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An unfit sentence
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, February 18, 2011
It actually happened in a Yellowknife territorial courtroom on Feb. 8, and the Crown prosecutor is largely responsible.
A 49-year-old man being sentenced for assault causing bodily harm and mischief was disenchanted with his 16-month sentence.
The offender wanted at least two years because that would have put him in the Alberta prison system, where he said the programs for inmates are superior to what NWT corrections has to offer.
This offender had punched a woman he was drinking with three times in the face. He also did $1,360 worth of damage to a motel door in his fit of rage.
The man was not new to the justice system, not at all. He had been convicted 16 times previously for violent crimes.
That's an ugly record and one deserving serious punishment.
The problem is Judge Bernadette Schmaltz was not even presented the option to put the offender behind bars for much longer than her 16-month sentence.
Crown prosecutor Janice Walsh chose to seek a summary conviction instead of an indictable one, which would have entailed a harsher penalty. Schmaltz was puzzled by the move.
Walsh offered no explanation in court for her decision.
Should she, or any other Crown prosecutor, again be inclined to give a repeat violent offender an easier road, she should at least be prepared to make it clear why.
Nothing wrong with asking questions on Con energy
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, February 18, 2011
Asking tough questions doesn't necessarily mean one is against the Con Mine Community Energy System.
City councillor David Wind isn't, although he did vote against a bylaw Monday that would allow the city - contingent upon voter approval in a referendum March 14 - to borrow up to $49 million to complete the energy project.
Wind said he thinks a district heating system for the downtown is good idea and would like to see it proceed, but like this newspaper, he finds too many questions have remained unanswered so far.
City hall has put residents in a difficult position: It's asking us to trust the city to borrow an amount equivalent to almost an entire year's budget with our tax dollars as a guarantee of repayment should the project falter. No customers have been signed on yet, nor has a private partner been contracted to help fund and build the project.
The city says a referendum is needed in order to obtain a $14.1 million grant from the federal government, but that's to pay for harnessing geothermal energy from Con Mine - something proposed to occur after the city builds an enormous wood pellet-fed heating plant and tears up our streets to lay circulating pipes connected to downtown buildings.
The fact the city has pushed Con Mine geothermal onto the sidelines in recent months after originally using it as the project's selling point is a troubling development. For many, that's what made the plan so appealing in the first place.
City administrator Bob Long's insistence to the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce Tuesday that any agreement with a private partner will be made public is a positive sign, including assurances that Northern companies will be hired to do the work if council asks him.
Nonetheless, this project remains an intriguing but nebulous proposition. Whether or not you're in favour of it, now is not the time to stop asking questions.
Building a future with trades
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, February 17, 2011
>Electricians and plumbers are just two examples of the many apprenticeship trades available in the territory and throughout the rest of Canada. After a year that's so far been filled with lacklustre news about the state of education in the Deh Cho and the territory apprenticeships have cast a recent bright note.
Tyra Moses, an electrical apprentice from Fort Simpson, was honoured on Feb. 11 for earning three awards related to her apprenticeship. They included two Top Mark Awards for receiving the top marks throughout the territory for both electrician level two and three and the Keith Houghton Memorial Award.
Moses also made the honour roll for apprentices with grades above 80 per cent along with Byron Blyth, a level 2 electrician and Clifford Antoine, a plumber/gasfitter B, both from Fort Simpson, and Jamie Lacorne-Tanche and Augustine Minoza-Lefoine, who are both carpentry level 1 apprentices from Fort Providence.
The performance of these apprentices is quite impressive. Achieving the top mark in the territory in an electrical apprenticeship is no small feat.
The success of these apprentices sends a message to students and adults alike across the Deh Cho that when you're mapping out your future education apprenticeships should be considered right alongside colleges and universities. Skilled tradespeople make successful livings for themselves and are important assets to the communities they live in.
That's why it's so important to recognize the successes of apprentices and other students continuing their education so people in the broader community can be inspired. As Moses pointed out, there are lots of educational opportunities for people in the North right now, it's just a matter of believing in yourself and taking the steps to make it happen.
Liidlii Kue First Nation is on the right path for promoting student success. The band held a breakfast in Moses' honour and presented her with a cheque. It was the first time the band had recognized a student in that way.
Across the Deh Cho there are currently 14 registered apprentices in trades ranging from a heavy duty equipment technician to an oil burner mechanic. Not all of the apprentices will do well enough to receive an academic award but each deserves to be recognized for persevering through their training.
If more positive attention is drawn to the trades, the Deh Cho will benefit as increased numbers of people register for apprenticeships.
In need of fibre optics
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, February 17, 2011
He walks in the evening heat down the red clay road that descends along the river valley to where two roads intersect - making it the centre of town.
There are few things in Socorro, save chickens and cows, tucked high in the mountain canopies. It is unaffected by the obnoxious parasite that is the December tourism rush.
The road washes out in the rainy season, there are few vehicles and even fewer telephone land lines, but as he walks, Vargas reaches into his pocket, flips open his cellphone and calls his girlfriend - in Vancouver.
Yes, Vargas can do this easily, because unlike Canada's Arctic, the few hundred people living in Socorro have fibre optics and a 3G network.
Now this has been something perplexing me since moving to Inuvik at the beginning of the year, when my 3G version iPhone couldn't use the outdated cellular bandwidth, which is used here today.
Bell Canada told me that Inuvik was on the list of places to receive a 3G network, though no date was in sight.
Then I read a news release sent out by the GNWT discussing the "feasibility of running a fibre optics cable from the south of the Northwest Territories to Inuvik".
My first reaction, of course, was "My, that's brilliant." I mean, think of the communications reliability for emergency services alone, never mind being able to Skype my friend working in Nigeria (something that I can't do reliably at the moment as my Internet runs about as fast as molasses through a straw in winter).
But then I was struck with another thought: "Sorry, what? Is this 1998?" I mean I love the resourcefulness that comes from being this geographically remote.
I've always loved Albert Einstein's quote, "It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity."
And that is so true, today human contact is being lost in the ether of iPhones and game consoles.
But some things, especially in communications, have become a standard in how we share, learn and keep in touch.
Rarely do we send a letter anymore - though they're personal and tangible, they take too long to arrive.
You'd laugh if you saw a messenger riding off on horseback to get taxes off to Ottawa - that is neither timely nor efficient.
So how come these fibre optics and 3G networks are still just ideas being discussed and analyzed? They're hemmed and hawed over cautiously like and alien technology. Keeping in mind Canada now works on the newer 4G system from Yellowknife south.
Let them drink safely
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, February 16, 2011
It's a scourge that weighs heavily on our health care system, justice workers and the economic well-being of our city. Homeless addicts fill up our drunk tanks and emergency rooms. These down-and-out individuals have chased businesses, particularly in Centre Square Mall, away from downtown into the suburbs.
The Salvation Army and various levels of government have done much in recent years to address this problem, including the construction of Bailey House - a transitional home for homeless men, and the establishment of a day shelter where addicts can stay warm during winter.
But the transitional home is not for hardcore addicts, and the day shelter only diverts them, temporarily, from the streets.
During his visit to Yellowknife early this month, Dr. Jeff Turnbull, president of Canadian Medical Association, suggested a method of treatment involving a combination of housing, 24-hour medical care, and moderate but regular doses of alcoholic beverages as a means to keep our homeless addicts from harm and lower the number of arrests and emergency room visits.
It seems like strange advice: offering booze to those it harms most, but Turnbull - who helped found the program in Ottawa - argues at least addicts won't be turning to hairspray and hand sanitizers for their alcohol fix. Eight years after it began, the Managed Alcohol Program is treating 200 Ottawa-area patients a day.
The program is not designed as a cure, but rather to keep the alcoholism of the most hardcore addicts in check. A 2006 report found a 51 per cent reduction in the number of police encounters among its study group of 17, and 36 per cent fewer visits to emergency rooms.
Some people can be cured of their alcoholism. For others, as Turnbull and other physicians have discovered, such a goal is not realistic: the best option is to ensure they are safe and not over-burdening the system. It's certainly food - or at least drink - for thought.
The right to know
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, February 16, 2011
The free flow of information is an important part of an open and just society. Governments that meet requests for information from the taxpaying public and the media show they have nothing to hide. By being open, our governments spark discussion and debate healthy to the progress and strength of any democratic society.
Yet this is a far-fetched notion for the federal government. Ranked dead last in a study on freedom-of-information practices among five nations - Australia, United Kingdom, Ireland and New Zealand - Canada lacks openness surrounding its affairs.
Last year, Yellowknifer asked the federal government whether it had conducted mercury testing of fish in lakes near the city.
Passed from one official to another and back again, it was a full month before the question was finally answered. A simple question like that shouldn't take a month and it's hard to imagine how long it would take for a larger request.
However, unlike federal officials, the territorial government has a better track record of making information available, although timeliness stands to be improved for some departments. It's important for the GNWT to remain open and transparent and not fall into the habit of hiding behind access-to-information requests in order to drag out the process, like the feds too often have.
Being co-operative and providing information to John Q Public shouldn't be a scary thing. After all, we have a right to know what our government is up to.
No executive class on new president's gravy train
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, February 16, 2011
From a journalistic point of view, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) president Cathy Towtongie is among the most interesting of all political entities to observe.
Those who support Towtongie believe in her power-to-the-people approach, while those who oppose her view it as smoke and mirrors.
The naysayers are easy to spot because they're usually still scratching their heads in bewilderment months after she emerges victorious from an election.
They just don't understand her appeal to the working masses, the middle class and those less fortunate.
True, she may not be the most-refined politician in NTI history, but a couple of her predecessors were pretty dapper and we know where that got them.
Towtongie can be abrasive at times, but sometimes leaders need to be abrasive to get someone's attention, especially when it's someone silly enough to believe if they ignore her long enough, she'll just go away.
Not going to happen. And that's part of her appeal.
You can bet card-carrying members of the old boys club, and those who have succumbed to the lure of the public trough, will do everything they can to turn sentiment against her before the next NTI presidential election in 2012.
Those groups don't like presidents who slash executive salaries, refuse company cars, and prefer to live in apartments rather than a company house that borders on mansion status in Nunavut.
Not too many free gourmet meals and nice seats to a Senators game coming their way with Towtongie in charge.
One of the mistakes Towtongie made her first time as NTI president was to let her heart get ahead of her brains.
That would lead to her attention being divided on numerous issues, rather than focused on the task at hand.
In short, she was trying to right every wrong - real or perceived - and prop up every shortfall in one term as president - sometimes in a single week, if you can believe some insiders at the time.
Unfortunately, that approach, although somewhat admirable, is always ineffective.
It would also lead to the aggressive side of her personality spending too much time in control and her charm, intellect and persuasion being too often neglected.
And that can lead to alienation and a loss of votes.
It will be interesting to see if she learned from those mistakes this time around.
Towtongie has the ability to give hope to those trying to improve their quality of life because she comes across as genuinely caring.
And, her periodic aggression aside, most Nunavummiut - both Inuit and non-NTI voting non-Inuit - are fairly comfortable around her, which can be a magical key to continued political success.
The tools are there, and Towtongie has enough time left in her present term to convince Inuit she knows how to use them properly.
Based on what we've seen so far, the one tool we don't expect to see in her hand is a gravy ladle.
And that's a smooth change of pace, as NTI gravy often has far too many lumps that someone, ultimately, has to pay for.
Deh Cho change of heart
NWT News/North - Monday, February 14, 2011
Before the pipeline's approval and during the Joint Review Panel process, this was a sound strategy, providing aboriginal groups in the region with solid leverage when negotiating.
Now that the pipeline has passed the approval stage, it is prudent that Dehcho First Nations considers what actions will best support its members.
Obviously that should not mean compromising cultural, land, harvesting, social and employment interests, but taking a hard line against the pipeline might no longer deliver beneficial results.
Shifting gears, the DFN is now considering ways it can get what it wants while supporting the pipeline -- such as joining the Aboriginal Pipeline Group and building regional expertise to take advantage of associated contracts.
Grand Chief Sam Gargan is correct when he says aboriginal groups in the Deh Cho have to get themselves ready, and his leadership has been instrumental in the DFN's changing approach to the pipeline.
Regardless of DFN's new willingness to work with the pipeline, Gargan has not changed the First Nations' priorities in terms of settling land claims and negotiating impact benefit agreements.
Imperial Oil, the federal government and the GNWT should not mistake co-operation with complacency. First Nations in the Deh Cho still control a large segment of land required for the pipeline and their willingness to work with the those backing the Mackenzie Gas Project should be reciprocated.
Show us the money
NWT News/North - Monday, February 14, 2011
The GNWT rolled out its 2011 budget on Feb. 3. At $1.3 billion in expenditures, the budget represents a marginal $40 million increase in spending over last year. Although the GNWT should be credited for not raising taxes, the need for more revenue cannot be hidden.
Our debt load is climbing -- expected to reach more than $500 million by the end of the year. Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger is proposing a strategy that will see capital funding cut by $75 million each year beginning next year and to cap spending increases by three per cent.
That does not leave a lot of room for new initiatives, but hopefully it won't mean program cuts either.
Regardless, we are in desperate need of more money. The list of wants from the communities is long: new police detachments, long-term care centres, addictions centres and roads, as well as additional investment in everything from health care to education.
Our debt repayment plan will make it difficult for the government to meet those demands. The need for reinvestment can't be ignored, even though it would seem prudent to reduce spending to pay off our massive debt - though some poor choices, Deh Cho Bridge mismanagement primary among them, have allowed that debt to climb too high.
Unfortunately, there is only so much revenue available in the NWT, obvious by the nearly $1 billion we receive from Ottawa each year. Yet, it's not enough, and any hope that devolution will bring us greater riches - some remain quite skeptical of whether we'll truly come out ahead - remains years away.
Canada constantly speaks about the need to increase our Arctic sovereignty, but its financial commitment isn't reflective of that importance. Indeed, there have been a number of funding initiatives in the past few years, but each has had a sunset clause. We need consistent funding year after year.
Waiting for our Territorial Formula Financing to be renewed in 2014 or a devolution deal isn't going to help people in our communities enjoy the quality of life they deserve.
An iron will
Nunavut News/North - Monday, February 14, 2011
Baffinland Iron Mines' Mary River site, 160 kilometres south of Pond Inlet, could produce 18 million tonnes of iron ore annually, for a mine life of 45 to 50 years.
On Feb. 4, ArcelorMittal and Nunavut Iron Ore bought more than two thirds of Baffinland's shares.
ArcelorMittal, based in Luxembourg, operates in 60 countries. In 2009, it had revenues of $65.1 billion and produced eight per cent of the world's steel output.
Baffinland, a small Toronto-based exploration company, had established relationships with businesses and organizations in Nunavut, especially in Pond Inlet. Though ArcelorMittal has the technical expertise and the financial clout to establish a mine at Mary River, as a massive multinational company there are questions how responsive it will be to the community's concerns and ambitions.
ArcelorMittal's best approach for establishing a good long-term relationship with Pond Inlet and the people of Nunavut should include, for starters, honouring commitments made by Baffinland prior to its takeover.
As well, the company should waste no time in meeting with Pond Inlet's leadership, as well as hold public meetings, to assure residents that their needs will not be trampled as one of the world's highest-quality iron ore deposits is exploited in their backyard.
Dry in name only
Nunavut News/North - Monday, February 14, 2011
Thirteen hamlets restrict alcohol to some extent, and seven have decided removing alcohol altogether will help them make their communities safer places to live.
The statistics bear this out. Any RCMP officer in Nunavut will tell you the majority of calls they handle are alcohol-related.
But as Gjoa Haven SAO Enuk Pauloosie told the task force reviewing the Nunavut Liquor Act, dry hamlets are dry in name only. People still manage to get alcohol into the community, which finds its way into the hands and bellies of the people most desperate to drink. Those same individuals are often the most likely to cause trouble while drunk.
Also, the exorbitant cost of the bootlegged alcohol - hundreds of dollars a bottle - diverts money away from groceries and fuels crime. Bootlegging can wreak enough damage that people wonder if there's much point to declaring a hamlet dry.
Hamlets alone can't enforce alcohol bans. Keeping alcohol out of communities that choose to be dry requires a concerted effort by hamlets, the territory, police and alert residents. The task force should make recommendations to address these needs in the amended Liquor Act.