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Monday, December 4, 2006
A police state

We all want safer communities, but at what price -- a half million dollars and trampling people's rights?

Under the Safer Communities and Neighbourhood (SCAN) legislation proposed for the NWT, government investigators would have the power to monitor homes, question neighbours and evict people suspected of illegal activities such as bootlegging, prostitution, drug dealing and illegal gambling.

The main argument in support of the legislation is that SCAN investigators could more easily put a stop to illegal activity by eliminating its venue because action is being taken under civil law rather than criminal law.

Staff Sgt. Sidney Gray of the Inuvik RCMP said police are often hamstrung by the legal requirements of gathering evidence. In many cases that makes it difficult to arrest and convict everyone involved in an illegal operation.

The question then is does the criminal activity cease or does it just find somewhere else to set up shop? Furthermore do we want a system that seems to undermine the fundamentals of our judicial system that considers people innocent until proven guilty?

It's also disturbing when the NWT's top law enforcement official, Justice Minister Brendan Bell, says "infringing on the rights of known drug dealers... is not going to hurt my feelings."

When did the Charter of Rights become optional?

Then there is the cost of another level of bureaucracy with investigators who will have to travel to every NWT community. In the Yukon, two full-time investigators and one auxiliary come with an annual cost of $300,000.

According to Guenther Laube, GNWT resources development impact advisor, the NWT could start with four investigators. We estimate that could cost in excess of $500,000. One RCMP officer said he believes the NWT really needs eight investigators.

Police statistics currently show a low level of arrests for some of these offences in the NWT. In the past 10 years there have been only 23 prostitution charges, 19 for gambling and a majority of drug-related charges were for possession, not trafficking. Bootlegging is a concern, but there are no definitive statistics.

There are so many questions when it comes to this legislation and we are not comfortable with the answers.

Who's going to watch the watchers? How do we justify the expense if the investigators sit on their hands day after day waiting for a complaint to come in?

The honour system only goes so far. One angry neighbour could turn a town on its ear and cost the territorial government thousands of dollars with one malicious complaint.

If the government has a half-million dollars to burn, hire more police to investigate crime and gather evidence. Don't hire a bunch of secret police who will snoop through garbage cans and videotape homes in search of fictional bawdy houses.

New jail is a must

The Government of Nunavut announced two weeks ago that a $37 million jail will be built in Rankin Inlet.

With related planning expenditures, the process will cost the government an estimated total of $47 million.

That's good news for Rankin Inlet. Residents in Kivalliq have been calling for a correctional centre for several years.

But in order for people across the territory to truly benefit from the facility, they must be prepared for the job opportunities that arise. The government should provide training now to ensure that employment is maximized among Nunavummiut.

When Lew Philip became the first Inuk warden at Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit last year, less than one third of jail workers were Inuit.

That leaves plenty of room for improvement.

There's no doubt that a need exists for the new jail, which will have 36 to 48 beds and should open within five years.

Statistics show a staggering level of crime in Nunavut, particularly offences of a violent nature. The Baffin Correctional Centre -- which can only confine 66 inmates in its cells and house a few dozen more in its secondary units -- has been notoriously crowded for years.

Plenty of inmates have been redirected to Yellowknife's North Slave Correctional Centre to deal with the overflow.

The Baffin Correctional Centre also has limitations that the new jail in Rankin will inherit. Criminals who are sentenced to more than two years are currently shipped south at great expense, often to Ontario, to serve their time in a federal penitentiary.

Premier Paul Okalik continues to call on Ottawa to put up funding for a federal prison in Nunavut. Such an institution would include counselling for sex offenders. That's a very sensitive subject at any time, but particularly in light of a child rapist recently arriving in Iqaluit after completing his eight-year term behind bars. He reportedly didn't complete counselling during his sentence, but there is some question as to whether he was able to get proper service in Inuktitut.

A federal pen in Nunavut, however, could have tailored programming, such as Baffin Correctional Centre has developed and the new Rankin jail will also include.

Hopefully Okalik can convince Justice Minister Jim Prentice to cough up the money.

In addition to money worries, the territorial government still has an additional shortfall of its own deal with: the lack of an appropriate lock-up for women. A government planning committee recommended a six-to-eight bed centre for female criminals back in 1998.

Nobody said justice is swift, but it must be even-handed.ded.

Rankin mayor on a roll

Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News

Mayor Lorne Kusugak would be the last person to take all the credit for himself, but the list of accomplishments for Rankin Inlet during his tenure is an impressive one - and growing.

To date, artificial ice, a new regional health centre, a new trades-training centre and a new regional correctional facility have all reached fruition on his watch.

The impact Kusugak has made for Rankin has not been lost on the community, considering next month will mark the second time he has been acclaimed to the mayor's position.

In short, Kusugak is on a roll.

However, while Rankin now stands to benefit from a few more year's of his leadership, Kusugak must surely be starting to look a little higher and wondering what if...?

Those in the know realize Kusugak has already been courted by a national party - nothing associated with the colour green - hoping he'd run at the federal level.

And, make no mistake about it, if Kusugak made his intention to throw his hat into the federal ring known, suitors would come a calling.

As dedicated and tireless a worker as he is, Kusugak must also be wondering if, and when, the tide will turn in Rankin.

Many a popular political figure, from municipal politics to Sussex Drive, have paid a heavy price for hanging on in one place too long.

In fact, should Kusugak have upwardly-mobile ambitions, some may argue he's already missed the boat and should have ran on his popularity during the last territorial or federal election.

But we don't agree.

We've seen nothing to suggest Kusugak has lost any of his edge during the past few years, nor have we noticed any drop in his desire to improve the quality of life for residents of Rankin Inlet.

As he readies himself for another term, he faces the same peril all municipal leaders do at election time; the uncertainty of a new council about to be elected.

Yet, while hamlet council has lost considerable experience in those councillors not running for re-election, the key members remain in place for another year.

This assures Kusugak of having a solid foundation to start his next term, regardless of the outcome of the upcoming election.

While we have no doubt Kusugak can stay on top of his municipal game for another term, the time is drawing near when he will have to act if he has any territorial or federal aspirations.

He has compiled an impressive enough resume that the capital should be eagerly anticipating his arrival, with the exception, of course, of those whose seat he could possibly take in making the move.

Kusugak has earned the right to be the highest paid mayor in the Kivalliq with his performance, and Rankin would, no doubt, miss his leadership should he decide to move on.

That being said, the good ship Nunavut is seriously listing and can use all the capable hands it can get.

And, politically speaking, Kusugak has proven himself as seaworthy as they come.

Cracking down on illegal activity

Editorial Comment
Dez Loreen
Inuvik Drum

I don't know about all of you, but I can remember a fair amount of my dreams. Lately, my dreams have taken a twist.

My thoughts in the night are not imaginative fantasies.

They don't involve cloud cities. I don't slay dragons or drive a Ferrari. It might sound lame to some, but my dreams are of a better life -- not just for me but for everyone in the North.

I don't want to see homeless people on the street. I don't want to report on cases of spousal abuse.

I wish people would gain control over their addictions, but I cannot control any of that.

I wish for development. I want a good future for your kids and my family.

I'm glad that the people at the Department of Justice are also looking at new means to keep the peace.

The Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act, a controversial piece of proposed legislation, targets illegal operations such as crack houses, gambling houses and prostitution rings, hopefully shutting them down for good.

When I first heard about the new act, it raised warning flags in my head. The whole process seems like it could infringe on many privacy rights.

While I agree that shutting down illegal operations like the ones mentioned above should be a priority for Northerners, we should make sure we know what we are getting into.

The new act authorizes government investigators to use their own methods to gather information on suspected offenders.

These people will not be police officers or wear proper uniforms. Using video surveillance, talking to neighbours and working with the RCMP are a few of the methods outlined.

I want to know where the investigators will draw the line.

I was told that wire taps would be illegal, but the investigators could operate undercover, as in Saskatchewan, where the law has been in place for two years.

The burden of proof under this legislation is much lower than that of the Criminal Code. That means the investigators would need less evidence to evict you from your property than police would need to charge you with a crime.

I guess the only way to stay clear of undercover agents and private investigations is to keep away from any illegal activity.

If we choose to use this as a tool to free our communities from the grip of crack cocaine, gambling and bootlegging, we should all be aware of the program.

Nearly a dozen people attended the meeting in Inuvik last week.

Justice Minister Brendan Bell said that meetings were held in regional centres, but I think that more communities need to be informed about the proposed law before any decisions are made.

If you have a problem with the proposed legislation or have any questions about the process, contact your MLA.

I'm sure they would love to hear from you.

Life lessons on ice

Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum

Hockey season has begun in Fort Simpson and will soon be spreading its way across the Deh Cho as ice is finished on more rinks.

This great Canadian sport has been a mainstay of life in this country during the winter for many years. Although on the surface it's all fun and games, it doesn't matter if it's a pick-up game on an outdoor rink or an organized game between adults in an arena, there's lots of lessons to be learned on and around the ice.

For the younger players and the ones new to skates, one of the quickest and most obvious lessons is how to pick yourself up and keep trying after you fail or fall.

Watching the initiation or novice players can almost be painful.

One minute they're skating along then they will start to lean one way as their skates go the other and almost in slow motion they land with a thud on the ice. Most quickly learn to pick themselves up and start skating again like nothing ever happened. The old adage of if you fail try, try again comes to mind. Luckily the padding must take away some of the sting.

Gathered around the boards looking through the plexiglass while bundled up from the cold arena air are members of another group who are teaching lessons.

At the start of hockey season parents and guardians begin the ritual of preparing youth for hockey practice and games.

It's often parents who show their support by looking after the hockey equipment, ensuring it gets to the practice and making sure it's washed at appropriate intervals.

A lot is involved in being a hockey parent.

If their child has one of the earlier practice slots, supper needs to be ready to go on time. Parents arrange rides to the rink and often stay to watch their children.

If a family has more than one child in hockey it can mean being at the rink from 5:15 p.m. to sometime after seven. Try doing that three times a week for a few months. Now that's dedication.

Parents also have a lot to teach hockey players about behaviour that is acceptable at hockey games.

Luckily hockey here is still mainly untainted by some of the hockey parent scandals that have happened in the south. Parents often have a way of getting too caught up in the competition and losing sight of the simple joy of playing.

In some southern communities parents have been banned from arenas because they get out of hand.

Sportsmanlike conduct is something that everyone can benefit from learning and following.

Hockey also has the obvious lessons to teach about teamwork, fair play, respect and playing by the rules.

Entire books have probably been written on life lessons that can be learned in hockey, but in the end it's really just a great game.

So this winter get out on a rink, have fun and keep your stick on the ice.