normally restricted to cabinet chambers.

It seems that was just a fluke. MLAs were enraged when one of their own was threatened, then return to their offices when real people are affected by bone-head decisions.

Hansard is the official record of debate in the legislative assembly. Rather than meet a court order to begin translating it into French, the government stopped publishing it in English, a cynical legal manoeuvre that robbed the public of vital information. MLAs said nothing.

The decision isn't just a slap in the face to the French community. It is a slight to everyone in the Northwest Territories, a signal the public doesn't matter and lawyers rule.

Regular MLAs rose again last week and voted to "censure" Handley over month-old comments about the government's defence in the Horne lawsuit.

They pounded the pulpit about how horrible the premier was, but let the monstrous defence put forward by the government's lawyers stand.

Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya said MLAs don't want to meddle in the court's jurisdiction. But the statement of defence is the government's jurisdiction. Cabinet approved it and the MLAs must be able to change it, if they are so abhorred by what it says.

Without action, the censure is nothing more than political grandstanding and reinforces the suggestion the ouster of Thebacha MLA Michael Miltenberger was too.

If MLAs truly think the persecution of Ed Horne's victims is wrong, they should do everything in their power to stop it, even if they fail. To date, they've done nothing, a complete betrayal of sex crime victims who require enormous courage to come forward. MLAs should consider censuring themselves along with Handley.

Kugluktuk comes first

The purpose of the Kugluktuk Ilavut Centre is worth defending.

The minimum-security corrections facility is designed to help criminals make their way back into the community. It's like a halfway house for those who have committed various offences and are in the latter stages of their sentences.

Convicts receive counselling, get to go out on the land under supervision and learn lessons from elders. Amongst other programs, they are also given pointers on writing resumes and finding jobs.

Unless we are going to warehouse all criminals in jails indefinitely, facilities like Ilavut are needed to improve the odds of offenders becoming productive citizens.

Kugluktuk's municipal administration was open to the idea of hosting the correctional centre, which represents jobs and economic benefits for the small community. There was a drum feast and drum dance to celebrate Ilavut's opening on April 2, 2005.

Since then, there have been two embarrassing escapes from the jail.

On Aug. 7, a 26-year-old inmate piled bedclothes under his sheets and walked out the unlocked back door of the Ilavut centre. Five hours later, the RCMP found the man - who had last been charged with theft over $5,000 - passed out drunk on a resident's porch.

Only four months earlier, an inmate with a history of aggravated sexual assault and assault was on the loose in Kugluktuk for close to 10 hours.

Justice officials insisted that the August incident was not an escape because the facility is not a prison.

Emails and reports from the Department of Justice, acquired by Nunavut News/North through an Access to Information request, shows that the government scrambled to put the best face on the mishaps.

"This one will require a response that can be seen," deputy justice minister Markus Weber wrote in an e-mail to his assistant minister.

To the government's credit, it immediately sent the escapees to the North Slave Correctional Centre.

While trying to salvage its image in the press, the Justice Department failed to adequately address the larger, more important issue: the safety of Kugluktuk residents.

The community's mayor demanded that Ilavut's screening practices be changed to ensure violent offenders are not walking the hamlet's streets.

That's not too much to ask; neither would it be to install locks and build a security fence.

The inmates should be encouraged to strive for a healthier lifestyle.

But the welfare of Kugluktuk residents should always be the first priority.

Formal education still the key to success

Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News

We find it difficult to understand why so many fail to grasp the importance of formal education in Nunavut.

Once again, people were up in arms when the Canadian Research Institute for Social Policy released its latest findings.

In short, the report stated we aren't graduating enough students from high school and, of the ones who do make it, less than five per cent complete any form of post-secondary study.

Nobody disputes the importance of cultural relevancy in education, especially in Nunavut.

Yes, our educational system has to be adjusted to acknowledge Inuit culture, and credit must be given for Inuit Qaujiniajatuqangit.

Traditional land, hunting, sewing and artistry skills remain of paramount importance in the Arctic.

That being said, they cannot be acknowledged to the point where a student's formal education suffers.

It would be easy for the Nunavut government to develop an academic system that would give so much credit for traditional knowledge that our percentage of Grade 12 graduates would skyrocket.

But that increase in the number of graduates would not end these studies, it would simply change them.

Instead of not enough grads, the studies would indicate our grads are ill-prepared to acquire the skills in demand in today's workforce.

In this very edition, you will read that more than half the Kivalliq applicants for a heavy-equipment-operator course could not meet the minimum Grade 10 standard.

As much as program facilitators may have wanted to, do you believe they could take traditional knowledge into account in allowing someone to take control of such powerful machinery?

Of course not. Formal education is needed to master the skills to operate the machinery properly.

Remember, we're talking heavy equipment here. We won't go down the path of the formal education needed for 1,000 other careers.

There are some areas traditional knowledge blends quite nicely with formal education.

The midwifery program being developed at Nunavut Arctic College is a prime example of the two being combined to produce, what we're sure will prove itself to be, a superior program.

But such examples are too limited to take Nunavut to where it has to be for our territory to decrease its dependency on Ottawa.

To make an analogy: ask a former star college athlete who couldn't make it to the professional ranks if his school did him any favours by propping up his marks with bogus course credits.

We don't need any illusions or delusions involved with the ongoing creation of Nunavut's educational system.

Too many people have bought into the illusion of unsubstantiated promises here for the past seven years.

We remain a territory where a select few form the power base and continue to benefit financially, while the general populace treads the waters of poverty.

The key to narrowing the gap between the upper and lower class rests in the hands of education.

And, as with any key that leads to powerful places, you have to forge your own.

Nobody's going to hand you one!

How many will be hurt?

Editorial Comment
Dez Loreen
Inuvik Drum

An accident last weekend left two youth in stitches and one in a hospital bed in Edmonton.

Their pain was completely avoidable.

After attending a party at Airport Lake, the young people jumped into a truck for the drive back into town.

The party was held at one of two gravel pits near the lake. There, the young party-goers lit a bonfire to provide heat and light for their night-time revelry.

On the way back from the party, the truck lost traction and flipped off the road into the bush. Two of the three passengers were tossed from the wreck, while the driver was dumped into the back seat.

After seeing the truck and hearing eyewitness reports, it seems fortunate that the youth were not killed. The front of the cab is totally crushed.

I talked to both of the guys who had to drag their friends out of the ditch after the crash. They were also driving back into town.

It doesn't seem fair to put your friends through the pain of seeing you that vulnerable, laying in the dirt unconscious.

I have never seen any of my friends in that position and I pray I never will.

I almost feel obliged to describe the three people in the vehicle as "victims." But, the only victims were the friends and parents, who had to stand in the sterile hospital room crying.

Now, a week after the fact, one of the youth is still in hospital in Edmonton. From what I've heard, he has feeling is his legs, which seemed unlikely from early doctor reports here in town.

Coming out of this incident, I wonder why the pit where the party was held has not been fenced off from the public, like the other one in the same quarry has been.

Personally, I think both areas should be off limits to the public, to discourage the late night party visits.

The remote location is nearly 10 kilometres from town and is really only accessible by vehicle.

This causes problems with the groups of people who do not designate a sober driver.

Drinking outside in cold weather is not something that is desired, but has become common practice. Parents won't let their kids drink in their home, so the youth seek other venues.

Deputy fire Chief Julie Miller said it best to me last week. If the youth are so charged up to drink, this town is surrounded by brush and thick bush. There is no need to drive to any location far from town.

Only a year after an accident that left one teen a paraplegic following a party, we have to ask ourselves how many more children will be in wheelchairs before this is stopped.

Groups in town are working to bring the wrecked truck into the high school to fully illustrate the impacts of drinking and driving.

Redeeming parts of humanity

Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum

Some of the stories I most enjoy being able to report about in the paper are the ones in which community members do positive things.

People often complain that all they ever see in the news these days, whether on television, radio or in newspapers, is doom and gloom. Levels of violence are up, the environment is being destroyed, innocent people are being shot when they least expect it. It's enough to make you want to crawl back under the covers in your bed and not come out.

That's why it's such a pleasure to see regular people go out of their way to do things that will help others.

A number of these types of stories popped up in the Deh Cho during September and October. Most of the stories were related to cancer.

While cancer is a devastating disease it's often such trials or times of trouble that can bring people together.

On Sept. 17, a number of communities in the Deh Cho held Terry Fox runs to raise money for cancer research. Not everyone can be as effective as Terry Fox who ran 5,373 km or 3,339 miles in 143 days but every little bit helps.

The money raised in the communities will join the approximately $400 million that has been raised worldwide to date during Terry Fox Runs.

Money to combat cancer was also raised in a different way in Fort Providence in late September.

Deh Gah school teacher Sherri Thomson and Const. J.M. Suave shaved their hair off to raise money for CIBC's second annual Run for Our Lives event that collects money for breast cancer research, support, services and equipment in the Northwest Territories.

With the help of senior high students Murina Sabourin, Destiny Thom, Audrey Landry and Shawna McLeod, $850 was raised.

While short hair was being shed in Fort Providence, long hair was saved this month in Fort Simpson.

Laurent Isiah had his distinctive 16-inch ponytail lopped off and opted for a half-inch buzz cut. Isiah was excited to discover he could donate his hair to help those who have lost theirs during treatments for cancer. Isiah's ponytail will be sent down to Calgary where it will be made into a wig for a cancer patient.

While donating hair for wigs has been done before and is nothing new, it's not every day that the donor is a 12-year-old boy in junior high.

A number of conclusions can be drawn from these examples.

First, in a territory where cancer was the leading cause of death from 2000 to 2002, according to the Department of Health and Social Services, all of these good deeds show that people care about what happens to their fellow community members.

Secondly, some youth are also willing to lend a hand to help others, even people they don't know and might never meet. In a society where the state of today's youth is often bemoaned, it's nice to know that some things are still going right.

Lastly, individuals can make a big difference when they feel strongly about a cause. That is something to remember when things seem bleak.


In the Oct. 30 edition of News/North it was incorrectly reported that Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya spent $2,000 on wooden pens. In fact, the pens cost $200. Incorrect information appeared in the Oct. 12 issue of News/North. In a news brief about Aklavik's upcoming recreation committee and councillor elections ("Interested in running?" p.3) the nomination deadline was incorrectly published as Oct. 23. The date is actually Nov. 6. Also, the name of Steve Daniel, the NWT's co-ordinator for math, science and secondary education was misspelled. News/North apologizes for any embarrassment or inconvenience caused by these errors.