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Families need a voice
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Child and Family Services Act had people seething and crying during a forum at Northern United Place last week.

Many recounted experiences where their children were removed and placed in foster care.

Some said they had little chance to defend themselves from accusations of abuse or neglect. They said they didn't know how to become better parents so they could get their kids back. Others complained that, once apprehended, children spend far too long being passed between foster homes instead of permanent ones.

Panellist Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, said there are three times as many aboriginal children in child welfare custody in Canada as non-aboriginal children. She also said more children are being removed from their families due to neglect than abuse.

Critics argue the current act gives too much power to social workers, and children are removed from their parents too often. Although the preamble to the act says families should be informed of their rights and be part of the decision-making process, in practice the system seems heavily weighted on the side of courts and social workers.

Children are the most vulnerable members of our society and they need protection. Therefore social workers must be able to intervene when children are being neglected or abused or are at risk of being neglected or abused, which, sadly, happens all too often. The right of the child to be safe and healthy always takes precedence.

But we also need to provide parents and legal guardians the resources and tools they need to develop parenting skills. Parents shouldn't be penalized for being poor or undereducated. They need an advocate who is independent from the social worker and can advise them, in plain language, what they need to do to reclaim their children.

Good riddance to park curfew
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, April 14, 2010

City council made the right decision Monday night to repeal the bylaw that closes city parks from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Its removal is more fallout from the general uproar that occurred over the proposed amendments to the parks bylaw that were introduced last September, which included numerous overbearing clauses such as no tobogganing, no swinging a golf club or doing "anything that is likely to attract a crowd."

The evening parks curfew has actually been on the books since 1997, but wasn't noticed until council began giving the bylaw a good look-over.

Good thing they did because city administration doesn't seem to understand the curfew is bad for residents and tourists alike.

Two attractions Yellowknife is known for include the Northern lights as well as the midnight sun. The enjoyment of both is a uniquely Northern experience that requires a different approach from prohibitions applied down south.

As Coun. Lydia Bardak pointed out during a council meeting last month, anyone in a park after 11 p.m. quietly enjoying the Northern Lights would be violating the bylaw, which is ludicrous.

Coun. Amanda Mallon said the hours should only be applied when the city "has a valid reason" to do so.

The argument that noise levels in parks near residences is a good reason for the curfew makes no sense. As Bardak pointed out, there is already a noise bylaw in place to deal with such problems.

So hear, hear, and goodbye to this unneeded portion of the parks bylaw.

We're glad council got the message. We hope administration did as well.

Bring problems into the light
Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, April 14, 2010

We saw two very different approaches taken to problems that continue to plague Nunavut this past week.

Environment Minister Daniel Shewchuk is to be commended for keeping the pressure on a situation in Baker Lake where a former conservation officer killed two muskoxen under highly suspect circumstances.

The official party line on the matter is that the former officer resigned, and so be it, even if the person in question decided to use the way out before it was shown to them.

Despite the resignation, however, there is still a loud voice of complaint being heard from common, everyday folks across Nunavut.

These people argue had they killed an animal in a no-hunting area out of season, they would have been charged for their ill-advised conduct.

And, they're right. They would have.

That's why we hope Shewchuk keeps up the pressure and there is further action concerning the situation.

Not just because this was a conservation officer who should have known better, but because the law is supposed to be applied to everyone equally and further action in this case is warranted.

We also wouldn't mind seeing Shewchuk hand out some Nunavut justice in another direction, if, in fact, a superior did give their blessing to the officer in question to act in the manner they did.

You would expect those who administer our acts and laws to know and abide by them, or face the consequences.

Shewchuk and his staff have done an admirable job in handling this matter to date, albeit a little on the slow side.

Here's hoping they don't stop with the job only halfway done.

On the other side of the coin, we saw an example of how not to handle a problem in Baker Lake this past week.

We have firmly supported mining and mineral exploration in the past and nothing has happened to change that stance.

However, when serious problems begin to present themselves, they have to be dealt with swiftly, openly and honestly.

We've come a long way in the Kivalliq, but it's time we stop trying to hide problems behind closed doors and hope they'll go away.

It's a bad habit that accomplishes nothing positive.

There are problems in Baker associated with the big money some people are making at the new mine, and with learning to trust one's spouse when they're away working for two weeks at a time.

A number of people refused to talk about the situation this past week for fear of reprisal, while others would only speak if they didn't have to give their names.

That's a perfect approach for any community wanting a problem to fester until it becomes unmanageable.

Anyone who thought there wouldn't be a transitional period, and a few bumps in the road when a large influx of cash comes to a community, was dreaming.

They had their eyes clamped shut and were living in the dark.

And, if these problems continue to be pushed out of sight behind closed doors, in the dark is exactly where they'll stay.

If we're to continue to prosper and grow as a region and defeat these problems, it's time to open the door and bring them into the light!

War on drugs
NWT News/North - Monday, April 12, 2010

Media reports across the North are littered with accounts of drug and alcohol related crime.

Addiction rates across the NWT are among the highest in the country. Lives - including that of Hay River's Const. Christopher Worden - have been lost in the Northern war on drugs.

Despite bombarding the public with these horror stories and in spite of countless anti-drug ads on TV, substance abuse continues to rise.

Sociology professors Scott Aikins, from the University of Oregon, and Clayton Mosher, from Washington State University, authors of Drugs and drug policy: the control of consciousness alteration, wrote that advertising-based drug prevention campaigns are largely ineffective and indeed have the opposite effect, causing youth to seek out what is forbidden.

Mosher and Aikins represent one school of thought on the subject and can be contrasted with government and societal studies indicating the opposite.

Considering both sides, the GNWT's new Not Us drug prevention campaign is on the right track in some areas while falling short in others.

Over the next two years $200,000 is budgeted for community-based initiatives - sports programs, after-school programs, drug awareness presentations or any number of other initiatives communities can conceive. The fact that these initiatives are community controlled is essential because only communities know what will be effective. More territorial projects should follow this example. Allowing programs to be developed and managed by members of the community will make it more likely that they work and residents will buy into them. The key will be ensuring communities are aware the funding is available.

To date, $225,000 has been spent on developing the Not Us campaign. That money was spent on such things as T-shirts and other campaign related paraphernalia, advertising and a sleek and easy-to-use website.

Effective drug awareness and drug prevention are desperately needed in this territory, and community-based funding, if used and promoted properly, could be a giant step toward reducing rates of addictions in our communities.

As Hay River's drug strategy has shown, initiatives that engage youth and target specific drugs work. The community has already noticed a decrease in marijuana and alcohol use among community youth, the two substances the drug strategy focused on when it began. Now it is taking aim at harder drugs - such as cocaine - substances that a survey has shown to be on the rise in the community's schools.

What makes the Hay River Drug Strategy effective is it is activity based. Youth are provided with healthy choices, such as recreation programs at the school, providing an alternative to parties where drugs and alcohol are present.

A more substantial portion of the Not Us campaign's funds should have been made available to the communities.

Spending less on the promotional products would have freed up money for the community programs and community-based organizers could have decided if T-shirts and water bottles were appropriate for their initiatives or if money would be have been better spent elsewhere.

Liquor act addiction
Nunavut News/North - Monday, April 12, 2010

Dry. Controlled. Unrestricted.

Practically all methods of distributing or attempting to cut off alcohol have been tried to varying degrees of success in Nunavut's communities.

Where liquor is banned or limited, bootlegging is sure to thrive. Where booze flows freely, there is bound to be overindulgence and the lawbreaking that too often accompanies it.

Crime statistics tell us loud and clear that there's an alcohol problem in our territory. In March, Iqaluit RCMP reported that alcohol-related offences were up a disturbing 360 per cent in 2009 when compared to 2008.

Last year liquor played a role in 2,649 offences documented by police in a city of 6,500 people - and there were surely many more instances that were never officially recorded. That represents a lot of hangovers, tears shed, blood lost and, worse, lives shattered or taken.

So the Government of Nunavut is setting out to conduct consultations on the liquor act, once again.

"I'm asking the Liquor Board to do public consultations on access to alcohol ... to see what changes should be made to the Liquor Act."

Those were then-minister Kelvin Ng's words in July 2000.

On March 22, almost 10 years later, Finance Minister Keith Peterson announced that he's creating a 10-member task force to reinvent the wheel by consulting with every Nunavut community.

The liquor act was last amended in 2006. In 2002, the GN shortened the amount of time that liquor import permits are valid and reduced the amount of alcohol that could be ordered through a special-event permit.

Obviously problems have not gone away.

Peterson's plan is going to cost a lot of money, money that would be better spent on prevention and treatment.

School programs teaching youths the dangers of drugs and alcohol ought to be expanded. Students need to understand the harm excessive booze can do physically and the legal penalties associated with its misuse. Bring health professionals into schools and take senior students to court sittings to give them a better understanding of the devastation that booze and drugs cause.

For those who are unable to control their thirst for liquor, there should be a mental health specialist or at least a social worker in the community. Sadly, some communities don't have either. The funds for flying 10 people in every direction for public consultations on the liquor act over the next year would instead be invested in better pay to attract these badly-needed professionals. Even if social workers in the territory are already compensated more richly than their counterparts in other parts of Canada, it's obviously not enough.

And Iqaluit should be the site of a treatment and rehabilitation centre. Not every reckless drinker is ready to dry out but when they are, there should be an option to achieve it.

Community members must tip off the police when they are aware of bootlegging and courts must hand down stiff penalties to those who sell booze illegally, especially repeat offenders.

None of these suggestions will make alcohol problems go away entirely, but they are better than going back to the table with the liquor act, which hasn't solved a thing.

Death in a bottle
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, April 9, 2010

This warning is worth repeating for Health Minister Sandy Lee and all health officials:

"Prescriptions for venlafaxine XR (an antidepressant) should be written for the smallest quantity of drug consistent with good patient management, in order to reduce the risk of overdose, particularly in patients who have more severe illness or risk factors for suicidal behaviour."

Startlingly, an NWT coroner's report into the fatal overdose of a 20-year-old man last year revealed that at the time of his death the man had 59 times the therapeutic dose of venlafaxine in his bloodstream.

The warning - dated Oct. 23, 2008, more than three months before the troubled young man died - is posted on the website of Wyeth Canada, which makes the antidepressant drug, also known as Effexor.

The warning also advises patients using the drug be monitored, that patients may persist in having suicidal thoughts after taking the drug, and that all antidepressants carry a potential risk for a fatal overdose.

According to the coroner's report, written by NWT deputy chief coroner Cathy Menard, the 20-year-old was given a three-month prescription of Effexor by a doctor at Stanton Territorial Hospital less than one month before his death. When he went to the hospital he had an empty Effexor bottle on him.

Menard made three recommendations, one of which was that NWT doctors be educated in the dangers of providing large prescription orders of Effexor to patients.

The department's response? Why everything is hunky-dory around here; write a policy on how much Effexor should be prescribed? Well, we don't do that, what doctors prescribe is entirely up to them.

"All medical professionals are on top of all medical warnings from Health Canada and practising due diligence when prescribing medication," says Lee, which is akin to saying all pilots don't crash planes.

Something went wrong prior to the man's death on Feb. 1, 2009, and it wasn't an act of God. This person, who had previously attempted to commit suicide three times, was allowed to wander off alone and unsupervised with a bottle of full of dangerous medicine that later killed him.

Chief coroner Garth Eggenberger is suspicious of two more deaths in recent years where patients had been prescribed Effexor before they died.

In a letter to the editor in last Friday's Yellowknifer, Dr. Thomas Ripley - a Stanton psychiatrist no less - warns that the drug can be dangerous, particularly when consumed with alcohol.

We don't know how many NWT residents have been prescribed Effexor, but we do know that mental health is a serious issue in the Northwest Territories.

Effexor, it should be mentioned, was the seventh most commonly prescribed drug in Canada in 2008, according to IMS Health, an international company that provides pharmaceutical companies with sales data.

Health officials and their minister have held a press conference, and it's clear they're not taking the coroner's recommendations seriously. We can only ask how many more people will have to die to change that.

Toying with fire
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, April 8, 2010

Medical emergencies, house fires and serious vehicle accidents, are all scenarios that people seek to avoid.

All of these things, however, can and do happen. In larger centres there are paid professionals, namely firefighters and ambulance attendants, who respond to these situations.

In the Deh Cho people who need help in the face of an emergency are reliant on volunteers. It's regular community members who staff the volunteer fire departments in the various communities.

Volunteer firefighters play very important roles in all of the Deh Cho communities. Without them the communities wouldn't have any immediate line of defense in the case of a fire or serious vehicle accident.

These volunteers give up their free time to attend practices so they'll be prepared to save lives and buildings if the need arises. The volunteers are on call 24/7 to respond to emergencies.

Often the importance of their roles is forgotten. No one spends a lot of time thinking about volunteer firefighters until they need them. As long as the service is available, everything is OK.

If, however, there was an emergency in a community and the response was insufficient, alarm bells would be sounded. Of course by then it would be too late.

By virtue of their size some Deh Cho communities have stronger volunteer departments than others because there are more people to draw from. Fort Simpson and Fort Providence have solid teams but even those communities can face recruitment problems.

Currently the Fort Simpson Volunteer Fire Department is down to 10 people, half of the number Fire Chief Pat Rowe said is ideal. Six firefighters are needed to respond to a fire. All it would take is for three current members of the department to be away for a weekend and two to be sick and suddenly there wouldn't be enough.

While there's no cause for alarm yet the department is looking for new recruits. In fact every fire department in the Deh Cho would probably welcome new members.

Volunteer fire departments are of crucial importance in the Deh Cho but they don't happen by accident.

Communities have to continue to support and foster their fire departments if they want them to be prepared when that inevitable emergency call comes in.

Wellness starts with the young
Editorial Comment
Andrew Rankin
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, April 8, 2010

Having a nurse practitioner here in Inuvik seems to be a win-win situation for everyone working in the health care system and for those who need it most, the chronically ill.

That's who our newest nurse practitioner Valerie Jefferd (see story, page 12) will be working with at the Arctic Family Medical House.

The job of nurse practitioner involves a lot of upgrading where a nurse is trained to take on some of the duties of a doctor, such as ordering and interpreting X-rays and prescribing certain medication.

While working with her patients, Jefferd will also be consulting with a variety of other health care workers, such as a nutritionist and physiotherapist, to ensure patients are well looked after. That's great. No one needs reminding of just how prevalent chronic illnesses, especially type 2 diabetes, are in communities across the territories.

The GNWT say it's a priority to have a nurse practitioner in each community, especially given how hard it is to retain nurses and doctors here. That sounds like a great idea but it also seems a little easier said than done.

With all the talk about Northern communities being plagued by long-term illnesses, don't you wonder what's being done to solve the situation? Do people even really have an understanding of the root causes of why these illnesses are so prevalent here?

It's a complex issue to say the least, one I'm sure our politicians, especially the ones who represent us in Ottawa, have no idea how to approach.

But who's looking out for the youth, especially young children, to ensure they don't fall between the cracks? I figure if you want to curb chronic illnesses you start with the young.

You get a child in the habit of eating well and the trend usually carries on throughout their lives. But where's the support systems for them? Nothing is being done to help poor families here buy expensive fruits and vegetables. There are no incentives.

Here and there you see signs of hope and improvement. The school offers a light breakfast program and the volunteers who are involved deserve credit.

What happens if children miss that meal? They go to class hungry. Perhaps there could be a healthy snack program built into the curriculum or even a healthy lunch program. Where's the community dialogue on this issue?

Governments and health care institutions are crying over the obesity and diabetes levels among people in the North.

You can throw all kinds of money in the health care system but it's a lot more difficult to work together to find creative solutions to these very serious problems. I wonder if the will is out there.

We welcome your opinions on these editorials. Click to e-mail a letter to the editor.