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Liquor a legal evil
NWT News/North - Monday, December 19, 2011

Whether or not NWT communities impose liquor restrictions or prohibition is a matter of public will.

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The plebiscite in Norman Wells last week where the majority of voters ended 30 years of restrictions in the community is causing some concerns that alcohol consumption will increase and some, such as MLA Norman Yakeleya, believe bootlegging to other restricted Sahtu communities will be more difficult to control.

Alcohol abuse is one of the most pervasive social issues in the North. Interviews with the RCMP often reveal most calls stem from alcohol-related incidents.

Communities such as Tuktoyaktuk have seen reductions in alcohol-fuelled crime due to its liquor restrictions and Mayor Merven Gruben raves about results of all-out prohibition during community jamborees.

But, as we pointed out, restrictions are decided by democratic vote and the citizens of Norman Wells have spoken.

Obviously it will be easier and cheaper for those who drink in excess to do so but we all have a responsibility to police our own behaviour or face the consequences.

As for Yakeleya's concerns, bootlegging has always been an issue and community residents must continue to work with the RCMP to prevent the illegal sale of booze.

Tips to the RCMP reporting large quantities of alcohol going into restricted communities have helped prevent those shipments from being sold on the street and that same diligence must continue.

Maintaining a healthy community is in everyone's best interests and a combination of personal and civic responsibility is the best way to achieve that goal.

Eviction moratorium provides breathing room
NWT News/North - Monday, December 19, 2011

The decision by the GNWT to place a winter moratorium on evictions for public housing tenants who are in arrears was simply the humane thing to do.

Life is hard enough when struggling to make ends meet without the added stress of worrying about being left homeless in -30 C temperatures.

That being said, more has to be done to ensure people are not falling behind on their payments.

In 2008, Auditor General Sheila Fraser slammed the housing corporation for the fact 81 per cent of its tenants were in arrears, owing millions to the government.

In August, Paulatuk's housing authority was criticized for the fact that 65 per cent of its tenants were in arrears, owing upwards of $500,000.

Considering those on social assistance only pay $32 a month and those who are employed pay up to 30 per cent of their income, the problem is working tenants who are either refusing to or are unable to pay their rent.

The GNWT must review its public housing policies to ensure tenants are earning enough to meet the cost of living included in their mortgages.

Also needed are policies to ensure payments are collected before the arrears pile up to the point of being impossible to manage, which helps create poverty, not reduce it.

A system kicked when it's down
Nunavut News/North - Monday, December 19, 2011

Nunavut's justice system is stretched thin - not only is its jail "bursting at the seams," according to its chief justice, but so is its court schedule.

Faced with a request to delay year-old court proceedings by possibly another half-year, Chief Justice Robert Kilpatrick railed against Ed deVries' defence lawyer for wasting the court's time two weeks ago.

It's important to remember the chief justice called on the Government of Nunavut in 2010, without success, to hire two more judges to support the current four, whom he stated were overworked and overwhelmed.

We can only imagine how frustrating it is to see cases move along at a sluggish pace while more and more pile up in the system each year.

According to Statistics Canada, 1,578 criminal cases were dealt with in Nunavut's court, which is a combined territorial and Supreme Court, in 2009-2010. That rounds out to about 200 cases per judge per year, which is made no easier by the travel required to run the court circuit through Nunavut communities.

Compare this to Nunavut's sister territory, the NWT, where 1,817 criminal cases were dealt with, over the same time period, by four territorial court judges and five Supreme Court justices.

It is by no means a secret, either, that Nunavut boasts higher rates of violent crime per capita than the rest of the country.

Both courts bring in deputy judges from time to time to lessen the load, but it's obvious from Kilpatrick's advocacy for more resources that this is not enough.

With a system already under that strain, it is understandable and fully justifiable that judges rap the fingers of lawyers who are sitting on cases or taking too long to even get the most basic steps started.

In the eyes of the public, the profession of law is held in high regard, yet its inner workings are mysterious. People don't often question the methods used in the administration of justice, they just look at the final outcome. We should, however, demand that our justice system be as efficient as possible, and its players bear that responsibility.

It's really judges alone who can publicly admonish a lawyer for disrupting the all-important and strained schedule of court proceedings.

However, Nunavut Justice Minister Daniel Shewchuk and his department should take note that lawyers taking their sweet time is not just a problem on its own, but the salt on the greater wound that is an overwhelmed justice system in need of more resources.

Way over the top
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, December 16, 2011

Crimes against humanity - it's hard to think of a more sinister indictment.

According to Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley, the territorial government fits the bill. The government is guilty of "crimes against humanity" because the GNWT's Greenhouse Gas Strategy concedes that carbon emissions will rise 100 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020.

That Bromley is surprised the floor fell out from beneath him as other MLAs around him shuffled in discomfort speaks to the gulf that exists between him and most other people on this issue. He may find broad meaning in the term but for most people crimes against humanity are synonymous with only one thing: being a war criminal.

Yes, people are worried about climate change, but they are also worried about the economy and their ability to cope with rising costs.

The Conference Board of Canada added to the worry this year with its gloomy forecast showing the NWT economy shrinking by 2.3 per cent as our territory's ageing diamond mines begin to wind down. It's a big brush stroke of black paint in the middle of an otherwise rosy picture, with relative boom times ahead for the neighbouring territories of the Yukon and Nunavut. Every worker we lose to them will cost us $27,000 in desperately needed per capita federal grant money.

It was only prudent that Premier Bob McLeod announce his government's intention to focus on the economy at the start of his term. For taking that apparently misguided direction, he and his government are committing "crimes against humanity."

But really, what does Bromley want the territorial government to do? When he states in the legislative assembly: "the actions required of government to reverse this impact (of climate change) are also clear and not debated," they are in fact anything but that.

Will a two cent carbon tax, as proposed by Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger last year, suffice or does the government need to punish energy consumers more? How about limiting medevac flights to reduce our carbon footprint? Or demand diesel communities halve their fuel use?

We're guessing now because while Bromley was quick to accuse the government of atrocities last week, he was a bit more circumspect about what sacrifices are needed to join the law-abiding. If such thoughts follow some of the more radical of the climate action ideas floating around out there - mass sterilizations, restrictions on travel, suspended democracy - he should say so.

Bromley's rash pronouncement will no doubt be viewed as bold and courageous by those committed to the cause of fighting climate change. For everybody else who expect calm and measured statements from our leaders it has diminished his credibility.

That's too bad because until last week Bromley was doing a pretty good job silencing doubts that he might be just a one-dimensional voice for the environment.

In fact, he was one of the most effective MLAs last term. He held the government to account on sole source contracts handed to former cabinet ministers, led the way on legislation to make "payday loan" companies fully disclose their interest rates, and brilliantly penned a critique of the proposed Wildlife Act that went on to defeat, in part, because of the strength of his arguments.

Bromley is passionate about the environment, we know. But he's not going to get a lot of cooperation or much accomplished making accusations best directed elsewhere in the world.

Putting meaning back into elections
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, December 15, 2011

Monday was voting day in many municipalities in the territory as residents made their way to polling stations to help decide who will be at the helm of their hamlet for the next term.

In Fort Providence, however, the turnout for the election was incredibly low. According to the official results from the hamlet's returning officer, only 98 people voted out of the possible 567 residents on the voter list. That means only 17 per cent of voters made it to the polls.

Low voter turnout is not a new issue. It's a problem at many different government levels.

For example, the number of people who cast ballots during the Oct. 3 territorial election decreased by about 1,500 compared to the territorial election four years ago. The turnout was at 48 per cent compared to 67 in 2007.

In Yellowknife, the turnout was particularly low with just 34.2 per cent of voters casting a ballot in six contested districts, compared to 60.6 per cent turnout in the rest of the territory.

However, 34.2 per cent is still considerably better compared to 17 per cent. That percentage should be ringing alarm bells somewhere.

There are a number of reasons to be concerned. Firstly, 98 people chose five members of the hamlet council for the rest of the community. Ninety-eight people out of 567 is hardly enough to form a representative selection. If more people had voted, the outcome of the election could have been much different and, therefore, the council's direction for the next two years.

Another troubling question is why did so few people choose to vote?

If there is any election that people should make an effort to participate in, it's the one for the level of government that is closest to them and, therefore, most likely to have a direct impact on their daily lives. That answer, however, may touch upon the very reason voter turnout was so low.

How many people actually have a clear idea of what their municipal government, whether it is a hamlet or a village, is responsible for? How many people ever take the time to attend a hamlet or village council meeting to find out more about its role?

The answer to both questions is, likely, very few.

The incredibly low voter turnout in Fort Providence could be a sign the hamlet needs to launch an education and awareness campaign about what it does and the plans it has for the future. Increased communication with residents would probably benefit the other municipalities in the Deh Cho as well.

Like so many things in life, people have to be interested to participate. Elections are important, but it takes an effort from both the body that is being elected and the residents to ensure the process is meaningful.

Old-time dances every weekend
Editorial Comment
Samantha Stokell
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, December 15, 2011

Saturday night in Fort McPherson. Location: Community Hall. Purpose: An old-time dance.

Inuvik's Good Time Band is on the stage, water and pop are for sale and chairs surround the dance floor. Cornmeal is spread on the floor to prevent slipping and as people come in and grab seats, people switch from clunky, -40 C-rated winter boots into beaded slippers all the better to jig in.

The crowd ranges in age from toddlers and babies right up to the oldest and wisest elders in town. Teenagers, young adults, parents and grandparents are there all ages have come out for this wholesome event. About 100 people prepared to jig, waltz and square-dance and do they ever.

Newcomers don't feel too embarrassed by their lack of skills, while experienced dancers quickly move their feet and grab their partners' arms, guiding them around the floor in circles and all over. Jigging is a chance to show off, as couples take the floor on their own and girls have a chance to dance with any boy or man they choose.

It's a time to show off skills, to dance past midnight, to listen to music and display beautiful slippers. It's a chance to waltz with your loved one or spin with a friend, work up a sweat and learn something new.

For some reason, though, the old-time dances in Inuvik don't seem to draw the same crowds as in Fort McPherson. Maybe it's the larger population or the different options for what people can do on a Saturday night.

Shouldn't there be more dances, though? Back in the day in Inuvik, maybe 10 years ago, old-time dances were held every weekend, with 100 or more kids, teens and adults having a safe and fun family environment to go to. There's stories of teens who attended the dances and went home tired at the end of the night. When the dances stopped happening every weekend, the drugs and alcohol filled the gap. What else is there to do on a Saturday night? Maybe if there were more old-time dances, everyone could have fun in a good, healthy way.

Sure, some people may have snuck out for a drink or two at the McPherson dance, but they're certainly not getting wasted. Let's take it one step at a time. Bring back weekly dances or even monthly dances and let the community, youth, elders and all in between have good, wholesome fun. It's not outdated.

Time to clean up the street
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Through the progression of time, right before the eyes of Yellowknifers, the downtown core has been lost. Some people are startled by the reality of the situation.

Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce executive director Tim Doyle was walking past the parking lot next to Centre Square Mall on a recent Tuesday afternoon when he said he saw a group of adults leaning against a building, openly drinking alcohol as if it was normal.

"I'm not quite sure when this became accepted as a normal, socially accepted way of doing things," Doyle said. "It's time to stop sort of looking around and pretending it's not happening; it is happening. It's driven our retail sector out of the downtown core."

The downtown core has become a haven for the homeless, panhandlers, those with addictions and people who are suffering from mental illness.

The result is that businesses have packed up and relocated to a safer part of the city. Even the 50 Street entrance to Centre Square Mall has been boarded up. Ordinary citizens who walk the streets are sometimes stopped by people asking for money. Apartment building lobbies have become home to vagrants during cold weather and some condominium corporations have posted alerts to residents asking them to be vigilant about unsavory people trying to sneak into the building.

Doyle and members of city council plan to host a round-table discussion in the new year in an effort to find solutions. Invited are MLAs, agencies that make up the Yellowknife Homelessness Coalition, city councillors, representatives of the business community and people from within the GNWT. It's an idea with promise, but it's essential that the RCMP, who deal with the fallout from social ills on a daily basis, have a prominent seat at the table. They know as much as anyone the complications of trying to get people off the streets.

We'd also like to see ordinary residents be part of the discussion, along with people who live on the street or hang out on 50 Street. Let's get as many ideas on the table as possible to find meaningful, long-term solutions.

Bylaw officers' approach could clear the way
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bylaw officers have a duty to enforce a bylaw designed to keep downtown sidewalks smooth and safe for pedestrians.

Property owners and residents in the city's central business district are required to remove ice and snow from the sidewalks in front of their properties, or face a warning and then a $50 fine for residential properties and $100 for commercial properties.

The city is being extra-vigilant in its enforcement of the bylaw in an effort to educate residents about their responsibilities early in the season, said Mayor Gord Van Tighem.

However, some downtown residents have complained about the tactics officers are using to enforce the bylaw, including patrol cars driving slowly up and down residential streets, sometimes with lights flashing.

Although the law is on their side, bylaw officers should be perceived as professional and using as much decorum as possible when enforcing it. Property owners don't have the right to ignore the bylaw but our municipal enforcement division should remember that maintaining good public relations means using discretionary powers of persuasion rather than a display of humiliation outside someone's home - unless a courtesy call to the front door doesn't bear fruit.

The greedy and the punished
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Oh, how I long for my first few years in the Kivalliq when sports conversations centred on great saves, beautiful goals, hot hitters and cool pitchers.

Regional sports fanatics still spend a lot of time talking about the pros, but now the vast majority of the conversations swirl around what player is going to get suspended for how many games in the NHL's crackdown on physicality - the league would term it dangerous hits - and which island or small country the latest star player just might buy after signing a ridiculously large contract.

The funny thing is, although hard-core fans are as quick to lament the surreal levels of today's professional sports contracts as anybody, it's not the actual money that bothers them.

It's more what the crazy dollars are doing to the games and the players themselves.

With the exception of precious few class acts like Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings, gone forever are the days when a fan could cheer for the same star player on their favourite team for almost the entire duration of his career.

Now it's all about the money, and the latest irrefutable evidence of that was baseball superstar slugger Albert Pujols turning down more than $200 million over 10 years to remain with the St. Louis Cardinals in order to accept a 10year $254million contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

Pujols's is the secondlargest contract ever awarded in baseball, trailing only the $275 million the New York Yankees gave Alex Rodriguez for a 10year period. ARod also inked a 10year deal earlier in his career with the Texas Rangers for $252 million. Yeesh!

Pujols leaves one of the moststoried franchises in baseball, where he'd played his entire career, for a franchise with one championship in its 50year history.

He gives up having his image added to the statues of past Cardinal greats outside Busch Stadium, and forever being embedded deep within the hearts of St. Louis fans for the almighty dollar.

In hockey, NHL owners will look for a penalty-free-buyout period when they negotiate, hopefully, a new collective bargaining agreement with the NHL Player's Association before the start of the 2011-12 season.

The owners want to rid themselves of big contract mistakes so they, presumably, can make a bunch more.

But, how do you motivate someone guaranteed insane amounts of money over the duration of their contract?

The NHL landscape is littered with such players: Scott Gomez, Wade Redden, Vinnie Lecavalier, Ilya Kovalchuk, Roberto Luongo and (gasp) Alex Ovechkin.

Players today talk more about how a development will affect their escrow payments back to the league, rather than their chances of winning Lord Stanley's mug.

Just as disconcerting is NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan going hog wild with suspensions, but still incorporating the league's rich-man's, poor-man's law.

A player like Milan Lucic gets nothing for purposefully drilling Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, while Rankin's own Jordin Tootoo gets two games for making contact with the same goalie while driving to the net on a scoring opportunity.

Looks like another week ahead of sports talk on big bucks and suspended pucks (sigh).

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