Editorial page

Monday, December 8, 2003
Coming clean

He was not the first drunk driver ever pulled over in Iqaluit. Some asked, Why focus on him? Unlike many drunk drivers, his name was published in News/North, his picture used, and his story told.

This is because he is Paul Quassa, a former political leader, whose picture is framed and hangs in buildings throughout the North. People know him. People still care.

His picture and story will most certainly be in Canadian history books for being the chief negotiator for the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

Why report on his failings? Because he is part of the fabric of Nunavut.

When Quassa admits publicly he has been unravelling the last 10 years or so, Nunavummiut should listen.

Quassa has moved on from public life, and is now executive producer at Inuit Broadcasting Corporation in Iqaluit.

He has shifted slightly away from the spotlight, but is not forgotten.

Most men and women in Nunavut will never sit next to the prime minister of Canada and sign documents, and represent a territory, or a province.

Quassa was one of just a handful of people entrusted with the shaping of this land.

When he falters, when he says "I have a problem," and when he finds himself in a courtroom, we must listen.

Maybe if we can understand what is troubling him, we can understand what may be troubling Nunavut itself.

And maybe we will not feel so alone.

We should also realize that by coming clean and being so open, Quassa is showing true leadership skills. His story is sad, difficult for his family, and full of big mistakes. But he still leads, being as open and honest as he can be, and saying, 'Hey, I have a problem.'

Let's listen.

New game plan needed

Sport North needs a new game plan because the one it has now will put it in the cellar.

The game is politics and Sport North Federation president Abe Theil -- captain of the team -- is so shaky on offence, he's relying on a equally shaky defense.

The goal is to bring credibility to Sport North as an organization truly representative of the NWT population instead of a southern non-aboriginal clone.

For years Sport North has been criticized for lack of aboriginal involvement but the complaints have been ignored.

Now territorial aboriginal politicians are getting involved, calling for a new organization to take over management of sport programs in the territories. Sport North would be only one member of the proposed council.

Theil told News/North he is aware of the criticisms. His answer to the complaint Sport North is a Yellowknife organization is to point to board membership from Fort Smith, Fort Simpson Inuvik and Hay River. Two of the board members are aboriginal.

Of course in sports, statistics measure performance. There are 28 NWT communities not represented on the board. Fifty percent of the NWT population is aboriginal yet aboriginal representation on the board is 20 per cent. There are no aboriginal people on staff.

The main problem is cultural differences. The organization springs from non-aboriginal culture so non-aboriginal culture dominates. However, as with the territorial government, and many new regional governments, aboriginal people can use non-aboriginal styled organizations to reach the goal.

Sport North is having very little success in that area. It must alter its strategy.

After all, Sport North exists on government funding, mostly through lottery revenues, ultimately controlled by the legislative assembly. Without that cash, it will end up in the pee wee league.

When it comes to hiring staff, Sports North is competing with government and industry for aboriginal talent. Competition is very stiff.

So it is essential for the future of the organization that aboriginal people be brought on to the board.

It's not enough to say 'We tried but failed.' Athletes don't go for gold with that attitude.

It might take more money and drive but that's the only play that will make Sport North an organization worth keeping.

Minister's visit fanning flames of debate

Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News

The debate on homosexuality and same-sex marriage is sure to be turned up a notch with federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon's Dec. 3 - 6 visit to Iqaluit.

Cauchon has been championing same-sex marriages on the national stage, and his visit to Iqaluit is being viewed by many as an attempt to pressure Nunavut into accepting the registration of same-sex marriages.

His visit will be an emotional one.

Premier Paul Okalik has already received correspondence from Rev. Andrew P. Atagotaaluk, the Anglican Church of Canada's Bishop of the Arctic.

Same-sex marriage has sparked fierce debate across Canada and it has done the same in Nunavut.

So intense has been the rhetoric surrounding the issue, Tagak Curley of Rankin Inlet is making noises of returning to the political circle to wage war on Nunavut's homosexual community.

And, it doesn't end there.

Rankin North MLA Jack Anawak is being bashed in some corners for having the courage to stand up and state that there are gay Inuit.

Anawak was defending the words sexual orientation being included in our new Human Rights Act.

In plain, simple language -- Anawak (and the other members who voted in favour of Bill 12) was saying you cannot deny a person basic human rights because of their sexual orientation.

An ugly situation

Let me give you an example of how such discrimination feels.

About three years ago at the Yellowknife arena, in front of about 200 witnesses (a number of whom were from Rankin Inlet and Coral Harbour), I was told by an Inuit gentleman that I shouldn't be allowed to live in Rankin.

Why? Because I am white (some would say more of a light brown, but I digress).

I had never felt such rage. It quickly escalated into an ugly situation, as most discriminatory or racist encounters tend to do.

Know the difference

I will not get into my personal feelings on same-sex marriages, other than to say I am a Christian.

However, there is a vast difference between same-sex marriages and basic rights.

We can only hope those who oppose Cauchon's visit to Iqaluit can separate the two issues.

How one feels about same-sex marriage is an emotional, deeply personal issue based primarily on one's religious beliefs. Human rights issues are not.

My family and I have lived in Nunavut for five years and consider Rankin our home.

And, as long as they live within the boundaries of the law, we welcome anyone as neighbours regardless of their race, religion, culture or sexual orientation.

In simple language -- we try to treat others as we would have them treat us.

It's time for a treatment centre

Editorial Comment
Jason Unrau
Inuvik Drum

The other Sunday, I was making my way up Mackenzie Road when several fellows approached me asking if I could help them out.

I stopped to enquire as to what kind of help they wanted and to my surprise, they said they needed somebody to buy them some mouthwash from the Northmart. I thought they were panhandling and wanted some change so their request caught me completely off-guard.

One of the gentlemen -- their spokesperson I suppose -- explained that the Northmart wouldn't sell them any and that if I would buy it for them, it would really mean a lot. He then tried to hand me some money.

My first inclination was to go to the liquor store for them. I told the men that I'd rather buy them booze to drink than mouthwash. They were quick to point out that, yes, they too would rather have some liquor but that it was Sunday and the shop was closed. Right they were.

I thought about their request and just couldn't bring myself to do it. What a hypocrite I was; perfectly willing to aid and abet their addiction with the real deal, but unable to bring myself to help ease their cravings with mouthwash.

What did it matter if they got high on sherry or Listerine? Regardless of what they put down their throats, the end goal was the same.

I was not shocked but saddened by their request. I used to work at a bank in a rather dodgy area of a large urban centre where dirty needles littered the parking lot and heroin casualties outside the bank's doors were a daily occurrence. That saddened me as well but as many who have experienced similar things, I've built up a tolerance to it.

So while three guys looking for someone to score them mouthwash on Mackenzie Road didn't really faze me, it should have. It should bother everybody.

What became a clarion call during the recent territorial election campaign in Inuvik -- to get an alcohol and drug treatment centre back in town -- was ringing in my ears for the rest of the day.

I don't know if those fellows eventually got what they needed and a certain part of me was hoping that they did. Addiction is a serious affliction and far be it for me to sermonize. A part of me actually wished that I had had the nerve to buy the mouthwash, for at the time, it was the best anybody could do for them. That too is a sad reality.

Whether or not a treatment centre based in Inuvik could help the gentlemen I met this weekend is not the point. As counsellors have told me time and time again, a person has to want to sober up before he or she can get straight. Forcing somebody into detox is not the answer.

That said, if a treatment centre were down the road instead of thousands of kilometres away in Hay River, might that access encourage more drug and alcohol dependent people to make the decision to turn their lives around? My bet is the answer is yes.

One could use the same logic and argue that if a bowling alley were to be built in Inuvik, people would hit the lanes. Access is everything.

Now is the time for action.

Just the beginning

Editorial Comment
Derek Neary
Deh Cho Drum

Fort Simpson village council spent the bulk of Monday's meeting contending with issues surrounding development.

The primary subject matter was whether to allow camps and bunkhouses on industrial lots.

The village, like the rest of the Deh Cho region, is on the cusp of an industrial boom. The municipality is just scratching the surface on how to react to large-scale development.

Can camps present problems in a community? Absolutely.

Do they have to? Not necessarily, not if they are managed properly and if existing bylaws are enforced -- or in some cases new bylaws are created, or existing ones modified accordingly.

Therefore it is imperative that the village clamps down on bylaw infractions, particularly violations of its zoning and development permit regulations. Resident Ken Lambert, one of 10 people present at Monday night's council meeting, cited three examples where council made exceptions to existing bylaws for projects that were already under way. Although Mayor Ray Michaud correctly pointed out that those exceptions were made by the previous council, Lambert's point was punctuated later in the meeting when council granted a resident's request to have a lot re-zoned from commercial to residential.

The problem is that a new house is already nearing completion on that site. Sometimes, as in this instance, the request for re-zoning comes after the fact. The same thing periodically happens with development permits; the application is made after the structure is built. This is backwards and must be stopped.

Serving the village

Mayor Michaud and the eight councillors (temporarily down to seven) were elected by the residents of Fort Simpson to serve the best interest of the entire village. If that means imposing fines against those who flout the rules, so be it.

Council can exercise its discretion to make exceptions to bylaws, but that decision should not have to be made with the pressure of knowing a proposed development being discussed is already in progress or, even worse, already complete. It is within council's power to literally demolish a building or pilfer the wallets of those who fail to comply with zoning and permitting bylaws. Something serious must be done to send a message to residents, businesses and industry that council is in charge.

And, as deputy mayor Dennis Nelner suggested, having a general plan to designate land optimally is something that would be invaluable to the village.

On a related note, there was an abnormally large turnout at Monday's meeting. It was refreshing to see citizens showing up and expressing opinions on such an important matter. Changes to zoning bylaws allow for input from the public and that right should be exercised, just like a vote.