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Legislative Assembly briefs
New distracted driving law comes into effect Jan. 1

Galit Rodan
Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 19, 2011

Starting Jan. 1 it will be illegal to use any handheld electronic devices, such as cell phones, music players and Global Positioning Systems, while driving in the NWT.

Transportation Minister David Ramsay said those who contravene the law will face fines and demerit points.

The new legislation is meant to combat distracted driving. "A one-second distraction at 45 kilometres per hour leaves you driving blind for 12 metres; about the length of an intersection where pedestrians could be crossing," said Ramsay.

Abernethy offers assurances about omnibus crime bill

Justice Minister Glen Abernethy met with his federal counterpart Rob Nicholson Monday to discuss members' concerns about Bill C-10, the Harper government's omnibus crime bill.

Many MLAs criticized the bill, particularly its mandatory minimum sentences, which they feared would discourage guilty pleas; burden already overloaded court, legal aid and correctional systems; expose first-time offenders to more hardened criminals; and increase the already disproportionate number of aboriginals in correctional facilities.

"Shame on the federal government for doing stuff like this," said Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya.

"The residential school days are over. You cannot take the people again in a legal process away from their culture and from their families and their teaching."

On Friday, MLAs passed a motion to urge the federal government to recognize and mitigate the costs and implications of the bill.

"Minister Nicholson and I had a positive discussion, recognizing the unique concerns we have in the Northwest Territories," said Abernethy on Tuesday.

"We agreed that we will continue to work together on a number of fronts including diversion options, potential options for alternative courts, victim services, aboriginal justice and youth justice."

Lack of police a problem for small communities

In the past week, both Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya and Inuvik Boot Lake MLA Alfred Moses have spoken about the issues arising from the lack of RCMP in small communities. Presently, 10 communities are without an RCMP detachment.

"Sometimes when the community is asking for help, the RCMP is not able to get in there as quickly as they want. Sometimes it takes days; sometimes longer," said Yakeleya on Tuesday, addressing a crime spree in Colville Lake.

Moses said increasing the presence of RCMP would help combat bootlegging and drug dealing in the communities, which would in turn help ease addictions problems.

Justice Minister Glen Abernethy said his department and the RCMP were looking into improving community services.

"We are increasing relief unit capacity. We are increasing the number and length of patrols in the communities, and we are adding RCMP community officers who would act as liaisons between the RCMP and the communities," he said.

Dental therapists needed in the NWT

Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya and Health Minister Tom Beaulieu discussed the need for dental care in small communities during the Dec. 15 sitting of the legislative assembly.

They agreed getting good dental care outside of the larger centres is difficult.

Beaulieu said the GNWT is not getting a good response when putting out tenders.

"We're playing with people's lives if we don't have proper care," said Yakeleya, who asked what the health department is doing to fix the situation.

Beaulieu said he has talked about a model where dental therapists would be used in communities. Therapists do not do the work of a full dentist, but have a larger scope of practice than a dental hygienist. The plan should alleviate some of the backlog, Beaulieu said.

When asked when the Sahtu would see a dental therapist, Beaulieu said he could not state a specific date. Beaulieu added, the Department of Health and Social Services is moving toward prevention - one key toward prevention of illness is having good teeth - so the department sees the dental therapist plan as an essential service and is moving as quickly as it can.

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