Editorial page

Wednesday, August 7, 2002
RCMP fall short on Frame Lake Trail

A police force that loses public confidence is a police force in danger of becoming irrelevant. And when that happens, the effect on the community is absolutely corrosive.

That's exactly what's at stake for the RCMP and the community when it comes to Frame Lake Trail where there have been several recently reported sexual assaults on women.

We say several because the RCMP say they don't have the resources to pull their files and tell the public -- their employer -- exactly how many sexual assaults have been reported by women recently on the trail.

That is simply not acceptable. The rumour mill is a powerful thing. Women are talking and are afraid. That alone is reason enough for police to search their files. This will either confirm women's worst fears or put them at ease.

Yellowknife RCMP detachment spokesperson Sgt. Al McCambridge says there have been sexual assaults on the trail, but added there has been "no drastic increase" or "identified crime wave in the area."

But at the same time, McCambridge added he could not say if there had been any attacks on the Frame Lake Trail recently unless he pulled up every police file from this year "and right now I think our file load is higher than 4,000 for the year. Specifically, by date, we don't have that on our system that I can target it. And in all honesty, I don't have the resources to pull the files and see what we have."

Not good enough by a long shot. Yellowknife residents are being victimized in a tug-of-war between the RCMP and their political masters over resources.

In February, the Mounties threatened to stop responding to intoxicated persons complaints unless the person was in danger and pull out of the Drug Abuse Education Resistance Education (DARE) program in schools.

They later back-pedalled under pressure from the NWT Department of Justice.

Arlene Hache, executive director of the Yellowknife Women's Centre, is justifiably outraged at the RCMP's cavalier response. Meanwhile, women are talking among themselves and sending each other e-mail alerts about the sexual predators on the Frame Lake Trail.

Time to reel in some funding

The North Slave Metis Alliance rang the alarm bell over Ingraham Trail fish stocks a year ago.

Their study results showed a serious decline in the stocks in both Prelude and Prosperous lakes. This year, they planned to take their study further but found their funding cut off.

The reason? Money in previous years came from $1.5 million paid by BHP Billiton to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to restore or create fish habitat destroyed by mining activity.

Now it seems the Metis Alliance's work is all about management, not habitat.

The Metis are continuing their efforts with what money they can scrape together, but it's not enough to do the job that's necessary.

We suspect DFO officials in Yellowknife understand the problem and would love to support the study. Unfortunately, Ottawa drew the purse strings tight and there's no money to be found.

So the important Ingraham fishery is left to slowly die. It's important because the lakes support both recreational, commercial and food fisheries.

It's time for people like Western Arctic MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew to take that message to DFO bureaucrats in Ottawa.

Yes, other regions have pressing needs, but we have to act now, before there are no fish at all.

There is a time to blow the whistle

Editorial Comment
Nathan VanderKlippe
Kivalliq News

Hiding disagreements stifles legitimate public debate and prevents people from seeing alternative options to whatever decisions are ultimately made.

That's why an open and transparent democratic process is so important -- it allows the public airing of numerous view points, and public input into the debate that forms an outcome.

For the most part, we're pretty good about holding our elected officials to that standard. Anyone can sit in on most legislative assembly or hamlet council meetings. But we don't have a great track record upholding the same with overnment bureaucrats. Especially among staff members, the right to free speech is one of the more routinely flouted civil liberties in Nunavut.

Most territorial departments forbid their staff from speaking with the media without the consent of the deputy minister. This can become a logistical nightmare, as staff must always seek time-consuming permission from higher-ups. More importantly, it silences vast segments of intelligent, knowledgeable voices in the government.

Now we hear that the hamlet of Rankin Inlet is doing something similar. Herman Bruce, a heavy equipment mechanic with the hamlet, was suspended for three days without pay after discussing several of his complaints with this publication. The logic for the discipline was that Bruce should have followed a set procedure for the complaint process.

Bruce's case presents an interesting dilemma. On one hand, employees should have an unmitigated right to speak their opinions, especially employees of a public entity. On the other hand, employers should have the right to expect their employees to follow due process. The question here is not whether Bruce's complaints were right or wrong -- that is for the complaint process to decide - but whether Bruce should have had a right to speak freely to the media. In many cases, the media rely on whistleblowers -- be they in government or business or parts between -- to shed light on important issues of concern. But media are often called to sort out what are simply internal matters, complaints that do not have broader implications. Bruce's case seems to lean toward the latter. That doesn't mean his difficulties should be ignored. But in this case, there is an argument to be made that proper process should have been followed before the media was involved.

A key role played by media is the airing and questioning of issues of public concern. Were Bruce's complaints directly linked with significant public safety problems, this would be an entirely different story, one that would fight to protect a municipal staff members right to inform the public.

Whether Bruce knew he was prohibited from speaking with the media is a different issue altogether. He says he didn't, and based on that alone he should not have been suspended without pay. Further, hamlet employees need to be told in very definite terms how these kinds of procedures work. Just as important, they need to know that when there are issues that the public needs to know about -- they need to approach the media without fear of reproach.

Flight of fancy

Editorial Comment
Terry Halifax
Inuvik Drum

The grounding of Arctic Wings last week typifies actions that have forced dozens of aviators out of the Northern skies and out of business permanently. Sometimes it is justified, sometimes it isn't.

Long gone are the days of a pilot going into business for himself with just a wing and a prayer.

The regulation and re-regulation of this industry has heaped so much paperwork and restriction on aviators that it's become impossible to do business in the air without a team of engineers and paper pushers on the ground.

Even with that team in place and a perfect flying record, one complaint is able to bring the whole fleet at Arctic Wings to the tarmac.

Without any explanation it appears Transport Canada has gone on a witch hunt and closed down the airline along with the livelihood of 20 people and put hundreds of passengers on hold.

Certainly, the safe transportation of people by air is more important now than ever, but this safety must be based on reasonable facts and not the impulsive act of Transport Canada.

No safe airline would send up a pilot with that type of an attitude -- when lives hang in the balance, you don't want some hot shot on the stick.

Transport Canada would do well to adopt the same policy, since many livelihoods also hang in the balance.

Not just fun and games

Watching on TV and with talking to Roy Desjarlais and some of the staff at the North American Indigenous Games, I can tell the event is a real blast for all.

It must be quite an experience for the continent's original peoples to get together to not only compete, but to share culture on a national scale.

Much more than the thrill of competition, these games will help rebuild a sense of pride among First Nations that many felt was lost forever.

Good luck to all our NWT athletes in the competition, but what they'll be bringing back will be something much more important than a medal on a ribbon.

A welcome addition

This week you'll notice in the Drum that we have features from Kristian Binder and Catalyna Correa.

These two will be filing regular features for the paper and I'd like to take some space to thank them both.

Kristian was writing music reviews for us a few years back and we're happy to see him back in the pages.

Catalyna will be writing feature articles, as her time permits between her two other jobs.

It will be nice to see some youth in the paper and thanks for helping the old guy out you two!

Entrepreneurial spirit

Editorial Comment
Derek Neary
Deh Cho Drum

Gabe Hardisty, considered a Wrigley elder, is now co-owner of his first business.

For more than two decades he held the government contract to dispense fuel in Wrigley. That has changed. With Walter Blondin's help, Hardisty is now dispensing fuel through his own enterprise. Like all ventures it involves some risk, but if it is viable now, think of how lucrative it will become when natural gas exploration and development gears up.

Not only does Hardisty stand to profit, the people of Wrigley have already seen a benefit - gas is six cents a litre cheaper than it was a month ago.

Wrigley, which has year-round road access, used to be one of 18 communities that fell under the territorial government's fuel supply program, but a few of those communities have now gone commercial. As Michael Aumond, director of the government's Petroleum Products Division once explained, most of the other communities under the program, which equalizes fuel prices, had higher transportation costs because they are refuelled by barge or airlift. Therefore Wrigley residents, only a 220 kilometre drive from Fort Simpson, were essentially helping to subsidize costs in other communities. The overall average among all 18 communities was more than Wrigley would have paid on its own, as proven by the conversion to private service.

There are numerous other business opportunities that could be seized upon in the Wrigley and the rest of the Deh Cho. Some will flourish with oil and gas development, others could prosper notwithstanding. All it takes is a good idea, some sound guidance and loads of hard work.

Making it happen

Guy Norwegian, featured in this week's On the Job, had his sights set on becoming a pilot and he has made that happen. He said he encourages others who have a similar goal to approach pilots and ask questions. He did. He then followed through on a two-year commitment to become qualified.

Although he's quite content to be flying bush planes and float planes now, he said he's trying not to limit his future options, which are vast. Maybe he'll pilot a water bomber, or military aircraft or a commercial jet. Or, just maybe, someday we'll be flying aboard Norwegian Airlines here in the Deh Cho.

Right decision

The Mackenzie Valley Land has made a judicious decision regarding North American Tungsten's water licence application. By conducting an environmental assessment, the board will ensure that current environmental standards are being met and that there won't be any adverse effects on cultural practices. While this review is ongoing, CanTung mine will be permitted to sustain its operations.

The review shouldn't cost North American Tungsten anything, unless it's found that the mine doesn't meet existing criteria. Then the expenses for additional safeguards, if necessary, would be an ounce of caution, which is worth a pound of cure.


In last Wednesday's city council briefs, Yellowknifer, July 24, it was reported that Coun. Kevin O'Reilly made the lone vote against adopting the priorities, policies, and budget committee's recommended plans for Twin Pine Hill. This information is incorrect. Coun. Dave Ramsay also voted against the plan.